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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

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.”

Faulhaber ready to ‘go big’ in halfpipe as Basalt teen makes her Olympic debut

Hanna Faulhaber stands at the bottom of the X Games Aspen superpipe on her first day of practice on Jan. 18, 2022, for the winter event at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Now that Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber has set foot in China ahead of her part in the Winter Olympics this coming week, reality might have set in. But prior to getting on the plane to Beijing this past Wednesday, she was still floating around in a dream world.

“That has definitely not set in,” she told The Aspen Times before heading to China. “I still just think of myself as Hanna Faulhaber. I don’t know if it will really ever set in that I am going to the Olympics or that I have been to the Olympics.”

The 17-year-old Basalt High School senior and rising star in women’s halfpipe skiing has made it to Zhangjiakou, where she’ll compete at the Olympics for the first time later this week. Her rise has been increasing in speed over the past year, where she’s quickly gone from being one of the top up-and-comers in the country to a consistent podium threat for the U.S. ski team.

While it wasn’t one of the official U.S. Olympic team qualifiers, Faulhaber’s fourth-place finish at the world championships last March in Aspen firmly put her on the international map. Then came a series of strong results in World Cup events this winter season that secured her spot on the U.S. team for Beijing. This included her first major podium when she finished third at Dew Tour back in December at Copper Mountain.

“We didn’t anticipate this at all. Maybe in the future, something you obviously work toward,” said Belinda Faulhaber, Hanna’s mother, of her daughter getting to the Olympics so soon in her career. “We didn’t anticipate it this quick. Maybe after last year and the world champs and we saw how she was skiing, but a lot of it is on Hanna and all her hard work and training and just persevering and trying to get the new tricks. It doesn’t come overnight. A lot of work goes into it.”

As excited as Hanna Faulhaber is about the Olympics, even she doesn’t know if the experience, regardless of her results in China, will be able to touch that of her time last month at X Games Aspen. Like all local Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athletes, she grew up with X Games in her backyard and earned her first start in ESPN’s iconic event this year at Buttermilk Ski Area.

Getting to drop in was enough on its own for Faulhaber. But she did much more than simply compete, eventually winning bronze behind American teammate Brita Sigourney — who only jumped over Faulhaber in the standings on her final run — and contest winner Kelly Sildaru of Estonia.

Hanna Faulhaber says a few words at the Olympic send-off event on Jan. 26, 2022, from the base of Aspen Mountain before heading to Beijing.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“It pretty much feels like a dream still, and probably always will. That night was so special and unreal,” Hanna Faulhaber said. “It was super nice to have friends and family there to watch and support, along with people from throughout the valley. Getting the bronze was definitely the cherry on top, but I was just glad to finally compete in my first X Games. The whole night would have been special with or without the third medal.”

Now, she’ll see if she can add to her medal collection. Faulhaber was named to the U.S. team for the Beijing Olympics alongside California’s Sigourney (third Olympics), Vermont’s Devin Logan (third Olympics) and California’s Carly Margulies. While this is also the first Games appearance for Margulies, at 24 years old she has much more experience to lean on compared to Faulhaber, who is by far the youngest member of the American foursome.

Sigourney is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist in women’s halfpipe skiing, having taken third in Pyeongchang behind runner-up Marie Martinod of France and 2018 champion Cassie Sharpe of Canada. The discipline only made its Olympic debut in 2014, when American icon Maddie Bowman won that inaugural gold ahead of Martinod and Japan’s Ayana Onozuka.

Bowman, Martinod and Onozuka have all since retired from competitive halfpipe skiing.

The crowd screams for Hanna Faulhaber as she drops in for her final run during her X Games Aspen debut on Jan. 21, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The U.S. men’s halfpipe skiing team in Beijing includes two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist David Wise of Nevada and reigning Olympic silver medalist Alex Ferreira of Aspen, along with Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck and Winter Park’s Birk Irving.

Ferreira, who like Faulhaber grew up skiing with AVSC, is excited by what he sees from his Roaring Fork Valley comrade.

“Hanna is amazing,” Ferreira said. “I’m so happy for her in not only persevering in doing well in these previous contests but also making her first Olympic team. She’s shown true grit, a hard work ethic and a good persona so far. So I’m really excited for her.”

Faulhaber will have her work cut out for her in China. On top of both Sharpe and Sigourney being back and looking to defend their podiums from 2018, there is a new crop of athletes hoping to steal the show, led by Sildaru and Eileen Gu.

Sildaru, 19, is a first-time Olympian, having been injured in the 2018 cycle. She recently became the most decorated teenager in Winter X Games history — she’s already won 10 medals — and is among the favorites to win in slopestyle, as well.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber airs out of her first hit during her X Games Aspen debut on Jan. 21, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area. Faulhaber placed third in the women’s halfpipe skiing final and will next compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics in China.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The U.S.-born Gu, who competes internationally for her mother’s homeland of China, is arguably the star of this entire Olympics. The 18-year-old from California broke out at X Games Aspen in 2021 when she won three medals, including two gold, in her debut there. And only last week, Gu lived up to the massive hype around her by winning Olympic big air gold in her first competition at the Games.

Both Gu and Sildaru are frontrunners for Olympic halfpipe gold, with qualifiers getting underway Thursday morning in China.

“I definitely need to step up a few things for the Olympics, such as I need a little bit bigger of a switch trick and maybe just rearranging my run a little bit. But definitely still going to be going big,” Faulhaber said of her planned halfpipe run in China. “Definitely not going conservative. Definitely have the thought of ‘go big or go home’ and not leaving anything out on the table. We are going to send it as much as we can, and hopefully it all works out.”

Faulhaber’s biggest advantage is her amplitude, which easily ranks among the best in the women’s halfpipe skiing field. She got as much as 17 feet above the lip of the halfpipe at X Games, a number some of the men’s snowboarders don’t even reach on certain hits. That said, her technical skills still need some fine-tuning, and it was Sildaru’s precision that won her gold last month in Aspen.

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber trains during AVSC’s glacier camp on June 11, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“My dream run, I think, possibly. We’ll just have to wait and see. Have to do it first,” Faulhaber said when asked if she believes her planned Olympic run has podium potential. She’s hoping her amplitude impresses the Olympic judges more than it did those at X Games. “You never know who is judging and what they will think of it. I definitely think there have been occasions where people have either liked it or people haven’t. I’m still going to do it, but we’ll see. Hopefully adding the new tricks will help out.”

Faulhaber is one of two current or former BHS students at the Olympics this year, as 23-year-old cross-country skier Hailey Swirbul also is competing in China this month. Faulhaber posted on Instagram Saturday of her cheering on Swirbul live from the women’s 4×5-kilometer relay, of which the U.S. finished sixth. This is Swirbul’s first Olympics as well, and both the cross-country skiing events and the halfpipe contests are held in the Zhangjiakou district outside Beijing.

How to watch

Women’s halfpipe skiing qualifying will be televised live on NBC or USA beginning at 6 p.m. MST on Wednesday night here in the Roaring Fork Valley. The men’s halfpipe skiing qualifier, featuring Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, begins at 9:30 p.m. that same night.

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 primetime.

Without fans at this year’s Olympics — other than some select Chinese citizens who are allowed to watch in person — both Faulhaber and Swirbul talked about how important it is to think about those back in the Roaring Fork Valley who are cheering them on in China. While Swirbul was in Europe training, Faulhaber and Ferreira both got to take part in an Olympic send-off event Jan. 26 from the base of Aspen Mountain.

“I’m going to go represent the valley, Aspen Snowmass, AVSC and Team USA. But it’s going to be weird without everybody there,” said Faulhaber, who appreciated the send-off celebration. “It was super cute to see all the younger kids there and it was a nice opportunity for me to see a few people that I hadn’t seen in a while, just like X Games was. It was definitely refreshing, would be a good word to use to explain it. It was nice to see the whole valley out there and support me and Alex and Hailey. It’s great to see.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Steamboat’s Mick Dierdorff goes down in Olympic men’s snowboard cross quarterfinals, ending run at a medal

Mick Dierdorff, top, tries to keep pace with his first heat during the 2018 Winter Olympics snowboard cross event. Dierdorff went down in the quarterfinals of the men’s snowboard cross competition at the 2022 Olympics, ending his chances at a medal.
Joel Reichenberger/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

In snowboard cross, anything can happen. Like many sports, it’s the greatest allure, but also its ruin.

Mick Dierdorff of Steamboat Springs has been competing in snowboard cross at a high level for more than a decade, so he knows how cruel the sport can be.

The 30-year-old was given a brutal reminder in the men’s Olympic snowboard cross quarterfinals on Thursday, Feb. 10, at Genting Snow Park, as a fall ended his run for a medal.

In his quarterfinal, Dierdorff dashed out into second place, challenging Alessandro Haemmerle of Austria for first.

More than halfway down the course, Dierdorff got too close to Haemmerle. Trying to correct his position, Dierdorff wobbled on his heel side right before a heel turn, which caused him to tumble backward and take out Germany’s Martin Noerl on the way down.

Anything is possible in snowboard cross, so the downed boarders got up and completed their runs. However, Haemmerle and Spain’s Lucas Eguibar had already crossed the finish line uncontested. Haemmerle went on to win gold by less than a foot, as determined by a photo finish in the final.

In the seeding runs, Dierdorff finished in the bottom half of the pack. Seeding means nothing in the elimination round, though. All seed determines is what color bib an athlete wears and which gate they start in.

Dierdorff was in the far right gate in the blue bib to the right of top-seed Haemmerle. Haemmerle and Dierdorff jumped into the one and two spots in the heat, in which the top two moved on. Dierdorff plotted a pass while fending off Canadian rider Liam Moffatt.

More than two thirds of the way down, Dierdorff slipped by Haemmerle with an inside pass on a curve. He zipped over the last few features to win the heat and move on to the quarterfinals.

Dierdorff underwent the same process in his Olympic debut in 2018, in which he qualified at the No. 27 spot before eventually finishing fifth.

Mick Dierdorff rides in the qualification round of the 2018 Winter Olympics mens snowboard cross event Thursday at Phoenix Snow Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Joel Reichenberger/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Dierdorff hit a high after those Games. In 2019, he won the men’s snowboard cross title at the World Snowboard Championships at Solitude Resort in Utah. He followed that with a mixed team title two days later alongside Lindsey Jacobellis, who won the first gold for the United States in the 2022 Games on Wednesday, Feb. 9.

Dierdorff will still have the team event, which will take place at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 11.

Americans Nick Baumgartner and Jake Vedder also competed in the quarterfinals. Vedder, who replaced an injured Alex Deibold, edged out his 40-year-old teammate in the final stretch to advance to the semifinals.

Vedder took third in the semis and competed in the small final, taking sixth.

Baumgartner, a now four-time Olympian, was disappointed in his Olympic performance, which ended less dramatically but similarly to Dierdorff’s.

“I put in so much time and effort,” Baumgartner told NBC. “And one little mistake, and it’s gone.”

Journalists share their stories of covering the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing

VAIL — Covering the Olympic Games is a dream come true for most sports journalists. In COVID-19-times and with the Games underway in a nation known for strict, opaque policies, opportunities have been scarce for both major networks and local papers. Still, members from both types of news organizations have sent brave writers to tell the stories of their regional and national heroes.

The Star Tribune (Minneapolis) sent longtime columnist La Velle E. Neal III to cover Minnesota’s 25 winter athletes. Unfortunately, despite taking every pre-trip precaution — up-to-date triple vaccinated, submitting his health status daily on an app created just for the Olympics for two weeks before departure, and enduring the necessary steps to enter the closed-loop upon arrival — Neal found himself sequestered from the athletes before a hockey puck had been dropped or snowboard had taken flight.

“I have not tested positive for COVID-19, but the person who sat directly behind me for four hours on a Japan Airlines flight from Tokyo to Beijing did,” Neal wrote, saying he landed in protocol because he was labeled a “close contact.”

200 athletes, coaches and stakeholders had tested positive when Neal penned his personal experience for the Tribune on Feb. 3. Currently, that number is up to 393, with 21-year old medal hopeful Vincent Zhou being the latest to be pulled from competition after a positive test. The figure skater, who can’t even accept his silver medal from the team event, posted an emotional video to social media after being forced out of Tuesday’s singles short program.

“It seems pretty unreal that of all the people it would happen to myself,” he said. “And that’s not just because I’m still processing this turn of events, but also because I have been doing everything in my power to stay free of COVID since the start of the pandemic. I’ve taken all the precautions I can. I’ve isolated myself so much that the loneliness that I felt in the last month or two has been crushing at times.”

For the next seven days, Neal will have his temperature taken twice daily. Then, once daily for the following seven days. He can’t ride media shuttles but can arrange private car rides to venues and media centers. Competitions are held in three clusters. The Yanqing Zone is 47 miles northwest of Beijing and the Zhangjiakou Zone is 112 miles from the capital. Neal has to work and eat alone. After another seven days, he said he’ll be able to resume normal activities.

“It’s not ideal, but it allows me to be productive,” he wrote, crediting colleague Rachel Blount for keeping him connected.

USA Today, which has 23 staff members in China, reported, “Games organizers in Beijing are taking coronavirus precautionary measures to new heights. For a start, athletes, coaches, observers and media are separated from ‘mainland China’ by a closed-loop Olympic bubble that cordons them off from the outside world. Most participants arrive in China on special charter flights and enter the loop as soon as they land.”

USA Today’s foreign correspondent Kim Hjelmgaard predicted that writers’ experiences of China will be limited to the airport, a hotel room and the venues, all of which are connected by a closed transportation system.

Media is tested daily and must wear masks at all times in public spaces while also staying a safe distance from others. Neal described the daily testing on KFAN’s Dan Barreiro Show, of which he is a regular guest. “They want you to gag. They feel it’s the best way to get the most thorough result,” Neal said.

“They deliver breakfast to my room every day, which is one egg, one sausage link, one chicken link, and a pasty,” he said of isolation, to which the KFAN cohosts joked that their friend and colleague would return to the U.S. fit and trim. Athletes have complained about the lack of food and abysmal isolation conditions.

Neal arrived at the Bird’s Nest Stadium for the opening ceremonies after being told he could attend. After he found his spot, Blount notified him that his original contact tracer — whom Neal had failed to get in touch with earlier in the day — had called to say the decision to allow him to attend had been flipped because of the number of VIPs in attendance.

“First of all, it’s OK if I’m in the media room or stadiums at these other events with other reporters, whom I’ll be much closer to then Putin or the President of Egypt or President of Turkmenistan or whomever else was in the audience yesterday because they were up in their big fancy suite area,” he said of the inconsistency.

Neal debated staying, figuring the chances of being spotted in a crowd of 80,000 were slim. “But, every time you enter a building with your media pass, they’ve got these cameras that go off and you see the picture of yourself on your pass as you walk into these facilities on the screen,” he said, deciding to play it safe, quickly notifying his editor of the situation instead.

Nat Hertz talked about his experience covering the cross-country ski events for FasterSkier.com and the Anchorage Daily News on the Devon Kershaw Show on Feb. 5. His photographer credential has allowed him to go onto the cross-country course, a perk which has enabled him to empathize with athletes dealing with the bone-chilling subzero winds on the wide-open Zhangjiakou venue. “If you have a nonphotographer credential, you cannot go onto the course, and you’re basically just like watching the race from the stadium, kind of the TV, and you’re just sort of like, ‘Why am I here,’” he said.

Hertz said officials limited the number of reporters allowed in the mixed zone, the only place where media can talk to athletes, albeit with a six-foot gap. Once that number is reached, it’s tough luck for those on the outside. “You have to just stand elsewhere where you can’t listen,” he said.

He was told that because he has a photography credential, he would not be allowed in the mixed zone altogether.

“I was like, ‘Well, so should I just fly back to Alaska, because what is the point of being here if I can’t talk to the athletes,” Hertz said.

After burning six hours navigating the high-speed bullet train system, which turns a three-hour journey into a 50-minute ride — “That was pretty life-changing,” Hertz described — to pick up his credential bib, he returned to Zhangjiakou and was told he had missed the window to go to his photo position.

“There’s always a learning curve at the Olympics,” he said.

Logistics have also been somewhat of a nightmare for Neal.

“It’s been interesting from that standpoint; just trying to be compliant and to fill out everything they want us to fill and then being at the right place at the right time, to make sure you have your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed to make sure you have access to be at all the events you want to cover,” he summarized.

In the Olympic spirit

Kershaw, a three-time Canadian Olympian, speaking with Hertz from his home in Norway, said, “I don’t envy you, I’m not going to lie.”

Hertz replied, “The thing I’ve found most interesting, I think I’m 36 hours in — you know there’s all this talk about the people in PPE, the kind of crazy, dystopian, contagion-vibe of this whole situation, but I gotta say, you know today, I got on a bus to a venue. It’s packed with people, right, and you’re like, anywhere else in the world right now, we’d all be done,” he said.

“We’d be out in six days. The entire Olympic situation would be infected with COVID. We’d all be on lockdown. The only reason this works is because China is completely draconian about it.”

Hertz said the overall experience isn’t much different than his other Olympic jobs.

“And the other thing about it is, you know, there’s all this discussion where people are like, ‘Oh, it’s terrible, you’re in the bubble, you can’t talk to the Chinese populace.’ The amount of time you spend not passed out or at the venue dialing it in on your laptop and waiting for people to come through the mixed zone. … It’s like, nobody does that anywhere,” he said.

“So honestly, after the first day of dealing with the crazy airport pass and being locked in your room waiting for your COVID result, it kind of feels like any other Olympics, with masks.”

In some spaces, volunteers have been replaced by robots, who are busy spraying disinfectant in hotels and preparing and delivering food. USA Today columnist Nancy Armour, who has covered every Olympics since 1996, believes the closed-loop is an excuse for China to prevent the world from seeing human rights violations like the imprisonment of more than 1 million Muslim Uyghurs.

“Normally our news reporter here would be out speaking with regular people in China, he’d be going to Tiananmen Square and talking to people. We don’t have the opportunity to do that this time, and I think that’s done with purpose,“ she was quoted in a piece by Nicole Carroll.

Regardless, volunteers have demonstrated incredible resilience in portraying the joy and unity of the Olympic spirit.

“And they’re like standing out there — I’m out there in like five layers, fully kitted up, barely comfortable,” Hertz said.

“These guys are in their standard issue Olympic raincoat. Not even able to run around, in a full-face shield. You walk past them and they’re like frosted in, and you’re like Jesus! It’s nothing but generosity and friendliness.”

rsederquist@vaildaily.com