Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, an Olympic halfpipe skier, salutes the crowd as he is unveiled at the base of Aspen Mountain on Wednesday, January 26, 2022 at the Olympic retirement ceremony.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

In consecutive weeks in December, Aspen’s Alex Ferreira returned to the top step of the podium for the first time since January 2020 when he won his second X Games Aspen crown.

The previous year had been an uphill battle for the halfpipe skier and included minor surgery to ease some neck pain, a stretch that cast some doubt on his career.

Then came those two weeks at Copper Mountain and those two wins. And the world was once again shining brightly for the local superstar.

“It’s a spectacular feeling,” Ferreira recently told the Aspen Times. “I never knew if I would stand on the box again. And to be able to do that weeks in a row is such a joy and a privilege and a moment of gratitude.”

Those two victories – one at the Copper Grand Prix and one at the Dew Tour, held in the same halfpipe – secured a spot on the US Olympic team for Ferreira, who arrived in China just days before making his second appearance at the Winter Games.

The 27-year-old is the reigning Olympic silver medalist in men’s halfpipe skiing, but he doesn’t think his life has changed all that dramatically since his second-place finish in Pyeongchang, South Korea four years ago.

“Maybe I’ll get a certain level of respect from people who don’t know me or from people who do,” Ferreira said. “I’d like to think I’ve grown as a person, but I’m still the same old Alex. Nothing has changed. Hopefully I’ll just keep getting better.”

Ferreira’s meteoric rise ahead of his first Olympics began with his 2017 Dew Tour win, the first major win of his career. He then went on to win the Dew Tour again in 2018, finishing second to David Wise of Nevada a few months later in Pyeongchang.

His upward trend didn’t slow down even after the 2018 Olympics. Ferreira’s biggest career win came at the X Games in 2019 when, at the age of 24, he finally won his prestigious hometown event in his seventh appearance there. He successfully defended his X Games Aspen title in 2020 before finishing just seventh in 2021 when fans were barred from attending due to the pandemic.

Alex Ferreira smiles after winning gold in Men’s Halfpipe Skiing for the second straight year at the X Games Aspen on Sunday, January 26, 2020 at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“I didn’t do well in any of the three events last year and that frustrates me to death,” said Ferreira. “I hate putting my heart and soul into something and not being able to deliver results in return. It was kind of driving me crazy, as was the pain and the throat surgery. I was just so hungry to feel normal again. And I think that’s a big part of why I’m so motivated. I feel like myself again.”

Ferreira’s 2020-21 competitive season also included a fourth-place finish at the World Championships and a sixth-place finish at the Aspen Grand Prix, which served as the US Olympic team’s first official qualifier. All three of Ferreira’s competitions last season took place at the Buttermilk Ski Area.

Ferreira entered the Olympic bubble this winter, edging out world champion Nico Porteous of New Zealand to win the season-opening Copper Grand Prix and all but secure a spot on the trip to Beijing. He took away every last doubt when, just days later, he won the Dew Tour, which was also an official qualifier for the US Olympic team.

Ferreira even finished on the podium twice in two World Cup competitions around New Year’s Day in Calgary – finishing second both times behind Canada’s Brendan Mackay – but didn’t make it out of qualification at the final Olympic qualifier a week later, the Grand Prix Mammoth, although his Olympic fate was already sealed by that point.

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira comes by during heat two of the Men’s Half Pipe Ski Finals at X Games Aspen at Buttermilk Ski Area on Friday, January 29, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“I’m thrilled. I feel the same tremors as the first time. In a way, I also feel a little calmer than the first time,” Ferreira said of his return to the Olympics and surviving the rigorous US qualifying process. It’s intense. It takes you to the edge of what you think you can do and what’s possible. Being able to finish earlier was different for me before. I usually wait until the last minute so it’s nice to do it a little earlier than lock others up and sit back and maybe just enjoy it a little more.”

In a last-second decision, Ferreira opted to sit out X Games Aspen this year, which he says was “mainly just to stay in the right head game and watch the competition and just get the body right and the mind even more right Porteous won the competition for the second year in a row while Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck was second and Wise third.

Attending the Beijing Olympics, Ferreira looks like all systems are going and he understands he has to be. The 2018 competition in PyeongChang was an intense back-and-forth, mainly with Ferreira and Porteous, then only 16, swapping the lead in each final round. However, it was Wise who also won the inaugural Olympic halfpipe ski competition in 2014, stealing gold in his final run, knocking Ferreira back to silver and Porteous to bronze.

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira beams from the halfpipe during the finals at X Games Aspen on Friday, January 29, 2021 at the Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Ferreira doesn’t remember many sights from those Olympics, as he doesn’t usually like to watch other skiers’ runs. But he remembers the sounds and emotions of that day in South Korea.

“I remember hearing screams and cheers as we rode the chairlift,” Ferreira said. “It was interesting to hear how the competition was and to see it later and see what happened. It was very exciting. During the contest there were many position changes and many great runs landed. If I go to Beijing, I’ll probably follow a similar strategy. I will not watch any of the runs and listen to the contest.”

This year’s competition – the men’s qualification is scheduled for Thursday at 12:30 p.m. local time in China at the Genting Snow Park near Zhangjiakou – will be much more challenging than 2018. The difficulties related to COVID-19 and simply getting into the The Olympic bubble was problematic enough for Ferreira and the US team, but they know the level of skiing will be much higher than in Pyeongchang and Porteous has a lot to do with that.

Alex Ferreira holds his gold medal after winning the Men’s Half Pipe Ski Finals at the X Games Aspen on Sunday, January 26, 2020 at the Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Kiwi raised the bar significantly at X Games Aspen in 2021 when his winning streak included consecutive 1620s completed for the first time in a men’s halfpipe skiing competition. His winning streak at the X Games in 2022 involved a similar combination.

“It’s getting harder and harder and I think to win this year it definitely needs two way double cork 1620s and probably both ways switch skiing,” Ferreira said of the 2022 Olympic competition would ever do until Nico did it and I saw where the sport was going. At first I was like, ‘Oh, jeez, this is going to be hard.’ And now that I’ve put the time in and learned both, I’m so grateful that he broadened my horizons and made me better and made me better. It made me believe what I didn’t think was possible. I’m super grateful.”

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira airs out of the Superpipe during practice for X Games Aspen on Wednesday, January 27, 2021 at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Unlike the men’s half-pipe snowboarding competition at the Olympics last week, which was easily won by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano with his historic triple cork, the men’s half-pipe skiing competition should deservedly have a few more athletes, though Porteous certainly the favorite is. Wise, who is 31, faces an uphill battle for his Olympic three-peat, but Ferreira, Blunck and even Mackay should be able to go race after race with Porteous.

Winter Park’s Birk Irving, the 22-year-old Olympic rookie who rounds out the US line-up with four skiers, should also be a contender for the podium.

“I feel prepared,” said Ferreira. “I feel ready. I put a lot of time into my training and the practice side of things this past fall. I think it’s going to be a really good one.”

The Olympics will serve as the last major halfpipe competition of the season, ending the competition schedule a little earlier than usual for most athletes. Ferreira, who would turn 31 before the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, said he hadn’t given much thought to his career outside of Beijing but was mostly grateful to be able to enjoy skiing again.

“Honestly, I haven’t thought about it too much. I know I’m having a lot of fun skiing and with my friends right now,” Ferreira said of his future. “Of course the results speak for themselves, doing good, so if this continues then why not? I think just go day by day, moment by moment and keep doing my best.”

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