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Gabel goes for gold: Snowboarder heads to Paralympic Games for the third time

Keith Gabel competes in his second run in the snowboard banked slalom event on Friday, March 16, 2018 at Jeongseon Alpine Center at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games.
Mark Reis/U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding

Heading into his third Paralympic Games, Keith Gabel’s ambitions are far more golden than they’ve ever been. The Roaring Fork Valley snowboarder already owns a pair of medals — silver from 2018, bronze from 2014 — in boardercross, and needs just one more to round out his collection.

“Everything I’ve worked for to this point is specifically for these upcoming moments,” Gabel said in a recent interview with The Aspen Times prior to leaving for China. “I’m ready to complete the set. That’s bottom line for me. I’m going for gold 100% and super stoked to just have the opportunity to chase it one more time.”

At 37, Gabel is a veteran member of Team USA’s roster for the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, which get underway Friday with the opening ceremony in Beijing. He’s been at the forefront of the sport since it made its Paralympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games, when Gabel finished third in his class behind fellow Americans Michael Shea (silver) and Evan Strong (gold).

Eight years ago in Russia, Gabel was like the rest of the riders in that he was simply happy to be there, excited to have the sport included. Four years ago in South Korea, when Gabel won silver behind Finland’s Matti Suur-Hamari, he said his goal had been nothing more than to make it to the gold-medal round, which he did.

Now, with Father Time lightly tapping on the dials of his watch, Gabel understands his opportunities to race at this level will soon run dry and he’s not taking anything for granted.

“I wasn’t 100% sure I would go for a third, and the stars aligned, and I was able to continue to compete. I’ve been really fortunate to make this a career and have the backing that I’ve had and the support from my family and loved ones,” Gabel said. “Just being in it for as long as I have, I’ve seen every athlete that’s in the sport start their career and grow into what they are today, on snow and off snow. It’s a tremendous honor for me to be able to be out there and be with them for at least one more.”

Gabel was raised in Ogden, Utah, part of the Salt Lake City metro area, and found his way to the Roaring Fork Valley about 10 years ago with the specific intent of training with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. Like so many before him, the move wasn’t meant to be permanent, but the draw of the area, especially in the summer, led to Gabel establishing firm roots around Aspen. On top of his snowboarding career, Gabel now has a 2-year-old child and he and his wife, Heather Short, opened a coffee shop last summer in El Jebel called Coffee Connections, or CoCos for short.

But his next career grinding beans isn’t quite ready to go full send, as Gabel has more work to be done in snowboarding. It’s a sport he got into back in his teens, before a 2005 industrial accident crushed his left foot, leading to his left leg being amputated just below the knee. Only three months later he was back on his snowboard, but it would still be years before the sport evolved into a career.

“I’m absolutely blessed to have had that happen when I did. Technology was ramping up due to the war, so the government was spending a lot of money on technology. I think that’s probably one of the bigger factors that played in me getting back on snow so quick,” Gabel said. “That probably set the tone for where I’m at today. I realized at that point the sky is kind of the limit. I never knew I would have the opportunities I have now and never in my wildest dreams would have dreamt of being a professional snowboarder.”

Earlier in his career, and especially prior to the pandemic, Gabel might have spent up to 10 months on snow each year, traveling the world for competition and training. Anymore, he mostly does his own thing and spends far less time on snowboard cross-specific training and more time simply chasing powder. His true passion is in the backcountry, and he believes the skills required to ride out there translate well to the boardercross course.

That said, Aspen Skiing Co. has built a world-class course in Snowmass this winter, using the walls of what is typically the superpipe to provide local athletes with some of the best training ground on the continent.

Officially an AVSC alumnus, Gabel still keeps close ties with the club and enjoys connecting with the younger generation whenever possible.

Keith Gabel competes on his second run in the snowboard banked slalom event on Friday, March 16, 2018, at Jeongseon Alpine Center at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games.
Mark Reis/U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding

“They are super kind and give me options for the gym there or when the kids are out ripping gates or something like that, I might get a text message from the director that if I’m in town to see if I want to come over,” Gabel said. “If it’s dumped a bunch of snow, I’m going to ride pow. There is something to be said for your mental stability and your mental training when you are just out there having fun and releasing and doing what you truly enjoy.”

With his 40s fast approaching, Gabel found plenty of inspiration watching the Winter Olympics last month. One of Team USA’s top storylines was that of veteran riders Lindsey Jacobellis, 36, and Nick Baumgartner, 40, pairing to win gold in mixed snowboard cross. Jacobellis also won individual gold in Beijing in what was her fifth Olympic appearance.

The Alpine snowboarding world being as small as it is, Gabel knows both pretty well. Baumgartner’s brother, Josh, actually lives here in the midvalley. A native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Nick Baumgartner mentioned in various Olympic interviews he hopes to join his brother in Colorado after his snowboarding career is over.

“I was so stoked. I was literally screaming at my TV when Lindsey was coming down,” Gabel recalled of the two-rider Olympic mixed team race, in which the men race first, followed by the women. “It’s definitely inspiring to know that the old dog’s still got it. You can’t ever count the old ones out. We got a lot of tricks up our sleeves, and that’s kind of the name of the game. It’s not always about who is willing to charge the hardest and stuff — you got to be tactically sound in every aspect of the sport. I think that’s where that veteran experience really comes into play.”

Keith Gabel competes in his first run in the snowboard banked slalom event on Friday, March 16, 2018, at Jeongseon Alpine Center at the Pyeongchang Winter Paralympic Games.
Mark Reis/U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding

Gabel competes in the LL2 classification at the Paralympics — a lower-limb division for those with slightly less limitation than the LL1 athletes — and will race in both boardercross (qualifying is Sunday, finals on Monday) and banked slalom (finals are March 12) in China. He finished sixth in banked slalom at the 2018 Paralympics.

NBC will televise much of this year’s Paralympics on its various channels and apps, as it did for last month’s Olympics.

A passionate racer, Gabel is equally as proud of his work off the course. He’s on various international committees, including through World Para Snowboard, and speaks on behalf of many of the sport’s athletes. He played his part in getting snowboarding to the 2014 Paralympics and wants to make sure it sticks around long after his career is over.

“We had doubts that we would ever get it into the Paralympics. And now here we are over a decade later and I get to go for my third,” Gabel said. “It’s time consuming, but it’s kind of a passion project, if nothing else. I want to see Para snowsports and see Para snowboarding around long, long after I’m gone. I feel like this is a good way to help continue the journey for other athletes.”

But Gabel’s own journey as an athlete isn’t over quite yet. He recalled being asked by reporters after his races in Pyeongchang four years ago — and he meant quite literally in the moments directly after he had crossed the finish line — about possibly retiring, and he didn’t have a good answer then.

A Russian honor guard soldier salutes as silver medalist Michael Shea, left, gold medalist Evan Strong, center, and bronze medalist Keith Gabel listen to the U.S. national anthem during a medal ceremony at the 2014 Winter Paralympic on Friday, March 14, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Heading into Beijing, not much has changed in that regard. Gabel is like most of the other athletes in that he’s put so much into this year’s Paralympics, there hasn’t been time to dwell on what comes after.

Could he head into retirement after the snow melts this spring? Certainly.

Then again, as Baumgartner proved, age is just a number, and the 2026 Paralympics in Italy aren’t that far away.

Before any golden sunsets, however, Gabel’s going for a less fleeting type of gold. That is, the eternal glory type that comes with winning at the Paralympics.

“It’s always floating around. It’s hard to think past the Games, because in a quad, that’s your main goal, is to make it to those days and then everything after that is just kind of on the backburner,” Gabel said of retirement. “In Beijing, my goal is gold. I want the gold. I’m hungry, I’m ready for it, I’ve trained my butt off. This is 12 years in the making for me.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Mikeala Shiffrin processes Olympic Alpine combined performance

Mikaela Shiffrin stands on the side of the course after crashing out during the women's combined slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Mikaela Shiffrin continued to show grace and transparency in speaking with the media about her trials at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. She talked to NBC’s Todd Lewis on Thursday after skiing out of her third event at these Games which has become a two-and-a-half week nightmare for the overall World Cup leader.

“I wanted to ski just a good run of slalom, and I don’t know, I feel like a joke,” she told NBC after posting a DNF in the Alpine combined event, which was won by Michelle Gisin of Switzerland.

Her third Olympics was supposed to be about possibly overtaking Janica Kostelić for the most career Alpine medals by a woman (six). At the very least, the three-time medalist was expected to surpass Julia Mancuso for the most Olympic medals by a female American skier (four). Then, she skied out of her two specialties, the giant slalom and slalom, before finishing ninth in the super-G and 18th in the downhill. Yesterday, she skied out of the Ice River course for a second time in the final portion of the combined, blowing a golden opportunity to win if she had been able to just put together an average — by her standards — slalom performance.

“I’ve never had the experience where actually good skiing had this kind of mistake. It wasn’t actually even a mistake. I was smarter on this first pitch — first four turns — but I wasn’t even holding back, I was just trying to get my feet a little bit of space, find my rhythm,” she told NBC about in detailing her final individual event in Beijing.

“I got my rhythm, I accelerated off the pitch. Everything there was just exactly in line, what I wanted to feel, what my best slalom can produce. And, I don’t know if it was some combination of driver error — maybe a small little track in the snow — maybe I can’t see it or didn’t react quick enough or whatever it was.”

She said she was relaxed at the start and resisted the urge to be stubborn in her routines, admitting that whatever she had been doing in the first four events of the Games hadn’t been working.

“You know the saying, ‘Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity?’” she rhetorically asked Lewis at the bottom of the hill Thursday. “Well, I was doing something different. I was just shaking out my shoulders, smiling a bit. Like, I had quite a bit of fun today — even the first six turns I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the feeling I wanted to have, like thank goodness.’”

“I just wanted to have it a little bit longer.”

Mikaela Shiffrin gives a word of encouragment to Priska Nufer of Switzerland after Nufer skied out of the slalom in the women’s combined event. 11 of the 26 athletes posted a DNF on the Ice River slalom slope in the event.
Roman Vondrous/CTK via AP Images

The magnitude of the moment was acknowledged by the American.

“I don’t know if anybody’s failed that hard with so many opportunities maybe in the history of the Olympics,” she said. Refusing to wander down the road of self-pity, Shiffrin’s words still contained raw, human tinge of disappointment.

“I really selfishly wanted to have a good run of slalom down this hill and, yeah, I’ll be left wanting there.”

Instead of looking back, Shiffrin postured a position of positivity on her overall Olympic experience.

“I had some of the best skiing I’ve ever done, here in Beijing,” she stated.

“In the training, in the downhill over the last week, in my slalom — even today. And in the race, in the moment when it counts, then I didn’t make it to the finish. And that’s never happened in my entire career, so I don’t understand it, but there was so much positive that’s happened the last couple of weeks despite how much it really stinks.”

Shiffrin’s frustrations, which stem from the general mystery in the mechanics of the perceived disaster, are still festering for the three-time World Cup overall globe winner.

“Sometimes you just have to take it. I don’t know what I’m supposed to fix, that’s the frustrating thing — I don’t think there’s actually something to fix. It just went really, really wrong.”

Shiffrin will become just the second woman after Petra Vlhova to contest all six Alpine events at the Olympics when she competes in the mixed team parallel on Saturday. She left her fans reason for optimism with a social media post after Thursday’s event.

“Just get up. It’s not always easy, but it’s also not the end of the world to fail. Fail twice. Fail five times. At the Olympics …” she posted on Instagram.

“Why do I keep coming back? Gosh knows it hurts more than it feels good lately. I come back because those first nine turns today were spectacular, really heaven.”

Basalt’s Faulhaber finishes sixth in first Winter Olympic halfpipe skiing final

Family, coaches, friends and ski buddies of Basalt freeskier Hanna Faulhaber gather in the Limelight Hotel to cheer her on in Snowmass Base Village on Thursday night. The group exploded in cheers as Faulhaber finished her second run of the evening during her Olympic debut.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Hanna Faulhaber said she “just cracked” during training ahead of finals. The wind was making it difficult to get any speed through the halfpipe and the pressure of the Winter Olympics was starting to set in for the teenager from Basalt.

Nothing a pre-game joyride can’t fix. And the minor meltdown looked all but history by the time she officially dropped in for her first run Friday in China.

“The biggest mental battle that I’ve probably ever faced. I was crying all throughout practice, just really trying to find myself and find why I’m doing the sport and trying to have fun again and just took some time to myself and did a few fun laps,“ Faulhaber told reporters after the finals. “I put quite a bit of pressure on myself going in and just to be able to put something down in finals, it made me so happy and made me have fun again.”

Faulhaber eventually finished sixth in her first Winter Olympic appearance on Friday — or Thursday night in Colorado — behind a pair of strong runs, but could not keep up with China’s Eileen Gu, who cruised to women’s halfpipe skiing gold in Zhangjiakou, which is just over 100 miles from Beijing.

Faulhaber, the 17-year-old who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and made her X Games debut only last month, briefly held down the top spot early in the first round behind an opening-run score of 85.25, which would prove to be her best result. She landed a solid, albeit almost identical, second run for 84.50 but fell midway through a promising third run that ended her podium hopes.

The fourth of the 12 finalists to drop in, Faulhaber held the lead until Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist from Pyeongchang, scored 89 as the seventh skier to take the lead. The top skiers, including Sharpe, had multiple 1080s in their runs, a trick Faulhaber doesn’t yet have in her arsenal.

Faulhaber did bring her soon-to-be trademarked amplitude, getting over 13 feet above the lip of the halfpipe despite the windy conditions, and successfully landed a 900, which is still relatively new to her, on her final hit of her first two runs. She also attempted the highly technical switch 720, a trick she hopes to make a regular part of her run in the future.

“We were able to lay down two good runs and also gave that switch 7 a shot,” Faulhaber said. “Really stoked to have given that a shot. Don’t think I would have been that happy if I didn’t leave everything out on the table. Just overall happy with how I skied.”

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe skiing finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. She finished sixth.
Francisco Seco/AP

Gu’s win was historic for action-sports athletes, as it gave her three medals in the same Winter Olympics, the first to ever do so. The American-born star, who is only 18, also won gold in big air earlier in the month and took silver in slopestyle behind Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud.

“She’s really pushing the sport to a new level,” said Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin, who finished ninth, of Gu. “It’s really great to see and it’s so inspiring. It makes me want to be a better skier myself. I think she’s amazing for the sport.”

Sharpe, who had slight improvements on each run to finish with a best-run score of 90.75, won silver. Only a year ago, she severely hurt her knee, which put her entire Olympic season in doubt.

“It feels surreal at this point,” Sharpe said. “I can’t even put it into words. I’ve been through hell and back the last year, so I’m just so grateful that all the pieces that I’ve worked so hard on came together today.”

Her fellow countrywoman, Rachael Karker, won Olympic bronze with 87.75, scored on her first run. This was Karker’s first time competing at the Games.

Kelly Sildaru was just off the podium in fourth place; she leaves her first Olympics with a bronze from slopestyle. The just-turned 20-year-old from Estonia won X Games Aspen gold only last month, a contest that did not include Gu, Sharpe or Karker. Faulhaber won bronze that day in her X Games debut.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes in the freestyle skiing women's halfpipe final run during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Genting Snow Park H & S Stadium in Zhangjiakou, China.
Pavel Bednyakov/Sputnik via AP

Gu, who led Olympic qualifying, was the last to drop in and closed out the contest with an easy victory lap, not likely the last she’ll have of her career. She scored 93.25 on her first run, more than enough to win the contest then and there.

“I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I feel proud,” Gu said. “Skiing is all about fun and individuality and being able to express yourself and find that flow, and for myself I really find that in halfpipe. Being able to feel the rhythm of the walls, and being able to put unique grabs, to try different axis, spin different directions — it’s really fun and it’s the essence of the sport.”

Faulhaber was the top finisher among the Americans, much as she was when she finished fourth at the world championships last March in Aspen. Brita Sigourney finished 10th with 70.75 and her fellow Californian teammate Carly Margulies was 11th with 61.

The fourth member of the U.S. Olympic women’s halfpipe ski team, Devin Logan, did not make finals.

Faulhaber was already looking toward her second trip to the Olympics — the 2026 Winter Games will be held in northern Italy — and the steps she needs to take between now and then to get there and compete for a podium spot.

“Going into the next one I’m just going to obviously train my hardest,” she said. “Probably prepare a little better with getting new tricks in because I did a few things a little last minute, and just not trying to change up too many things at once. But, yeah, I feel good.”

The men’s halfpipe skiing finals, featuring Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, is 6:30 p.m. Friday night, Colorado time.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
China's Eileen Gu reacts during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

acolbert@aspentimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Basalt’s Faulhaber finishes sixth in first Olympic halfpipe skiing final

Family, coaches, friends and ski buddies of Basalt freeskier Hanna Faulhaber gather in the Limelight Hotel to cheer her on in Snowmass Base Village on Thursday night. The group exploded in cheers as Faulhaber finished her second run of the evening during her Olympic debut.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Hanna Faulhaber said she “just cracked” during training ahead of finals. The wind was making it difficult to get any speed through the halfpipe and the pressure of the Winter Olympics was starting to set in for the teenager from Basalt.

Nothing a pre-game joyride can’t fix. And the minor meltdown looked all but history by the time she officially dropped in for her first run Friday in China.

“The biggest mental battle that I’ve probably ever faced. I was crying all throughout practice, just really trying to find myself and find why I’m doing the sport and trying to have fun again and just took some time to myself and did a few fun laps,“ Faulhaber told reporters after the finals. “I put quite a bit of pressure on myself going in and just to be able to put something down in finals, it made me so happy and made me have fun again.”

Faulhaber eventually finished sixth in her first Winter Olympic appearance on Friday — or Thursday night in Colorado — behind a pair of strong runs, but could not keep up with China’s Eileen Gu, who cruised to women’s halfpipe skiing gold in Zhangjiakou, which is just over 100 miles from Beijing.

Faulhaber, the 17-year-old who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and made her X Games debut only last month, briefly held down the top spot early in the first round behind an opening-run score of 85.25, which would prove to be her best result. She landed a solid, albeit almost identical, second run for 84.50 but fell midway through a promising third run that ended her podium hopes.

The fourth of the 12 finalists to drop in, Faulhaber held the lead until Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist from Pyeongchang, scored 89 as the seventh skier to take the lead. The top skiers, including Sharpe, had multiple 1080s in their runs, a trick Faulhaber doesn’t yet have in her arsenal.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe skiing finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. She finished sixth in what was her first time competing at the Olympics.
Francisco Seco/AP

Faulhaber did bring her soon-to-be trademarked amplitude, getting over 13 feet above the lip of the halfpipe despite the windy conditions, and successfully landed a 900, which is still relatively new to her, on her final hit of her first two runs. She also attempted the highly technical switch 720, a trick she hopes to make a regular part of her run in the future.

“We were able to lay down two good runs and also gave that switch 7 a shot,” Faulhaber said. “Really stoked to have given that a shot. Don’t think I would have been that happy if I didn’t leave everything out on the table. Just overall happy with how I skied.”

Gu’s win was historic for action-sports athletes, as it gave her three medals in the same Winter Olympics, the first to ever do so. The American-born star, who is only 18, also won gold in big air earlier in the month and took silver in slopestyle behind Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud.

“She’s really pushing the sport to a new level,” said Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin, who finished ninth, of Gu. “It’s really great to see and it’s so inspiring. It makes me want to be a better skier myself. I think she’s amazing for the sport.”

Sharpe, who had slight improvements on each run to finish with a best-run score of 90.75, won silver. Only a year ago, she severely hurt her knee, which put her entire Olympic season in doubt.

“It feels surreal at this point,” Sharpe said. “I can’t even put it into words. I’ve been through hell and back the last year, so I’m just so grateful that all the pieces that I’ve worked so hard on came together today.”

Her fellow countrywoman, Rachael Karker, won Olympic bronze with 87.75, scored on her first run. This was Karker’s first time competing at the Games.

Kelly Sildaru was just off the podium in fourth place; she leaves her first Olympics with a bronze from slopestyle. The just-turned 20-year-old from Estonia won X Games Aspen gold only last month, a contest that did not include Gu, Sharpe or Karker. Faulhaber won bronze that day in her X Games debut.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes in the freestyle skiing women's halfpipe final run during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Genting Snow Park H & S Stadium in Zhangjiakou, China.
Pavel Bednyakov/Sputnik via AP

Gu, who led Olympic qualifying, was the last to drop in and closed out the contest with an easy victory lap, not likely the last she’ll have of her career. She scored 93.25 on her first run, more than enough to win the contest then and there.

“I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I feel proud,” Gu said. “Skiing is all about fun and individuality and being able to express yourself and find that flow, and for myself I really find that in halfpipe. Being able to feel the rhythm of the walls, and being able to put unique grabs, to try different axis, spin different directions — it’s really fun and it’s the essence of the sport.”

Faulhaber was the top finisher among the Americans, much as she was when she finished fourth at the world championships last March in Aspen. Brita Sigourney finished 10th with 70.75 and her fellow Californian teammate Carly Margulies was 11th with 61.

The fourth member of the U.S. Olympic women’s halfpie ski team, Devin Logan, did not make finals.

Faulhaber was already looking toward her second trip to the Olympics — the 2026 Winter Games will be held in northern Italy — and the steps she needs to take between now and then to get there and compete for a podium spot.

“Going into the next one I’m just going to obviously train my hardest,” she said. “Probably prepare a little better with getting new tricks in because I did a few things a little last minute, and just not trying to change up too many things at once. But, yeah, I feel good.”

The men’s halfpipe skiing finals, featuring Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, is 6:30 p.m. Friday night, Colorado time.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
China's Eileen Gu reacts during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

acolbert@aspentimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Basalt’s Faulhaber finishes sixth in first Winter Olympic halfpipe skiing final

Family, coaches, friends and ski buddies of Basalt freeskier Hanna Faulhaber gather in the Limelight Hotel to cheer her on in Snowmass Base Village on Thursday night. The group exploded in cheers as Faulhaber finished her second run of the evening during her Olympic debut.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Hanna Faulhaber said she “just cracked” during training ahead of finals. The wind was making it difficult to get any speed through the halfpipe and the pressure of the Winter Olympics was starting to set in for the teenager from Basalt.

Nothing a pre-game joyride can’t fix. And the minor meltdown looked all but history by the time she officially dropped in for her first run Friday in China.

“The biggest mental battle that I’ve probably ever faced. I was crying all throughout practice, just really trying to find myself and find why I’m doing the sport and trying to have fun again and just took some time to myself and did a few fun laps,“ Faulhaber told reporters after the finals. “I put quite a bit of pressure on myself going in and just to be able to put something down in finals, it made me so happy and made me have fun again.”

Faulhaber eventually finished sixth in her first Winter Olympic appearance on Friday — or Thursday night in Colorado — behind a pair of strong runs, but could not keep up with China’s Eileen Gu, who cruised to women’s halfpipe skiing gold in Zhangjiakou, which is just over 100 miles from Beijing.

Faulhaber, the 17-year-old who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and made her X Games debut only last month, briefly held down the top spot early in the first round behind an opening-run score of 85.25, which would prove to be her best result. She landed a solid, albeit almost identical, second run for 84.50 but fell midway through a promising third run that ended her podium hopes.

The fourth of the 12 finalists to drop in, Faulhaber held the lead until Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the 2018 Olympic gold medalist from Pyeongchang, scored 89 as the seventh skier to take the lead. The top skiers, including Sharpe, had multiple 1080s in their runs, a trick Faulhaber doesn’t yet have in her arsenal.

Faulhaber did bring her soon-to-be trademarked amplitude, getting over 13 feet above the lip of the halfpipe despite the windy conditions, and successfully landed a 900, which is still relatively new to her, on her final hit of her first two runs. She also attempted the highly technical switch 720, a trick she hopes to make a regular part of her run in the future.

“We were able to lay down two good runs and also gave that switch 7 a shot,” Faulhaber said. “Really stoked to have given that a shot. Don’t think I would have been that happy if I didn’t leave everything out on the table. Just overall happy with how I skied.”

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe skiing finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. She finished sixth.
Francisco Seco/AP

Gu’s win was historic for action-sports athletes, as it gave her three medals in the same Winter Olympics, the first to ever do so. The American-born star, who is only 18, also won gold in big air earlier in the month and took silver in slopestyle behind Switzerland’s Mathilde Gremaud.

“She’s really pushing the sport to a new level,” said Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin, who finished ninth, of Gu. “It’s really great to see and it’s so inspiring. It makes me want to be a better skier myself. I think she’s amazing for the sport.”

Sharpe, who had slight improvements on each run to finish with a best-run score of 90.75, won silver. Only a year ago, she severely hurt her knee, which put her entire Olympic season in doubt.

“It feels surreal at this point,” Sharpe said. “I can’t even put it into words. I’ve been through hell and back the last year, so I’m just so grateful that all the pieces that I’ve worked so hard on came together today.”

Her fellow countrywoman, Rachael Karker, won Olympic bronze with 87.75, scored on her first run. This was Karker’s first time competing at the Games.

Kelly Sildaru was just off the podium in fourth place; she leaves her first Olympics with a bronze from slopestyle. The just-turned 20-year-old from Estonia won X Games Aspen gold only last month, a contest that did not include Gu, Sharpe or Karker. Faulhaber won bronze that day in her X Games debut.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes in the freestyle skiing women's halfpipe final run during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Genting Snow Park H & S Stadium in Zhangjiakou, China.
Pavel Bednyakov/Sputnik via AP

Gu, who led Olympic qualifying, was the last to drop in and closed out the contest with an easy victory lap, not likely the last she’ll have of her career. She scored 93.25 on her first run, more than enough to win the contest then and there.

“I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I feel proud,” Gu said. “Skiing is all about fun and individuality and being able to express yourself and find that flow, and for myself I really find that in halfpipe. Being able to feel the rhythm of the walls, and being able to put unique grabs, to try different axis, spin different directions — it’s really fun and it’s the essence of the sport.”

Faulhaber was the top finisher among the Americans, much as she was when she finished fourth at the world championships last March in Aspen. Brita Sigourney finished 10th with 70.75 and her fellow Californian teammate Carly Margulies was 11th with 61.

The fourth member of the U.S. Olympic women’s halfpipe ski team, Devin Logan, did not make finals.

Faulhaber was already looking toward her second trip to the Olympics — the 2026 Winter Games will be held in northern Italy — and the steps she needs to take between now and then to get there and compete for a podium spot.

“Going into the next one I’m just going to obviously train my hardest,” she said. “Probably prepare a little better with getting new tricks in because I did a few things a little last minute, and just not trying to change up too many things at once. But, yeah, I feel good.”

The men’s halfpipe skiing finals, featuring Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, is 6:30 p.m. Friday night, Colorado time.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
China's Eileen Gu reacts during the women's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

acolbert@aspentimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Aspen’s Ferreira makes finals as part of strong US contingent in Olympic halfpipe skiing

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira competes during the men's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira found himself safely into finals after finishing seventh in the men’s halfpipe skiing qualifier at the Winter Olympics on Wednesday night — Thursday midday in China — as he looks to defend, if not improve upon, his silver medal from 2018.

The 27-year-old, who was the fifth to drop into the Zhangjiakou halfpipe in a 23-man field, cruised to an 84.25 — oddly enough, the exact same score posted by Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber in her qualifying run in the women’s contest earlier that morning — on his first run and simply took a casual joy ride on his second and final run, scoring 69.50, to advance to Friday’s final.

Ferreira opened his first run with back-to-back double cork 1260s, something he’s had as a regular go-to in his arsenal for some time. New to his bag this year is the 1620, something he did not pull out during qualifying but will likely be needed to end up on the podium come finals.

Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck overcame a bad first run to score 92 on his second with his back against the wall and qualified first, edging out New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, who finished second with 90.50.

Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck competes during the men's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP

“Oh man, that first run. I was feeling actually so good, training was going so well and there was no doubt in my mind for the first run,“ Blunck said. “But that’s not how it went at all and then on top, I am honest, I was shaking, I was so nervous. … But once I dropped in, I just remembered that it’s just skiing, I just tried to smile and just remember like, ‘It’s just skiing, dude, this isn’t what makes you as a year, just go skiing, just have some fun.’”

Porteous, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, is the favorite coming into the contest behind his back-to-back 1620 combo. He did put down a single 16 in both of his runs, but never the combo.

In third was Winter Park’s Birk Irving, an Olympic rookie, who scored 89.75 on his second run.

Winter Park’s Birk Irving competes during the men's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

Making it three Americans in the top four was Nevada’s David Wise, who was the last to drop in. The two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist scored 88.75 and 89 on his two runs to put himself in position for the three-peat. Halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut at the 2014 Games in Sochi, so Wise is the only Olympic gold medalist in the sport’s history to this point.

Canadian’s Brendan Mackay (fifth, 87.25) and Noah Bowman (sixth, 85.50) were next in qualifying, followed by Ferreira and another Canadian, Simon D’Artois, in eighth with 82.50.

New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous, Nico’s older brother, qualified through in ninth with 81, France’s Kevin Rolland was 10th with 75.25 and Switzerland’s Robin Briguet was 11th with 72.25.

Finland's Jon Sallinen collides with a cameraman during the men's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP

Just making the cut in the 12th and final spot was the Telluride-raised Gus Kenworthy, who now skis for his mother’s homeland of Great Britain. He scored 70.75 on his final run after falling on his first to keep his career going; he plans to retire after the Olympics.

Rounding out the 23-skier field was Finland’s Jon Sallinen, who graduated from Carbondale’s Colorado Rocky Mountain School as an exchange student and works with valley icon Peter Olenick, after the 21-year-old fell on both runs to finish 23rd with 18.50. It was his first Olympic appearance.

The three-run men’s final is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start on Friday night in Colorado.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira competes during the men's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck competes during the men's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP

Basalt teen Hanna Faulhaber qualifies through to Olympic halfpipe skiing final

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber made the most of her Winter Olympic debut on Thursday — or Wednesday night in Colorado — by qualifying through to the finals in the women’s halfpipe skiing contest, held in Zhangjiakou, about 110 miles from Beijing.

The 17-year-old, who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, scored 84.25 on her first run of the two-run qualifier, good enough to finish ninth among the 20-women field. The top 12 advanced to finals, which are Friday in China and will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“I’m on an all-time high right now. I can’t believe I’m here and just can’t believe this is actually happening,” Faulhaber said on the NBC Olympics television broadcast. “The relief to land my first run, it took so much pressure off. Even just this whole morning of practice I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face. I was still in shock and still super, super happy and excited to go into finals.”

The American-born Eileen Gu, who represents her mother’s homeland of China in competition, easily led the qualifier, scoring 93.75 on her first run — which would have been good enough to advance to the finals in the lead — but upped it with a 95.50 on her second run. She entered the contest as the heavy favorite and did not disappoint.

The 18-year-old Gu, who is competing in her first Olympics, has already won big air gold and slopestyle silver so far in China. She’s looking to make history with a third medal in a single Winter Olympic Games, and despite her otherworldly scores in halfpipe qualifying seems to have plenty more in the tank.

“I’m not going all out either. I have a few more tricks that I would like to be able to have the opportunity to do,” Gu said when asked about her approach to qualifying. “Given that it’s the Olympics, I want to be consistent and do my best and land my own runs and ski for myself and all of that. I had to put a safety run down first, but there are some things I’m hoping to bring out if I have the opportunity.”

Canada’s Rachael Karker qualified second with 89.50 and Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru was third with 87.50. Both are Olympic rookies, with Karker having finished second behind Gu at the world championships last spring in Aspen.

Faulhaber finished second among the four American women who competed Thursday in the Olympic qualifier, despite overcoming some equipment issues at the beginning of the contest.

“I actually ended up breaking a boot right before my first run, and then on my first run I broke a binding,” she told The Associated Press. “So we’re hanging in there, but just glad to be here and glad to be able to put down two pretty good runs.”

California’s Brita Sigourney, the veteran of the U.S. group, scored 84.50 on her second run to finish a spot ahead of Faulhaber in eighth. Sigourney is in her third — and likely final — Olympics and is the reigning halfpipe bronze medalist from Pyeongchang.

“I never really have high expectations for myself. I don’t like to put that pressure on me,” said Sigourney, who took a rough tumble during warm-ups but managed to shake it off. “It’s hard to not let the nerves get the best of you, even at your third Olympics and at 32 years old when I’ve been doing this for over 10 years. But I’m just so happy and I’m really impressed with all of the girls skiing today.”

Fellow Californian Carly Margulies also snuck into finals, finishing 10th with 82.25 scored on her second run. The 24-year-old’s story is quite impressive considering she hadn’t competed in roughly two years, overcoming her seventh knee surgery back in December to make the U.S. squad for Beijing.

“I’m still in disbelief that I’m here after everything that’s happened. I’m so thankful. I don’t know, I’m speechless. It’s crazy,” Margulies said when asked what kept her going. “I’ve always been wondering that. But as soon as I landed my first run, I realized this is why I’m still doing this sport. This is so fun. I love this sport and everyone around me that I compete with are so nice. The community in this sport is kind of what keeps me going.”

Vermont’s Devin Logan was the lone U.S. skier who did not make the cut. The slopestyle silver medalist from the 2014 Sochi Games could do no better than a 71 on her first run and finished 13th, one spot out from making finals.

The rest of the finalists include Britain’s Zoe Atkin (fourth, 86.75); China’s Kexin Zhang (fifth, 86.50); Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the reigning Olympic gold medalist (sixth, 86.25); China’s Fanghui Li (seventh, 84.75); Canada’s Amy Fraser (11th, 75.75); and Germany’s Sabrina Cakmakli (12th, 71.50).

Of note, the contest took place on Feb. 17 in China, which is the birthday of both Sildaru, who turned 20, and Logan, now 29.

The temperature was around minus-3 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of the competition, with a wind chill that made it feel like it was minus-13 degrees.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP
Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. She scored an 84.25 on her first run.
Francisco Seco/AP
Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. She scored an 84.25 on her first run.
Francisco Seco/AP
Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP
Hanna Faulhaber competes during the women's halfpipe qualification at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Gregory Bull/AP

River delivers: River Radamus talks about placing 4th in Beijing giant slalom

As the zebra-haired specimen coiled behind the gate, sitting in ninth place after the first run of the 2022 Olympic giant slalom, it’s plausible to believe that Sara Radamus may have been searching for a tree to stand behind at the bottom of the hill as she watched her son prepare for the most important moment in his athletic life.

While most parents would understandably seek such a shelter to shield their anxiety from the public eye, the response to this pressure-packed moment would be a simple continuation of his mom and dad’s habit of distancing themselves from their son’s competitive sphere, an intentional decision on the part of Aldo and Sara going back to River’s soccer playing days as a goalie.

“I would never be able to see them, but they were watching all the time,” River recalled. “They always do that because they don’t want to be living vicariously through me or make me feel like they value me for my sport accolades or anything like that. They value me as a person first, and they care that I’m being kind and gracious and working hard and all those sort of things. They’ve really made an effort to show that they don’t care if I get first or last at the Olympics.”

Speaking with a seasoned perspective on his bittersweet fourth-place finish, a debut Olympic result laced with both exhilaration and “what-if’s,” River demonstrates the mature attitude, sturdy shoulders and right mind his parents were going for when they purposefully faded into the background during games and races. Even though his performance — an Olympic best by any local thus far in a community also boasting to house Mikaela Shiffrin — is worthy of praise, Radamus exudes the proper outlook his parents were instilling when they sipped coffee and quietly watched their son deflect soccer balls from the woods. Even on the biggest stage, Radamus has never wavered from his focus to simply give it his all.

“Honestly, I’m really proud both of my preparation throughout the season and then how I executed,” he said. “I just wanted to do all of that work proud and leave everything out there, and that’s what I definitely did.”

Was he psyched to finish fourth? “Yeah, of course,” he replied. “I’d be lying if I told you I was completely thrilled, you know; it definitely stings knowing you came just short of what every kid dreams of. Overall, I’m really satisfied with my race.”

Always punctual and personal in his response to the media, River remembered a January conversation with this writer about his belief that if he could string together two great runs at the Games, he had an outside chance at the podium. After executing in the first run amid poor visibility — he noted athletes could see only to the next gate — River was pleased to sit in ninth.

“From a pressure standpoint, it’s a pretty good place to be between runs,” he said.

“I love being the hunter, not the hunted.”

While the favorites shouldered the weight of bronze, silver and gold, Radamus, who has matured in the mental skills game as of late, fostered a proper head space as he waited to attack again.

“I think to me the moment that that demanded — being at the Olympics, skiing in your second run — it’s pressure but it’s also really exhilarating,” he said of what occupied his thoughts during the hours between the two runs.

“You only get that opportunity once. Something I just kept thinking about was ‘I don’t want to look back at this run with any regret. I want to make sure that I’ve emptied the tanks, I’ve done justice to everyone that’s helped me get here and all the work I’ve put in to get here, and know I left everything out there. That’s just what I kept reiterating to myself, kept repeating in my head. Going out there, I really felt like I did that.”

With the skies clearing as the clock approached 10:45 p.m. Mountain Time on his birthday (of course, it was already Feb. 13 in China) — Radamus was able to enjoy a celebratory breakfast with his mom in the village earlier that day, something he said was “really special” — the now 24-year-old prepped himself to blitz through the “swingy“ top pitch he considered his ”power section.“

“That’s where I make my money, so I really attacked there,” he said of the initial gates, where he quickly built an early lead. Happy with his skiing overall at the top, he admitted to making mistakes, too. “Put it on my hip a couple of times, which wakes you up, but I know from watching and how I skied the first run that no one on that day was going to have a flawless run,” he said, noting that eventual silver medalist Zan Kranjec came the closest.

“Everybody was making mistakes just because of how demanding the whole atmosphere and conditions were. I was making mistakes and little bobbles, but I knew I had to keep charging because anything was possible in those conditions.”

After navigating the next pitch, he went into the meadow section, staying low and skiing “a little bit grindy.”

“I felt like I gave up time there on the first run, just giving a little bit too much respect when other guys were going a little bit cleaner, a little bit straighter,” he said. “So that was my mentality, just try to push there and not hold anything back.”

His only hiccup came in the final delay, where Radamus gave back a large portion of his then 0.46 second lead.

“I saw that in inspection,” he said of the problematic turn.

“First run it was similar, but second run it swung up more so before and after, and it was a really tight entry.” After analyzing it, Radamus determined he basically had to come through on the right foot and flip the skis immediately.

“I don’t think I gave it enough respect,” he retrospectively admitted.

“I just tried to flip and commit, and that’s a spot where there’s a hole, and I knew there was a hole there, but I thought if I completely committed to that turn I could pull off the radius I needed to. And it just sort of bucked me.”

In reflecting on the moment, Radamus conveyed honesty but also what is becoming a trademark wisdom that belies his age.

“There’s always ‘would-of’s’ and ‘could-of’s,’ but I definitely will look back on that turn and think what could have been. Because I think if I had given it a little more respect I could have been standing on that podium,” he said.

“Ultimately though, I know that making aggression mistakes feels a heck of a lot better than making passive mistakes. I really was trying to push and charge, and it’s all part of it. The good skiing is because of the aggression, and the mistakes are part of the aggression, too. So, you live and die by it, but overall I’m super proud of the performance.”

Though not afforded the glittering pre-Games attention other stars have received, Radamus always had his sights on the same prize as the big names.

“You go to the Olympics to podium. You go to the Olympics to win,” he said.

“I never grew up dreaming of going to the Olympics and getting ninth place. I sort of went into it with a podium-or-nothing mentality. Fourth is great, but I was there to leave everything out there, and I knew if I connected a run I could be up there on that podium. I made mistakes, but those are mistakes I live with and I have no shame about, because they were part of a broader approach that I felt like I executed properly.”

Still, the off-the-hill memories he is taking from his first Olympics are reminiscent of a wide-eyed child asking his favorite ballplayer for an autograph.

“It’s been like little moments. I still get star struck,” he said of what he’s taking away from the social side of his time in Beijing. “I think that’s probably the coolest part of the Olympic experience. Witnessing so many other athletes with the same goal — trying to be the greatest at the sport and accomplish greatness this week — it’s a really palpable buzz.”

In the recreation area, where a spread of ping-pong, video games, chess and other games abound, River has encountered some surreal pairings. He walked into the virtual reality room, a pickle ball court-sized area where athletes can de-stress by shooting electronic paintballs at each other, only to find over half of the top 15 skiers in the world going at it like a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese.

“It was just surreal. They’re all just playing video games, acting like kids again. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m never going to see this again,’” he said.

“Stuff like that really does make you feel like a kid again. You get that childish wonder seeing — all those people are just normal people as well, you know, but you get to share this experience with them, and a lot of those little moments will be memories that last a lifetime for me.”

Momma’s boy

Aldo and Sara’s decision to not helicopter over their prodigious son’s ski career was not due to a lack of Alpine acumen.

“I know they probably know more about the sport than I do, but it’s been a really concerted effort by them throughout all the sports I do,” River said of their parenting choice to lean towards simply watching versus intervening directly.

Even though they aren’t able to hang out much, Radamus has enjoyed having his mom at the Games, offering a big hug every time they walk by each other in the closed loop.

“I don’t go to her for skiing advice as such, but I go to her as a mom,” he said.

“I go to her to celebrate how far we’ve made it and being able to share this experience with her is really special.”

While it is admittedly a literary ploy to surmise of her ceremonious drifting behind a tree as her son prepared for that second run, even River can confirm the deeper meaning behind it all.

“I don’t think she really feels a push to coach me or give me advice, because she almost doesn’t even care how I do here,” he said, expressing the firm foundation his parents were always trying to instill, namely that a medal doesn’t define their son like his actions and character do.

Sara is in China supporting William Flaherty, an SSCV athlete who finished 40th in the giant slalom. At a recent press conference, the two athletes sat next to each other as Flaherty credited Radamus as an early inspiration. The feeling is mutual.

“I can honestly say that William is one of mine as well. The amount that he’s been through just to make it to this point is really astounding,” River said.

“I’m honored to know him and have been a little piece of his journey. I feel like we’ve sort of become family throughout this process; they’re really special kids. They’ve both been through a great deal.”

Radamus relished the moment of competing alongside Flaherty.

“I think those sorts of stories are really what make the Olympics special. It’s guys at the top that are racing for medals but it’s so much more than that,” he said. “There’s so much more to the sport than wins and losses, and I think he exemplifies that. I’m really proud of him and his effort as well.”

One final run

Radamus made his final preparations for Beijing on the supposedly kindred dry snow of Vail Mountain. In the end, with a slicker, icier substance surfacing on his second run, Radamus felt his performance benefited from a different aspect of his upbringing.

“I think my upbringing in Colorado — just freeskiing and enjoying the mountain and just putting myself in all sorts of different situations helped me to be able to adapt to situations better than most,” he said.

Athletes were not able to compete on the Beijing Alpine courses leading up to the Games, a fact Radamus believes played to his strengths.

“I really love opportunities where there are unknowns, because if I can adapt to them, I know I can beat people off the jump,” he said.

“So going to see a blind course excites me because I think that that definitely levels the playing field to some degree.”

On Feb. 19, Radamus will join Paula Moltzan, Tommy Ford and possibly Shiffrin for the team parallel event.

“I’m really excited about our team,” he said.

“I think we have a real chance to fight with the best there and come away with a medal if everything goes right. Overall I love that event. I think it’s a cool race for the fans, because it sort of contextualizes skiing and shows you who’s fast and who’s not. So I’m really excited for that one to happen and give my all one last time here.”

CRMS grad Jon Sallinen to represent Finland in halfpipe skiing at Olympics

Finnish halfpipe skier Jon Sallinen, who attended Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, is headed to his first Winter Olympics.
Courtesy image

Like all the kids these days, Jon Sallinen really built his reputation through social media. The Finn’s skiing antics created quite the following for himself on apps such as TikTok and Instagram, and it turns out he’s much more than just a gimmick on snow.

A native of Finland who in recent years found a home in the Roaring Fork Valley, the 21-year-old Sallinen is in China this week and will represent his home country at the Winter Olympics in halfpipe skiing, where he is being coached by Carbondale freeskiing icon Peter Olenick.

“It’s always been a big dream of mine to go to the Olympics since I started skiing. I’ve always followed the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics, and it’s always been this crazy big thing that it would be awesome to be a part of one day,” Sallinen told The Aspen Times prior to leaving for Beijing. “It’s not really hit me yet that I’m going. But once I step on that plane going to China, I’ll be feeling a little different. But I’m super excited to go.”

Sallinen came to the valley as an exchange student, eventually graduating from Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale in 2020. He chose CRMS in large part due to its proximity to the Aspen skiing culture, and he wanted to continue to grow in the sport, but maybe making the 2022 Olympics wasn’t necessarily on his original list of reasons to leave his homeland.

He grew up ski racing — and doing just about everything else on skis, really — but halfpipe skiing is hardly a major part of the Nordic country’s sports culture. Among Sallinen’s idols is AJ Kemppainen, a now-retired Finnish halfpipe skier who competed at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and made a handful of X Games appearances.

Finland has plenty of representation at the Olympics this year, including slopestyle snowboarders Rene Rinnekangas and Enni Rukajarvi, and the cross-country skiing siblings of Iivo and Kerttu Niskannen.

Also representing Finland at this year’s Olympics is Simo Peltola, a 21-year-old slopestyle and big air skier. But Sallinen is the lone halfpipe skier representing Finland in Beijing, and is the first from the country since Kemppainen. There were no Finnish halfpipe skiers at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.

Finnish halfpipe skier Jon Sallinen, who attended Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale and works with Roaring Fork Valley icon Peter Olenick, makes a run through the halfpipe. Sallinen will represent Finland at the 2022 Winter Olympics, where Olenick will coach him.
Sam Ferguson / Courtesy photo

“I’m excited to represent Finland and go there and try to bring halfpipe skiing back to Finland,” Sallinen said. “I just did everything as a kid, and when I came here to Aspen and studied here for a couple of years, there were a lot of kids that were super good at halfpipe skiing. And then I guess I wanted to get better than them and just try halfpipe more. I kind of got hooked on it because it’s super technical and hard. It’s probably the most technical sport of all the freestyle skiing sports.”

Sallinen eventually got connected with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and soon was on Olenick’s radar. Olenick, himself a CRMS product, was a trailblazer in freeskiing and won four X Games Aspen medals, including a silver (slopestyle) and bronze (halfpipe) in his 2004 debut. He claimed another halfpipe bronze in 2007 and won his lone gold in ski high air in 2010. Unfortunately for Olenick, freeskiing events like halfpipe and slopestyle didn’t become Olympic sports until 2014, after his career had mostly come to an end.

Finnish halfpipe skier Jon Sallinen is headed to his first Winter Olympic Games.
Courtesy photo

These days, Olenick runs his P.R.O. Team — an acronym for Peter Ryan Olenick — and specializes in coaching rising halfpipe skiers. He’s worked with many of the valley’s top prospects in recent years, including Cassidy Jarrell and Tristan Feinberg. Olenick also coached the South Korean national team at the 2018 Olympics and is technically the Finnish Olympic coach this winter through Sallinen.

“I heard for a little while from the other kids and coaches about this crazy Finnish kid doing double backflips and doubles and all the jumps the whole time that I was coaching them and how good he was,” Olenick said. “Then I got to see him for one of the first times compete in Mammoth, and he had natural talent, I would say. He reached out to me about joining up with us because he knew a bunch of the kids I was coaching already and wanted a more halfpipe-specific training program. In the last year and a half of working with Jon, I can easily say he’s the best skier I’ve ever seen.”

How to watch

Men’s halfpipe skiing qualifying, featuring Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira, will be televised live on NBC or USA beginning at 9:30 p.m. MST on Wednesday here in the Roaring Fork Valley. The women’s halfpipe skiing qualifier, featuring Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber, begins at 6 p.m. that same night and on NBC’s Peacock streaming.

The women’s final will be shown live on Thursday night and the men’s final live on Friday night here in the U.S. Both finals are scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. MST start in prime time.

According to his FIS page, Sallinen has six World Cup starts in halfpipe skiing, plus another in slopestyle. His best result was taking sixth on Dec. 30 in Calgary, a competition Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, took second in. Sallinen also represented Finland at the 2021 world championships in Aspen, where he finished 19th in halfpipe skiing.

Sallinen’s primary goal in Beijing is to make finals and put down a strong run for Finland. Qualifying is Thursday in China, which is Wednesday night in Colorado.

“The one big goal for me is to make finals and land a run that we planned in finals,” Sallinen said. “If I get that done, I can be more happy.”

Olenick has even more ambitious goals for Sallinen.

“It’s the Olympics, and it has a lot more pressure, but he’s got lots of World Cup experience, and I think we’ve been working from the last year trying to get as comfortable in that situation as we can,” Olenick said. “I am expecting Jon to podium at the Olympics. I know that’s fully in his realm. And I’m expecting him to smile.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Radamus finishes 4th in snowy Olympic giant slalom

River Radamus, of the United States passes a gate during the first run of the men's giant slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Vail ski racer River Radamus finished a career-best fourth place in the giant slalom at the Olympic Winter Games in China.

Radamus was the top American in the field, moving up in the rankings after finishing the first run sitting in 9th position.

Radamus finished 1.6 seconds off leader Marco Odermatt, of Switzerland, who laid down both the fastest first run at 1:02.93 and the fastest combined second run time of 2:09.35. The winner of a giant slalom race is the person whose posts the fastest combined time in both runs.

It was the first time snow fell during an Alpine skiing race at this year’s Olympics and the bad weather conditions caused the second run to be postponed by 1 hour, 15 minutes.

“It was a hard day, with the conditions, with such a long wait between the two runs,” Odermatt said. “It was more than five hours for me, it was such a long time to re-think everything and it was hard to stay focused. I tried to sleep some minutes in between.”

River Radamus, of the United States passes a gate during the first run of the men's giant slalom at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing
Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Zan Kranjec of Slovenia took silver, 0.19 seconds behind, and world champion Mathieu Faivre of France earned bronze, 1.34 behind. American Tommy Ford finished 12th, 3.06 seconds off Odermatt.

The skiers had been racing and training on artificial snow until the real thing started to fall on Saturday at the Yanqing Alpine Skiing Center. A second women’s downhill training run was canceled because of the conditions on Sunday.

Radamus described the course known as “The Ice River” as “a little bit bouncy.”

Radamus grew up in Edwards racing for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail, where his father Aldo Radamus is the former Executive Director.

The fourth-place result is a career best for Radamus, who has notched three top-10 giant slalom results on the World Cup this season.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report