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Colbert: Looking at Aspen’s Olympic hopefuls after ski team nominations

This past week, U.S. Ski and Snowboard announced its nominations for the 2020-21 season. Surprises were few in regard to Roaring Fork Valley athletes, with household names like Alex Ferreira and Simi Hamilton again on the list, and a couple, like Hailey Swirbul, getting a slight promotion.

What the nominations really do is give us an indication on what the next Winter Olympic season will be like. We’re past halfway between the 2018 Games in South Korea and the 2022 Games in Beijing, and this coming winter is an important one in terms of positioning for those coveted spots on the U.S. Olympic teams.

The bulk of the qualifying will happen in the two or three months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, but we’re plenty close enough to start making some guesses on who will don the Red, White and Blue in China. Below is a list of Roaring Fork Valley — or thereabouts — athletes who have a shot at making the Olympics two years from now, grouped by probability.

Keep in mind, these are nothing more than my best guesses and don’t factor in injuries or pandemics. Also, this list is hardly all-inclusive, so it may be missing a few of the athletes pushing the next level.

GOLD (see you in China)

Alex Ferreira: Aspen’s golden boy might be the best halfpipe skier on the planet right now. He won silver in his lone Olympic appearance in 2018 and has won gold at X Games Aspen the past two years. He’s a legit rock star (no, seriously, he’s sponsored by Rockstar Energy) and will be a frontrunner for Olympic gold in 2022.

Hailey Swirbul: The Basalt High grad was promoted to the A team for the 2020-21 season, a huge nod of approval from the U.S. cross-country ski team. This coming winter will only be her third with the national team, and if she continues on her current path, there’s no question she’ll compete at her first Olympics in two years.

Alice McKennis: The New Castle native and former AVSC athlete is a veteran on the U.S. alpine ski team and competed in both the 2010 and 2018 Olympics (injury kept her out of 2014). She was a surprising fifth in the 2018 Olympic downhill (only two spots behind Lindsey Vonn) and I think she’ll get one more shot at Olympic glory before calling it a career.

Chris Corning: He’s really more of a Summit County guy, but the big air and slopestyle snowboarding star did spend a few years training in Aspen with AVSC, so we claim him. He’s won everything under the sun outside of X Games Aspen and the Olympics, and in my mind rivals Max Parrot and Mark McMorris in terms of big air talent. He finished fourth in big air at the Games in South Korea, his first Olympic appearance, and should be a podium favorite in 2022.

SILVER (nothing is guaranteed, but decent chance)

Hanna Faulhaber: Only 15, the Basalt High School student is a star-in-the-making in women’s halfpipe skiing. With Maddie Bowman retired, a youngster like Faulhaber will have a shot at making the 2022 Olympic team. The 2026 Games might be more realistic for her, but Faulhaber has taken leaps, not baby steps, in her development each year, so let’s dare to dream.

Cassidy Jarrell: Aspen’s next great halfpipe skier is now on the U.S. pro team with Ferreira and Aaron Blunck, and will be one of a handful competing for an Olympic spot in 2022. He made his X Games Aspen debut this past winter, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of him going forward. However, men’s halfpipe skiing in the U.S. is lit right now, so Jarrell will have a lot of competition for only a few spots on the Beijing team.

Bridger Gile: The Aspen-raised alpine skier might have a legit shot at the 2022 Olympics, considering he’s been moved up to the B team for the upcoming winter. He was a star on the Nor-Am Cup this past season and will hopefully get his first World Cup start before the year is out.

Jake Canter: Another rising star who formerly trained with AVSC, Canter remains on the U.S. rookie team. Only 16, the slopestyle snowboarder has competed in knuckle huck the past two years at X Games Aspen. Sadly, knuckle huck is not yet an Olympic sport, so Canter will need to step it up in the traditional events to make it to China.

Hagen Kearney: The Telluride alpine snowboarder also has ties with AVSC and competed at the 2018 Olympics, taking 13th in snowboardcross. He’s once again on the A team for this coming winter and should no doubt make a good case for a return trip to the Olympics in 2022.

We need to also shout out Eagle’s Jake Pates here, a halfpipe snowboarder and 2018 Olympian. He had a very brief stint with AVSC when he was younger and could push for a 2022 spot.

BRONZE (probably won’t happen, but you never know)

Cooper Cornelius: Another young alpine skier, the Glenwood Springs product and AVSC athlete is nipping at Gile’s heels in terms of being the area’s next great ski racer. He’s on the C team, so he probably needs a big winter to firmly move into the Olympic conversation.

Kate Oldham: The Colorado Rocky Mountain School senior and AVSC athlete was named to the U.S. national training group, which feeds into the national teams. The cross-country skier really is a long shot to make the Olympic team, but considering she’s knocking on the door of the national team and still has two winters to make her case, she’s worth bringing up.

Galena Wardle: Injuries have plagued the young Aspen alpine skier’s career so much that she wasn’t named to the U.S. national team for this coming winter. Doesn’t mean she’s out of the equation, but it’s not promising. Utah’s Isabella Wright, who has also trained with AVSC, made the U.S. development team for the 2020-21 alpine season. Current AVSC alpine skier Stella Johansson also is pushing the threshold of the national team, getting an invite to be part of the national training group.

Tristan Feinberg: Another one of the area’s rising stars in halfpipe skiing — we seem to have a lot of them these days — the teen is not on the national team but is certainly knocking on the door. He’s got a few World Cup starts under his belt and is only a couple of stellar runs away from adding his name to the mix. Young Kai Morris is coming up fast as well, so keep him in mind.

OFF THE PODIUM (been there, done that)

Simi Hamilton: Aspen’s timeless wonder is the only member of the men’s A team in cross-country skiing for the 2020-21 season. He’s a three-time Olympian and has long been the country’s top sprinter. However, he’s 32 and earlier this spring basically said this coming season will likely be his last. But who knows, maybe he has a change of heart ahead of the next Olympic push.

Noah Hoffman: A two-time Olympic cross-country skier who grew up in Aspen, the distance specialist retired after the 2018 Olympic season. Safe to say he won’t compete in Beijing, but we had to give him a nod for one solid career. He’s still got it, though, as he showed last fall by winning the Aspen Backcountry Marathon.

Wiley Maple: A true Aspen cowboy, Maple recently retired because of a lingering back injury. He’s been on and off the U.S. alpine ski team more times than we can count, but defied the odds and made the 2018 Olympic team, taking 30th in the downhill. Bon voyage to the Aspen legend.

Torin Yater-Wallace: As long as he’s been around, I’d bet a lot of money Yater-Wallace was at least 35. Shockingly, the halfpipe skiing icon is only 24 but has seemingly stepped away from the competitive world. The two-time Olympian did make an X Games Aspen cameo in knuckle huck back in January, but won’t compete in halfpipe anymore. He wasn’t named to the U.S. national team for the coming season, a choice he likely made.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Basalt High School names Clint Hunter new boys basketball coach

Roughly 1,200 miles from Chicago, Jason Santo was able to dig into his Illinois roots to find the next boys basketball coach for Basalt High School. The first-year BHS athletic director, who moved to the Roaring Fork Valley this summer from Geneva, Illinois, recently hired Clint Hunter to take over the Longhorn program.

Hunter is a native of Naperville, Illinois, which like Geneva is a Chicago suburb. The towns are only separated by about 20 miles.

“It was a total coincidence. I think it’s great. Clint is a young guy who has got a ton of energy and love for basketball,” Santo said. “It just became easy for me to say this guy is a natural fit for what I want to do with Basalt and he has the same visions I do. I think it’s that Illinois mentality of this is how we want to do things.”

Hunter, 30, replaces C.P. Martinez, who stepped down earlier this summer after leading the Basalt boys basketball program for two seasons. The hire was the first significant coaching hire for Santo as Basalt’s athletic director.

A graduate of Naperville North High School and nearby North Central College, Hunter immediately returned to his high school alma mater where he has coached the past 12 years. A school of nearly 3,000 students, he’s primarily been the boys sophomore coach for one of the better programs in Illinois. Under head coach Jeff Powers, the varsity team went a combined 74-14 from the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season.

“We played against his team two seasons ago in a regional championship. Their program was stacked and really good that year,” Santo said, pointing out Naperville North’s postseason win over Geneva in 2018. “The community is going to love him. I think the kids already are loving him, just being around him. My hope is that when you come see Basalt basketball you see the energy that Clint is really bringing to the program.”

Hunter moved to the Roaring Fork Valley over the summer as well. He followed his wife, who has roots in Colorado Springs, to the area after she took a job at Valley View Hospital. Hunter, who is a special education teacher at BHS, actually held open gym workouts with the Basalt players during the summer before being hired as head coach.

“We came and visited and loved it and decided it was the right fit for us. We took a leap of faith,” Hunter said of moving to Basalt. “It was nice being able to pop in and hold open gyms over the summer. Every day I was able to be with them is going to help out that much more come season time. It’s a lot easier to coach when you have a relationship to coach off of.”

Hunter takes over a program coming off back-to-back losing seasons, including a 3-17 campaign in 2018-19. However, Basalt is only three years removed from its historic 2016-17 season under coach Danny Martinez, when the Longhorns went 21-4 while being led by then-senior Michael Glen, who has become a standout player for the NCAA Division II Colorado School of Mines in Golden.

Hunter said he liked what he saw in terms of athleticism when working with the returning players over the summer.

“In order to capitalize on that, we are going to work to play very quick and with a lot of transition, especially on the offensive end,” Hunter said. “On the defensive end, we will rely on defensive transition, as well, going the other way. But I think we are going back to the basics to figure out what they know.”

Official practices get underway Nov. 18, with the first games of the 2019-20 season slated for Dec. 2 across Colorado. Hunter said Eric Vozick will return as an assistant coach this winter, and BHS has also hired Aspen High School graduate Dom Alcorta as an assistant.

“He’s going to have them do the fundamentals. He’s going to help build the program and he really cares about the kids,” Santo said of Hunter. “When we look for coaches, what we are looking for … are people who are going to be great educators of young men and young women and Clint fits that to a T.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Second-year league builds lifelong love of climbing for Colorado high schoolers

EAGLE — More than 100 cumulative years of coaching experience came together at Eagle Climbing + Fitness on Saturday to prepare for the upcoming American Scholastic Climbing League season in Colorado.

The annual coaches clinic predates the league itself, as competitive climbing in one form or another has been present in Colorado for decades, and the clinic has helped set the stage for the upcoming season.

The league was created in 2018 as a spinoff of the Colorado High School Climbing League, which was established in 2008 as a spinoff of an organized climbing effort started in the early ‘90s.

Attending the clinic on Saturday, Colorado Rocky Mountain School coach Dave Meyer thought back to those days.

“It started with Montrose High School and Gunnison High School: Both those schools had climbing programs, and they would bring their kids together to climb together,” Meyer said.

‘Not about winning’

Now serving hundreds of kids across Colorado, the American Scholastic Climbing League hopes to create a model that can be emulated all over the country.

But first, it stresses a clearly defined set of goals, most of which minimize the competitive aspect of the sport while emphasizing “community, perseverance, trust, and support,” according to the league’s philosophy statement. “The League is not about winning or preparing individual students for the Olympics.”

For that, climbers have USA Climbing, the national governing body of the sport of competitive climbing. Making the high school league significantly different than the USA Climbing circuit was important to organizers.

“The focus is on getting all the kids together who are climbers in a really positive, supportive, connected atmosphere,” Meyer said. “Because if it’s only about the individual and beating people, they can do that with USA Climbing.”

Logical location

Local climbing coach Larry Moore, who runs Eagle Climbing + Fitness, has been coaching at the USA Climbing level for years but is new to the American Scholastic Climbing League. Embracing the group’s mission, Moore offered to host the state championship this season.

“One of my main goals was to get the scheduling to be different enough from USA Climbing that kids could participate in both,” Moore said.

When it was decided that Eagle Climbing + Fitness would host the state championship in February, the new gym also became a logical location for the coaches clinic.

The American Scholastic Climbing League season runs from September to February. League executive director Theresa Morris said having all 16 high school coaches from around the state in Eagle on Saturday would allow them to see the venue where state championships will take place. Eagle Climbing + Fitness has been open for about 10 months.

“We’re getting coaching information and helpful hints, but also looking at the site,” she said.

The clinic is an important setup session for the upcoming season, Morris said.

“By being face to face and in person, conversations are more efficient, you get more done, I can catch everyone up to speed — it’s more productive, more beneficial all around,” Morris said.

Scott Dodd and Ben Rathbun instructed the coaches on competition route setting, Dr. Mark Pitcher discussed injury awareness and prevention, Moore and Lucie Hanes discussed competition training and competition strategy, and John Mark Seelig went over strength training and nutrition.

“Our goals are to get the coaches and the adult staff more training in climbing with youth, dealing with youth climbers and making sure they have an enjoyable and inclusive and safe experience,” Morris said. “So they want to climb throughout their whole life.”

jlaconte@vaildaily.com