Alex Ferreira of Aspen shows his bronze medal after the men’s halfpipe ski final at the Winter Olympics on Saturday February 19, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
Worlds away from Beijing, Colorado’s top high school skiers gathered Friday night at Granby’s Middle Park High School for the CHSAA State Championships Awards Ceremony. The procession was slowed down by the Olympic men’s halfpipe skiing bout, which featured both Aspen’s Alex Ferreira and Winter Park’s Birk Irving.
“They were doing the awards show and they had a split screen because on one side there was all the awards shows but on the other side was a superpipe live stream because of their guy Birk,” Aspen High School Nordic Ski Coach Das said Travis Moore on Saturday. “And they kept interrupting the awards ceremony so Birk could ski, but in the end our guy from Aspen beat him.”
It was the final freeskiing event of the Beijing Winter Olympics, won by New Zealand’s Nico Porteous while Nevada’s David Wise finished second. But the bronze medal went to Ferreira, who defended the last podium spot ahead of Canada’s Noah Bowman and Irving, who finished fifth.
“Didn’t quite go my way,” Irving told reporters after Zhangjiakou’s contest. “It was really difficult with the wind to find small windows with good skiing I think. Couldn’t quite find the speed but was excited to put something down and compete in my first Olympics.
Here are some other nuggets to take away from the men’s Olympic halfpipe ski finals:
Ferreira overcomes for another Olympic podium
Ferreira, the 27-year-old native of Aspen, won silver at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, his first start at the Olympics. But over the next few years he developed serious neck pain from a pinched nerve that he left untreated for too long, necessitating surgery just nine months ago.
After one of the worst seasons of his career last winter – at least by his standards – Ferreira found a new life with a clean bill of health and it shows in his skiing this season. He won the season-opening Copper Mountain Grand Prix and then won the Dew Tour for a third time, both in consecutive weeks in December to earn a seat on the plane to China.
He sat out the X Games Aspen, which he admitted was a difficult decision, to rest for the Olympics, a move that paid off when he was presented with the bronze medal for third place.
Aspen’s Alex Ferreira is lifted by his coach Elana Chase after winning bronze in men’s halfpipe skiing at the Winter Olympics on Saturday February 19, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
“I’m thrilled,” Ferreira told reporters after the final. “Just being on the podium is incredible. It was such a tough competition with some really tough conditions so it’s a real pleasure to share the podium with my teammate David Wise and a friend Nico Porteous.”
Dealing with Mother Nature
The weather didn’t do the athletes any favors on Saturday at the Genting Snow Park. A steady breeze with reported gusts of up to 40mph – added to a wind chill that dropped to minus 26 degrees Fahrenheit – made it a challenging contest.
“I had so much prepared,” Wise said of his scheduled Olympic runs. “It’s like I cooked a meal for everyone and couldn’t share it.”
Ferreira said his runs accounted for about 85% of what he was capable of due to the wind. In the final, a large majority of the athletes fell, and all three podium runs were dropped in the first of the three laps.
Porteous was one of those who took quite a bit of damage on his last run, with only Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck yet to go. Blunck was also hit hard on his last run but seemed to be doing well after the contest.
“Pretty stupid decision to do that,” Porteous said of his latest trick, a failed 1440 attempt that got blood from his right ear. “But it’s the Olympics. So you have to leave everything out there.”
While it seemed like the wind would hit skiers the most as they climbed the lip of the halfpipe, Irving said the transitions were just as difficult.
From left, David Wise, Nico Porteous and Alex Ferreira stand after receiving their medals from the Men’s Halfpipe Ski Finals during the medals ceremony at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games on Saturday February 19, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
“It just spun around and hit both sides of the pipe, so it kind of came to the chest when it came through,” he said. “It would only slow you down if you go into the left or right wall, really whichever one you go into. It happens. It’s part of it. We don’t do indoor sports.”
A well-known pedestal
The Beijing Olympics medalists were the same three who finished on the podium in South Korea four years ago, albeit in a different order. Wise had won gold in both 2014 and 2018 – halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut at those Sochi 2014 games – so this year’s silver win officially ended his reign at the top of the sport. Still, that’s three medals from three Olympics for the 31-year-old from Reno, who probably won’t be competing for a spot at the Italy 2026 Olympics but also never entertained the idea of retiring in the run-up to Beijing.
Porteous won Olympic bronze in 2018 as a 16-year-old and has since taken over the sport. He goes into the offseason as an Olympic gold medalist, world champion and two-time reigning X Games Aspen champion. If there was any doubt as to who is the best halfpipe skier in the world, the Kiwi has clearly ended that discussion in China.
“It feels unreal. We’re a bunch of workhorses I think,” Ferreira said with a laugh at why the same trio found the Olympic podium together again. “The hardest workers get on the podium and Dave is a good friend of mine. He is a good man. Nico is a good friend of mine. He inspires me. Both do it every day.”
From left: David Wise, Nico Porteous and Alex Ferreira celebrate at the end of the halfpipe during the Venue Awards Ceremony for the Men’s Halfpipe Ski Finals at the Winter Olympics on Saturday February 19, 2022 in Zhangjiakou, China.
Ferreira said Porteous, who landed first back-to-back 1620s at X Games Aspen 2021, was his inspiration to also learn the double cork 1620, which requires four and a half turns in addition to the two inversions. or cork. Ferreira has landed the trick a couple of times now in the competition, albeit not on back-to-back hits like Porteous. He successfully laid down the 1620 in Saturday’s Olympic final, but missed grabs kept him from pushing Wise and Porteous to a higher spot on the podium.
“To be on the podium in such difficult conditions really feels like I’ve won gold,” said Ferreira. “The wind was definitely a factor. Conditions are difficult and sometimes the universe has other plans for you and you have to adapt like us. I did my best and ended up on the podium.”
fun with numbers
Nine medals have been awarded since men’s halfpipe skiing made its debut at the Olympics in 2014. Wise and Ferreira now make up five of them together, with Porteous making up two more. The other two are Canadian Mike Riddle (silver) – Riddle is currently coaching the US halfpipe team – and Frenchman Kevin Rolland (bronze), both since 2014. Rolland finished sixth in Beijing.
New Zealand’s Nico Porteous stands after receiving his gold medal in the men’s halfpipe ski final at the Winter Olympics, Saturday February 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
A not-so-fun number for Blunck is seven, which is exactly the place the 25-year-old Colorado native has finished in all three of his Olympic appearances. Blunck has won X Games and World Championships, so the Olympic podium is pretty much the only thing missing from his resume.
The Beijing competition was the career finale for at least two of the skiers, Rolland and Gus Kenworthy, both of whom are retiring. Rolland, 32, the cousin of French freeskier Tess Ledeux, was a 2009 world champion (he also has three other world championship podiums) and was a three-time X Games champion.
Kenworthy, 30, grew up in Telluride and was long a mainstay of the US Ski Team before deciding to compete in his final Olympics for his mother’s home country, Britain. A five-time X-Games medalist, Kenworthy won Olympic slopestyle silver in 2014 and was one of the first action athletes to be revealed as gay.
“This sport and the Olympics and competing at a professional level has changed my life in ways I never could have imagined,” said Kenworthy, who finished eighth in Beijing. “I’m gay. I felt like I didn’t belong, in sport. I’m proud to be in the Olympics and all the opportunities that have been given to me since the Olympics, I couldn’t be more grateful.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.