HomeNews Mt. Crested Butte looks for way to sponsor local skier
Mt. Crested Butte looks for way to sponsor local skier
Written by Seth Mensing
Wednesday, 09 January 2013
“I think we need to be able to help when the time comes”
After a breakout year on the world freeskiing scene and a bronze medal at the inaugural Youth Winter Olympic Games in Austria, Crested Butte’s native son Aaron Blunck is setting his sights on Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and beyond.
But before Blunck can take to the world stage in front of an Olympic-size audience, he has to work his way through a slew of smaller competitions across the world in search of International Ski Federation (FIS) points that could punch his ticket for Sochi. And that doesn’t come cheap. To help where they can, the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council is looking for a way to help Blunck on his quest, possibly using admissions tax funds to sponsor Blunck by paying part of his way at an upcoming competition. In a summary of expenses, Blunck family friend Mary Pick showed the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council that the entry fees for many of these competitions can run to $2,000 and higher. Trying to raise the cash to keep up a rigorous schedule that might, just might, result in enough FIS points to give him a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team next year, just adds to the stress of training and travel. It’s something that can run counter to the easy-going and free-flowing style Blunck has become known for on skis. To ease the pain of expensive competitions, the Crested Butte Snowsports Foundation gave Blunck a $5,000 scholarship last year, “to pursue his career as a halfpipe skier, now in the World Cup traveling the world to these different international places,” according to Snowsports Foundation president Gabe Martin. At the front of the effort to raise money for Blunck’s FIS competitions is Pick, a longtime family friend who started skiing with Blunck’s grandmother, Shirley, and grandfather, Robel Straubhaar, who started and then led the Crested Butte ski school for decades. With such a deep historical connection to skiing in Crested Butte, and the credit of being Blunck’s hometown, Pick went before the town council to see if the town could help funding the dream. Telling the council about Blunck’s exploits at the Youth Winter Olympics, Pick said, “This was his first time on the world stage and he stood there as a bronze medal winner. The first Olympics, the first half pipe venue and the first time he was on the world stage. This is just the beginning of what he’s going to do.” Not only is the next year already shaping up for Blunck, with trips planned across North America, Pick said, but the schedule also includes four World Cup events in Europe as well as a trip to Sochi, Russia for a World Cup event and possibly Norway. “I see this as an incredible opportunity for this community to not only express personal pride, because he is our native son, but an economic opportunity,” Pick said. “As this exposure comes through his participation, the light is going to shine on this community and everything it has to offer.” For the town, the hang-up comes where the money is being spent. Admissions tax money is granted twice a year to organizations that bring events to town, to market the mountain in some way or to pay for travel guarantees that keep flights coming to the valley. But the Town Council has always been anxious to see how an organization will provide a return on the town’s investment before approving any grants. And the money is tied securely to travel, events and marketing, because of the language used to get voter support of the admissions tax initiative. Such tight parameters led the council to look for ways to make the sponsorship fit the mold of marketing. Highlighting again the areas where admissions tax money could be spent—travel, marketing and events—Councilman Dave Clayton added, “Those are the three things we can provide funding for through admissions tax. So one of the things we’ve got to find a way to do, if the council wishes to do this, is to meet one of those three areas.” Clayton mentioned the cycling and NASCAR teams that have no trouble plastering their vehicles with the corporate logos of sponsors who see their money as being spent on marketing. He also said it would be easy, under the existing rules, for the town to sponsor a fundraiser aimed at raising money for Blunck’s expenses. “Aaron is a star who is about to become a comet,” Pick said. “I have 40 years of business experience and involvement and I see such an opportunity for the community of Crested Butte to be connected and remain connected to the Aaron Blunck star.” “Setting up a non-profit foundation takes a bit of time. I continue to do the research and put those wheels into motion. But his competitions have already begun and we need to have help with the funds prior to actually having any separate foundation,” Pick said. “So in between I am working with Gabe and [the Crested Butte Snowsports Foundation] to try to get the momentum started to recognize the opportunity of Aaron and not let that slip away. It would also benefit Aaron in reducing the stress and pressure of paying for the competitions.” In seeing some divergence between the goals of the Snowsports Foundation and those of the town’s admissions tax fund, Clayton said, “We’ve got to find some way to make [the marketing] portion of it work if it’s going to work. The concern I have as I hear ‘here, here’ is, we cannot provide a scholarship. That is not within our guidelines … There has to be some way of saying, ‘This is what we’re getting back from it.’ So it’s just a little bit of a wrinkle in the process. But I think sponsorships can be marketing and we ought to be considering those.” At a follow up meeting Wednesday, January 2, after Clayton and Mayor William Buck had gone through the admissions tax grant application requirements and made some adjustments, the council took another look. This time the requirements were laid out for marketing through athletic sponsorship. “Have a long term relationship with the local community, especially Mt. Crested Butte. Have a level of proficiency and accomplishment that demonstrates the likelihood of competing at the highest levels of the sport and make the U.S. Olympic team as a strong indication of this ability. It needs to be in a sport that has broad popularity. We don’t want a world-class tiddlywinks player representing the town of Mt. Crested Butte because it’s not going to get us anything,” Clayton said. And all along, the Town Council has maintained that, as Clayton said, “We can’t plaster Mt. Crested Butte stickers as he goes down the slope in his baggy clothes that they wear for that type of an event.” But Blunck’s mom, Lisa, says her son is sponsored by Crested Butte Mountain Resort, which asks him to wear their logo, as well as Armada, which would allow patches to be placed on the clothing they provide, as long as it was Armada gear Blunck is wearing. She also mentioned that every time her son takes a run at on of the many top-tier events he participates in, the announcer tells everyone listening that Aaron comes from Crested Butte. “He’s been doing competitions since eight; the last three years probably have been at a different level,” Lisa said. “That’s why we made the decision to go elsewhere [to Vail], because the support isn’t here.” The school where Blunck goes allows athletes to train and compete alongside their schoolwork, but it doesn’t leave much time to spend at home. But Mt. Crested Butte is still the town that Blunck calls home. “I think that’s what we’re trying to show here. It’s why we live here and why we raise our kids here,” Councilman Danny D’Aquila said in his appeal to get support for Blunck. “What kind of exposure did this valley get out of Emma this year … I think that’s what we’re driving for. This family has been 40 years in this valley and they’ve been here raising kids for two generations for a reason. This is a good first step and if we don’t try we might owe it to the community to rally around an opportunity like this.” Meanwhile, the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council is continuing to look for ways to come up with a sponsorship opportunity for Blunck from the admissions tax fund.