A local kid got on the X Games Aspen podium on Sunday night, but it wasn’t the one most people expected. Even Jon Sallinen didn’t think he’d be taking home a medal.
“It was a little loose — the whole comp was a little loose — with a lot of crashes and a lot of people not landing their runs. But I got two pretty OK runs down, and I stayed in third place somehow,” he said. “I thought (Aaron) Blunck was going to take it for that last run but somehow managed to get it, and I’m super, super stoked.”
In his X Games debut, Sallinen finished third in the men’s halfpipe skiing contest that closed out the festivities at Buttermilk, behind silver medalist Birk Irving of Winter Park and Nevada’s David Wise, who won Aspen gold for the fifth time.
Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira — who won X Games gold in both 2019 and 2020 — crashed hard in both of his first two runs and ultimately withdrew from the competition, finishing in last place.
“Both looked super painful and gnarly, so I hope he’s doing fine, and I wish the best for him,” Sallinen said of Ferreira. Sallinen himself was battling through pain in his ribs from a crash he suffered recently at the World Cup competitions in Calgary. “Right now, I feel fine. Got this medal, so I’m super stoked.”
Sallinen grew up ski racing in his native Finland before moving to the Roaring Fork Valley as an exchange student. He closed out his high-school education at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, graduating in 2020. Through his brief time working with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, which really got him going on the path toward becoming a professional halfpipe skier, he connected with local freeskiing icon Peter Olenick, who has become his primary coach.
Sallinen has made a rapid rise up the sport’s ladder, even competing in the 2022 Beijing Olympics for Finland, finishing 23rd. He had a breakthrough win on Jan. 19 at the Calgary World Cup — Ferreira won the second event two days later — but an X Games podium is the sort of thing that can truly change a career.
“I don’t know what’s going to go on from here, but this is the biggest achievement I’ve got so far, and I’m super happy to see what’s coming up,” Sallinen said.
Crested Butte’s Blunck, a former X Games champion, did his best to knock Sallinen off the podium with a strong final run, only to have the judges slot him into the fourth spot. Canada’s Brendan Mackay was fifth, Canada’s Simon D’Artois was sixth, and Canada’s Noah Bowman was seventh, with Ferreira in eighth.
Notably absent was New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic and X Games champion, who did not compete this year.
Old Man Wise takes charge
Wise, the 32-year-old from Reno, is ancient by today’s standards, when anyone over 25 is considered a savvy veteran. But it seems the old man can still shred.
“Every X Games gold that I’ve won has been a surprise. And I kind of want to live my life that way. I don’t want to go in with this entitlement or this expectation that I’m going to win,” he said. “I’m an entertainer at the end of the day. If my entertainment for folks earns me a gold medal, great. So I’m just as surprised this time as I was the very first time I won it. It’s such an honor to still be here in the game.”
Wise, a three-time Olympic medalist (including gold in both 2014 and 2018), first competed at X Games in 2011. The first of his now five gold medals came in 2012, with others coming in 2013, 2014, and 2018.
While it may be hard to accept, he has also embraced his role as mentor and wise sage for the younger generation — as long as they know he can still keep up with them.
“I wasn’t feeling old today while skiing because I was feeling great. But I did start to feel old when they told me,” he said about being told his first medal came 11 years ago. “A lot of my younger teammates have grown up watching me ski, which makes me feel really old. But it’s also exciting. It’s like a living legend thing. Not only was I there then, but I’m still here now, and I have a lot to give those guys.”
Don’t expect Wise to slow down anytime soon. Sunday’s X Games win only fuels his fire to compete, and he already has eyes on a fourth trip to the Olympics, with the 2026 Games in Italy next up. He would be 35 if he were to go, much like Shaun White was this past winter when he competed in his final Olympics in Beijing.
“I love being able to still be out here competing but also take on this mentorship role and enjoy the ride with my peers,” Wise said. “I wouldn’t be here sending it as hard as I am if I didn’t think I was going to make a run for ’26. I love this job. I just do.”