One to watch - Aaron Blunck

Joshua Duplechian/ESPN

Aaron Blunck was a rookie at X Games Aspen last year. Now he's a top Ski SuperPipe contender.

Aaron Blunck, 17, has been busy since his rookie debut at X Games Aspen 2013, kicking off his senior year at Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy and finishing his homework just in time for this year's packed contest season. In December, the Crested Butte, Colo., native took second in the Dew Tour pipe finals in Breckenridge, Colo., and then won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colo. Making it to Sochi for the Winter Olympics in February will make for a spectacular senior trip, and with two podium finishes at those U.S. team selection events, he's off to a decent start. caught up with him recently in Breckenridge.

The international competition in the pipe leading up to the Olympics, particularly from France, New Zealand, and Canada, is pretty fierce, but the Dew Tour podium was all red, white and blue. Does that feel like a preview of things to come?
I do think that foreshadows a lot for the Olympics and all the rest of the events this year. It shows that the U.S. team has what it takes to take all three top spots in Sochi. I can tell you, from being involved with the U.S. Freeskiing team, that we're all coming in to win. We want every step of that podium in Sochi. But yeah, you definitely can't count out guys like Kevin Rolland or the Wells brothers.

First things first. Let's talk about what it's going to take to even make the U.S. team, which will be announced on Jan. 19.
It's so hard to wrap my brain around right now because there are so many hard-hitting Americans out there who are just killing it. To get on the podium at the first event was so big for me and I could not be more stoked right now. But I was also super bummed for Torin [Yater-Wallace] and Simon [Dumont], who couldn't compete in the Dew Tour pipe because of injuries: They're two of my favorite pipe skiers, and everybody knows that any contest with either of them in it might have gone very differently.

This is your second year with the U.S. Freeskiing team. What does that support mean to you, particularly coming into an Olympic year?
Having your teammates behind you is such a big thing because we're all so stoked for each other. It's a competition but it's also being up there with all your friends right there with you. Everybody's rooting for everybody else and wanting to see the best runs possible, because we're all competitors but we're all fans, too.

What do you see as your biggest challenge this season?
Just keeping it all together and staying consistent while also trying to ski my best. The pressure's on and the stakes are higher than they've ever been, and you have to do everything you can not to let that get to you.

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