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Snowmass briefs: Hitting the trails

Snowmass 50 hits the trails Saturday

The Snowmass 50 mountain bike race is back Aug. 6, when competitive mountain bike racers will complete one or two 25-mile loops around Snowmass Village. 

Hikers and recreational bikers should be mindful of racers when out on the trails Saturday. The race course begins and ends on Fanny Hill and tackles some of the town’s most popular trails, including Viewline and Deadline in Sky Mountain Park, the Tom Blake trail, some cross-country riding trails that traverse Snowmass Ski Area and the North and South Rim trails. 

For a full description of the route, visit bit.ly/3zr1ICp

5K on the Mountain back in town Friday, Saturday

The 5K on the Mountain race returns to Snowmass Village this weekend with two race options and post-run beers as part of the Colorado Brewery Race Series. 

The first race takes place in two waves at 6 and 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 5 to coincide with International Beer Day. The second race takes place in two waves at 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 6 

People can participate in one or both races, which are structured as untimed fun runs open to all levels of runners, walkers and joggers. The course begins and ends on the Snowmass Mall. 

Participants who are 21 or older will get a complimentary beer from New Belgium Ranger Station once they finish.  
For registration and more information, visit bit.ly/3OrQ7rg.

Triple Crown World Series returns in full swing to Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley

Youth baseball players and their families will inundate Snowmass Village and the greater Roaring Fork Valley this week for the Triple Crown World Series, which brings 45 teams from 12 states (including Colorado) to the region.

The event, headquartered in Snowmass Village, began with an opening ceremony at Snowmass Base Village on Tuesday, followed by games through the weekend. The opening day was scheduled to kick off with a skills challenge competition in El Jebel, followed by a talk from the Positive Coaching Alliance about good sportsmanship. Comedian and baseball player Domingo Ayala was set to attend the opening ceremony.

Games will be held through Sunday at Snowmass Town Park and Aspen’s Iselin Field and Rotary Park, as well as at other fields in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. All games are free and open to the public.

This is the second year the series is taking place in Snowmass, although the event started 25 years ago. Prior to last year, the series was hosted in Steamboat Springs. The event grew in part due to the change in location, since teams were more excited to travel to Snowmass because of its international reputation, according to Triple Crown media and marketing director Andy Hansen.

Players gather for the opening ceremony of the Triple Crown World Series on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Snowmass Base Village. The youth baseball tournament runs through Sunday and is played on fields up and down the Roaring Fork Valley.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

​​“One of the main reasons we moved here was because of all the fun things that there are to do for the team, and it really offers even more activities here than Steamboat Springs,” Hansen said.

Snowmass was selected as the new headquarters for the event due to the abundance of activities for players and their families, according to Hansen.

Its central location in the Roaring Fork Valley and the variety of lodging available, including many condo-style units, were also determining factors, according to Snowmass Tourism Director Rose Abello.

“Snowmass is renowned as a family playground, so these folks will be able to take advantage of many of our popular offerings,” Abello said.

According to Hansen, 675 families of players between the ages of 9 and 14 are expected to flock to the Roaring Fork Valley, bringing traffic to local businesses.

“The area should be excited to have all the teams in town because they’re going to come in and spend money and bring some economic impact to the communities,” Hansen said.

Teams are required to stay in lodging facilities that have partnered with the event, according to Hansen. Lodging will be located at several locations across the valley.

Former professional player Nicole Trimboli, at left, speaking for the Positive Coaching Alliance of Colorado, gives her first remarks during the opening ceremony of the Triple Crown World Series on Tuesday, July 19, 2022, in Snowmass Base Village.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

With the event occurring during peak summer season, the town of Snowmass Village is expecting occupancy to be above 90%.

“This is a good thing,” Abello said. “We regularly send local businesses occupancy outlooks, so they should be prepared.”

Last year, the event was well received by Snowmass locals.

“We got a lot of positive feedback last year, especially from locals who went to see the games. … These athletes are really amazing,” Abello said. “I encourage anyone who is around to pop over to a field to catch a game.”

ameyer@aspentimes.com

Asher on Aspen: When the Streetlights Come On

There are some Christmases that live in your memory forever. I can think of a few off-hand, but there is one year in particular that I will never forget. I was 12 years old, and I was obsessed with playing outside and being with my friends, who lived down the street. I remember money being especially tight that year, so I wasn’t expecting anything big for Christmas. To my utmost surprise, my dad carried one very large package up the stairs for me to open. I will never forget the moment I unwrapped my shiny new purple bicycle. I was completely stunned by the magnitude of this gift and almost in disbelief that my parents got me this cool of a present. It was all I had ever dreamed of at the time. I could hardly wait until the next morning to drive it down the street to my friend’s house to show off my new ride.

The next morning came, and I proudly rode my glorious new purple bicycle down the street to parade it in front of my friend’s house. I promptly rang her doorbell and then quickly ran back down to hop on my bike. I started casually circling in figure-eight formations in the street until she came outside. I thought I was so cool. She marveled at the bike and was equally as impressed as I was. I rode that bike nearly every single day until I learned to drive. I was glued to that bike from the moment I woke up in the morning to the moment the streetlights came on at night. It brought me an unreasonable amount of joy.

Recently, my friend and I decided to rent e-bikes and ride up to the majestic Maroon Bells. This is famously known for being one of Colorado’s most iconic bike rides. Having never done it before in my six years living here, I reasoned it was time to check it off the bucket list. Not only had I never been to the Bells with an e-bike, but it was also my first time ever riding an e-bike. Can you believe that?

It was early on a Saturday morning, and the downtown Farmer’s Market was in full swing. We strolled into the Hub of Aspen to pick up our e-bikes and escape the crazy hustle and bustle of Aspen. This legendary bike shop (located across the street from the Aspen Art Museum) is the oldest bike shop in Aspen, with origins dating back to 1980. Lately, there have been quite a few incidents with e-bikes so Tim, the owner, made sure we got the full safety talk before we even touched the bikes. After receiving an in-depth tutorial on how to run e-bikes and how to navigate the roads, my friend Tori and I hopped on the bicycles and took to the streets.

As soon as I felt the pedal assist accelerate my speed, I couldn’t stop smiling. In the past, I had only ever been to the Maroon Bells by way of vehicle. Cruising up there by means of a bicycle was significantly more exhilarating and rewarding. The cycling route climbs 1,300 feet over nearly 7 miles, from Highlands to Maroon Lake (elevation 9,100 feet).

Our scenery showed off the mighty Pyramid Peak, which was on display for most of our ride, along with the luscious Aspen groves that lined the road. It took us about 45 minutes to get from town to our stunning arrival view at Maroon Lake.

Walking up to the Bells, my friend and I looked at each other in absolute disbelief with how beautiful our surroundings were. We moseyed around the lake just taking it all in and, of course, taking an unnecessary number of pictures.

Our journey back down felt like some sort of rollercoaster ride from an amusement park. It wasn’t even necessary to turn the e-bikes on for the ride home, as it was essentially all downhill. We floated down the mountain at an exhilarating pace of 30 mph. It was a rush.

The entirety of the day just had me thinking about my childhood and my love for biking. From the moment I hopped on that bicycle, I was immediately transported back to a simpler time in small-town Iowa, when it was just 12-year-old Shannon and her purple bicycle against the world. I felt nostalgic for those summer nights when my parents had to nearly drag me inside because I never wanted the days to end. I always dreaded those streetlights coming on, because it always meant that it was time to put the bike away and go inside. It was a much simpler time, and I would give anything to have one more ride around the neighborhood with those exact same friends.

Living in Aspen, people often ask me if I have become desensitized to how beautiful the landscape is on any given day. The wholehearted truth is: no. It truly never gets old. The landscapes never cease to amaze me, and they leave me dumbfounded time and time again.

One place especially that never loses its luster is the Maroon Bells. No matter how many times I visit these famously photographed peaks, I still feel so small standing next to them. I look at the Bells the same way I used to look at that purple bike: with absolute wide-eyed, childlike wonder. I hope I never lose that sense of wonder.

Challenge Aspen ‘Wimbledon Day’ takes fundraising efforts to the tennis courts

Challenge Aspen supporters can play and spectate in a tennis charity event this weekend to raise funds for the local adaptive sports nonprofit based in Snowmass Village. 

Participants in “Wimbledon Day” on July 9 can play in a late-afternoon mixed doubles tournament from 3-5 p.m. and watch the pros face off in an early-evening match from 5-6 p.m. at the Aspen Tennis Club.

Participation is donation-based at the event. Funds support Challenge Aspen’s year-round work to increase accessibility and offer outdoor recreation opportunities for people with disabilities. 

A silent and live auction for tennis-related items will also take place during the event. To register for the event in advance for free (donations will be collected onsite), visit bit.ly/3yPFs55. Attendees are encouraged to wear their “Wimbledon whites.”

Additional Challenge Aspen fundraisers — both sporty and swanky — are scheduled for later this summer. 

The annual Denim and Diamonds Gala takes place July 23 at T-Lazy-7 ranch; tickets are sold out but all are welcome to participate in an online silent auction July 18-22. 

The Challenge Aspen Golf Classic is slated for Aug. 1 at the Snowmass Club golf course, with registration still open. Tickets are $250 for individuals and $1,000 for a team of four; the price includes green fees and carts, breakfast and a post-tournament reception as well as participation in a hole-in-one contest and other competitions for prizes. 

A 64-team cornhole tournament will take place Aug. 20 at Crown Mountain Park in El Jebel. Registration is $100 for a two-player team and cash prizes will be offered. 

Also, some endurance-minded Challenge Aspen supporters are going the distance and fundraising for the organization while training for trail running races in Italy in October as part of the Sole Mates team. 

For more information on all Challenge Aspen fundraisers and programming, visit challengeaspen.org

Chasing miles of smiles in Snowmass: Vast trail network means room to roam

It would be easy enough to quantify long-distance adventures in Snowmass Village by the usual stats and figures: 90-plus miles of singletrack and dirt roads, four core endurance races every summer, infinite route combinations no more than a few hundred yards from the nearest parking spot or bus stop. 

But I like to measure my long runs by a different metric: smiles per hour. And in Snowmass Village, I log more than just about anywhere else. 

Part of that, of course, is thanks to those many, many miles of trails that start in the village, and the vistas that accompany them. It’s easy to forget it’s a challenge when I’m schlepping 8, 13 or 16 miles on the trails through wide-open fields, towering aspen groves and majestic mountain ranges. 

I like to start my season at Sky Mountain Park, where the trails dry out early and I can bask in the last snippets of golden hour. 

The climb from Town Park to the top of Viewline and back down features a steady uphill with switchbacks that make it feel like less of a haul than it is. And, it provides just enough of a steep descent to fly back down. 

The Tom Blake Trail and its connections to the Government Trail (open in late June) are similar, tucked into aspen groves instead of oak brush hills. 

Throughout my summer miles (and well into the fall ones), Sky Mountain Park remains a favorite of mine, because I almost always find myself in the company of other enthusiastic recreationalists on the popular trail network. On a long run or even a short one, a kind “hello” or “nice work” goes a long way, and encouragement is easy to come by in the park and in Snowmass Village at large. 

RACING STRIPES

Snowmass Village serves as the start, finish or both for several core endurance races every summer and fall. The Ragnar Trail Colorado relay already in the books — teams of eight runners clocked a total of nearly 120 miles from June 10-11 — but there are still plenty of chances to log long miles in pursuit of some serious hardware (or a cool hat, if that’s more your thing).

Next up is the Power of Four trail running race on July 9, with three course options all finishing on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village. Registration is still open with plenty of spots available at bit.ly/3bRxfV1.

The hallmark Power of Four 50K race covers about 31 miles as runners summit Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands and Buttermilk and traverse Snowmass Ski Area to the finish line. The Power of Two 25K is half the distance (about 15.5 miles is the official distance, though last year it ran a little shorter), summiting Buttermilk and traversing Snowmass; there’s also a 10K (6.2 miles) that begins at Elk Camp at Snowmass and traverses the ski area before heading down to the finish line.

Those who prefer to pedal can take on the Snowmass 50 mountain bike race on August 6, with a single-rider, single-loop 25-mile option, a single-rider two-loop 50-mile option and a team relay, with each rider completing one 25-mile loop. Registration is still open at bit.ly/3IewlOi.

The race course starts and finishes on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village and covers many of the most popular singletrack rides in town; for the full course, see the “Hit the Dirt” sidebar.

Leaf-peepers needed to plan ahead to register for the Golden Leaf Half Marathon on September 17, which has already sold out (as usual). The wildly popular race starts on Fanny Hill in Snowmass Village and follows the Government Trail through groves of golden leaves (hence the name) toward the finish line in Aspen’s Koch Park.

This eager community is part of what makes Snowmass so appealing to me when I’m planning my long runs; friendly faces remind us that we’re all out here because we love the grind and the spirit of adventure. 

But solitude has its merits too, and Snowmass has plenty of options on that front. When I want to feel dwarfed by the mass of the forest, I follow the Ditch Trail from Divide Road to see where my legs lead me from there.

The Ditch Trail — very popular and rather flat — connects to the much-less-frequented steep climbs of the West Government Trail and the East Snowmass Trail (neither of which are the same as the very scenic Maroon Snowmass Trail #1975 to Snowmass Lake, an excellent 16-mile out-and-back). 

West Government connects to Snowmass Ski Area and wildflower-covered hills in all directions that make me feel giddy enough to skip down the singletrack back to the lot. East Snowmass goes deep into trees so tall and broad that I feel like Thumbelina, and there’s something about that silly fantasy that makes me feel giddy with discovery. 

And that reminds me of those smiles per hour: The richness and diversity of terrain in Snowmass Village means every single run or bike ride feels fresh, different and exciting. Uber-accessible trailheads, clear signage and well-maintained trails create the infrastructure for a great experience, but it’s the joy of full immersion in nearly every kind of natural mountain environment that keeps a fresh smile on my face. 

HIT THE DIRT

If you’re itching for an endurance race, Snowmass Village is the place to do it. (See sidebar: “RACING STRIPES.”) Between events, here are some trails to take on.

WARM-UP: Sky Mountain Park Loop 

With an abundance of buttery trails and top-tier views, this loop of around 13 miles and 1,800 feet of elevation gain includes switchback climbs, rolling ridges and cruisy descents in the heart of Snowmass Village.

The Route: From Town Park, head downhill on the Brush Creek Trail. Near the bottom of the trail, hang a right onto Cozyline. At the top of the climb, take a right onto Skyline Ridge, then continue to Viewline for the descent. Tack on Lowline, Highline and the Ditchline trail to complete the loop and finish back in Town Park.

LONG-HAUL: Snowmass Loop 

This loop hits nearly every one of Snowmass Village’s most popular trails through deep forests, aspen groves and open meadows. It circles the entire perimeter of town in about 25 miles with nearly 5,000 feet of elevation gain when you start at Fanny Hill. (That’s also where competitive mountain bikers start the loop for the annual Snowmass 50 race.) Trail signs throughout the village mark it with an orange “Snowmass Loop” badge.

The Route: From Fanny Hill, climb the work road to Sleigh Ride. When the trail ends, ride down Divide Road to the South Rim Trail, which connects to the North Rim Trail and a descent on the flowy Seven Star. Enter Sky Mountain Park via the Ditchline trail, then climb Viewline and descend on the downhill-bikining-only Deadline flow trail to Highline. (Hikers and runners: descend on North Rim and Viewline instead of Seven Star and Deadline to give mountain bikers space to get into their flow.)

Cross Owl Creek Road and jump on the Tom Blake Trail, then connect to Powerline to the Elk Camp Work Road. Follow the road past Elk Camp Restaurant, then take the Expresso Trail to Cross Mountain and continue on the Sam’s Knob Work Road to Village Bound for the final descent.

Editor’s note: A version of this story appears in the Summer in Aspen and Snowmass Magazine, on newsstands now.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Despite not winning a medal, Rosie Brennan finds success in Beijing

Rosie Brennan competes during the women's 30-kilometer mass start freestyle cross-country skiing competition at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Feb. 20 in China. Brennan placed sixth in the event.
Aaron Favila/AP

PARK CITY, Utah — Skiing alone in the woods is therapeutic for Park City cross-country skier Rosie Brennan.

After a busy Winter Olympics where she narrowly missed out on winning a medal multiple times, the solitude was where she could begin to process her experience before the World Cup kicked back into gear.

There aren’t feelings of disappointment, but there are still plenty of emotions to work through.

“It’s an event that you wait a long time for, and there’s six races that I did, so that’s six wildly different experiences that I had over the course of this month,” she said. “It’ll take some time, but there were certainly some things I was really excited about and some things that I wish had gone differently. And I don’t know, I think that’s maybe just the case for life — nothing’s all good or all bad.”

On the positive side, Brennan’s trip to Beijing went much more smoothly than her appearance in South Korea in the 2018 Games. Brennan only raced in one event in those Olympics: the women’s skiathlon. She wasn’t feeling well, and it showed on the course. Brennan finished 58th out of the 60 skiers who finished.

She was diagnosed with mononucleosis following the Olympics and was later dropped from the U.S. national team. Brennan then worked her way back onto the national team, won her first World Cup event in December 2020 and competed in all six cross-country events in Beijing, which was a huge accomplishment for her by itself.

“To start there four years ago and end up here, that’s bigger picture, and that’s something that I’m immensely proud of,” she said. “Four years is a long time, but it also isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of life. So to turn things around the way I did is something that I’m maybe most proud of in my career.”

Brennan finished in the top six in four of the events, but her best result was a fourth-place finish. While not coming away with a medal was disappointing, she is doing her best to focus on what she could have controlled. She noted that there are lots of variables in every race and that luck plays a role. For example, she said that the heavy winds during the 30-kilometer event made it resemble more of a bike race tactically.

“I felt that I was as prepared as I could have been, and I do think that I was in some of the best shape of my life, if not the best shape of my life,” she said. “There’s not much else I could have done there. With everything I had going for me at the time, I did all I could. And of course it’s like, yeah, it’s a bummer to not have a medal, but when you look at the bigger picture, I think I’m very satisfied with everything I accomplished.”

Like any Olympian, Brennan grew up dreaming of winning a medal, and she had the opportunity to see the Olympics in-person growing up in Park City. She’s 33 now and would be 37 for the Olympics in 2026 and doesn’t know what her long-term plans are yet.

Regardless of the future, she found victories in Beijing beyond winning a medal.

“I finally was in a place where that dream became a goal that was realistic, and I think that’s a really unique thing to experience. I think that’s not something that everyone experiences in their lives,” she said. “That aspect of it, I think, is really cool, that’s why I ski race and that’s why I do this and keep trying because it’s a neat experience to turn something from a dream into a goal into something that’s potentially possible.”

Still, it might take some more skiing in the woods alone to sort everything out.

“Of course, whenever you miss a goal, there’s mixed emotions with it,” she added. “But on the flip side, it would be worse to never have that as a goal, I guess is how I live my life a little bit.”

brendan@parkrecord.com

Gabel goes for gold: Snowboarder heads to Paralympic Games for the third time

Men's snowboard cross SB-LL2 event silver medalist Keith Gabel reacts during a post-race ceremony on March 12, 2018, at the Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Ng Han Guan/AP

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.

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

“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

Beijing’s Winter Olympics close, ending safe but odd global moment

The United States arrives at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

BEIJING — A pile of figure-skating rubble created by Russian misbehavior. A new Chinese champion — from California. An ace American skier who faltered and went home empty-handed. The end of the Olympic line for the world’s most renowned snowboarder. All inside an anti-COVID “closed loop” enforced by China’s authoritarian government.

The terrarium of a Winter Games that has been Beijing 2022 came to its end Sunday, capping an unprecedented Asian Olympic trifecta and sending the planet’s most global sporting event off to the West for the foreseeable future, with no chance of returning to this corner of the world until at least 2030.

It was weird. It was messy and, at the same time, somehow sterile. It was controlled and calibrated in ways only Xi Jinping’s China could pull off. And it was sequestered in a “bubble” that kept participants and the city around them — and, by extension, the sporadically watching world — at arm’s length.

On Sunday night, Xi and International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach stood together as Beijing handed off to Milan-Cortina, site of the 2026 Winter Games. “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” kicked off a notably Western-flavored show with Chinese characteristics as dancers with tiny, fiery snowflakes glided across the stadium in a ceremony that, like the opening, was headed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou.

Unlike the first pandemic Olympics in Tokyo last summer, which featured all but empty seats at the opening and closing, a modest but energetic crowd populated the seats of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium. It felt somewhat incongruous — a show bursting with color and energy and enthusiasm and even joy, the very things that couldn’t assert themselves inside China’s COVID bubble.

“We welcome China as a winter sport country,” Bach said, closing the Games. He called their organization “extraordinary” and credited the Chinese and their organizing committee for serving them up “in such an excellent way and a safe way.”

By many mechanical measures, these Games were a success. They were, in fact, quite safe — albeit in the carefully modulated, dress-up-for-company way that authoritarian governments always do best. The local volunteers, as is usually the case, were delightful, helpful and engaging, and they received high-profile accolades at the closing.

There was snow — most of it fake, some of it real. The venues — many of them, like the Bird’s Nest and the Aquatic Center, harvested from the 2008 edition of the Beijing Olympics — performed to expectations. One new locale, Big Air Shougang, carved from a repurposed steel mill, was an appealingly edgy mashup of winter wonderland and rust-belt industrial landscape.

TV ratings were down, but streaming viewership was up: By Saturday, NBC had streamed 3.5 billion minutes from Beijing, compared to 2.2 billion in South Korea in 2018.

There were no major unexpected logistical problems, only the ones created deliberately to stem the spread of COVID in the country where the coronavirus first emerged more than two years ago.

And stemmed it seemed to be. As of Saturday, the segregated system that effectively turned Beijing into two cities — one sequestered, one proceeding very much as normal — had produced only 463 positive tests among thousands of visitors entering the bubble since Jan. 23. Not surprisingly, the state-controlled media loved this.

“The success in insulating the event from the virus and keeping disruption to sports events to a minimum also reflected the effectiveness and flexibility of China’s overall zero-COVID policies,” the pro-government Global Times newspaper said, citing epidemiologists who say “the COVID-19 prevention experience accumulated from this Olympics can also inspire Chinese cities to adjust their policies.”

Look deeper, though, and a different story emerges about these Games.

Internationally, many critiqued them as the “authoritarian Olympics” and denounced the IOC for holding them in concert with a government accused of gross human rights violations against ethnic Uyghurs and Tibetans in its far west and harsh policies against Hong Kong democracy activists off its southeastern coast. Several Western governments boycotted by not sending any official delegations, though they sent athletes.

For its part, China denied such allegations, as it typically does, and featured a Uyghur as part of its slate of Olympic torch-carriers for the opening ceremony Feb. 4.

And then, of course, there were the Russians. And doping. Again.

The 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for using a banned heart medication. The result wasn’t announced by anti-doping officials until after she’d won gold as part of the team competition, even though the sample was taken weeks earlier.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared her to compete in the individual discipline, ruling that as a minor she had protected status. But Valieva, although heavily favored to win, fell several times during her free skate routine, landing her fourth place and prompting a cold reception from her embattled coach, Eteri Tutberidze.

“Rather than giving her comfort, rather than to try to help her, you could feel this chilling atmosphere, this distance,” Bach said the next day, proclaiming his outrage.

Valieva’s Russian teammates took gold and silver, but on a night of drama, even the winners were in tears. The affair produced one possible legacy for Beijing: Valieva’s ordeal has inspired talk of raising the minimum age for Olympic skaters from 15 to 17 or 18.

American skier Mikaela Shiffrin also came to Beijing with high expectations, only to see them dashed when she failed to finish three races. She left without any medal at all. In an image to remember, the TV cameras captured Shiffrin sitting dejectedly on the snow, head in hands, for several minutes.

The 2022 Games were controversial from the moment the IOC awarded them to Beijing, the frequently snowless capital of a country without much of a winter sports tradition. Almaty, Kazakhstan, was the only other city in play after four other bids were withdrawn due to lack of local support or high cost.

Geopolitical tensions also shadowed these Games, with Russia’s buildup of troops along its border with Ukraine spurring fears of war in Europe even as the “Olympic Truce” supposedly kicked in. In the closing, Bach said athletes “embraced each other even if your countries are divided by conflict,” an apparent reference to a hug captured on camera between a Russian athlete and a Ukrainian one.

China swelled with pride, and its social media swelled with comments, as Eileen Gu, an America-born freestyle skier who chose to compete for China, her mother’s native country, became an international superstar. Her three medals — two gold, one silver — set a new record for her sport, and adulation for Gu literally broke the Chinese internet at one point, briefly crashing the servers of Sina Weibo, the massive Twitter-like network.

And Chinese snowboarder Su Yiming, a former child actor, won over the home crowd with a dominant gold medal big air performance.

Other moments to remember from Beijing 2022:

— With a nearly perfect free skate and a record-setting short program, the 22-year-old figure skater Nathan Chen became the first American gold medalist in his sport since 2010.

— Snowboarding’s best known rider, Shaun White, called it a career after finishing fourth in the halfpipe in his fifth Olympics, passing the torch to athletes like Su and the halfpipe gold medalist, Japan’s Ayumu Hirano.

— American boarder and social media figure Chloe Kim won the gold in halfpipe for the second time, adding to her 2018 medal from Pyeongchang.

— Norway, a country whose total population of 5 million is less than one half of one percent of the host country’s, led the medal count, as it often does. Russia was second, followed by Germany, Canada and the United States.

These third straight Games in Asia, after Pyeongchang in 2018 and the delayed Tokyo Summer Games six months ago, were also the second pandemic Games. And the 16,000 athletes and other international visitors who spent the entire time segregated from the host city behind tall chain-link fences couldn’t help but see the countless signs trumpeting unremitting iterations of the Olympic slogan: “Together for a Shared Future.”

But for much of these austere and distant Games, wintry not only in their weather but in their tenor itself, a post-pandemic shared future — the hug-and-harmony variety that the Olympics builds its entire multinational brand around — seemed all but out of reach.

Canada, left, and France arrive at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Gao Tingyu and Xu Mengtao, of China, arrive at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
The Olympic flame burns in the center of the snowflake-shaped cauldron during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Performers participate at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States leaves the finish area after racing in a semifinal of the mixed team parallel skiing event at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in the Yanqing district of Beijing. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Fireworks explode over the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
The Olympic flame is extinguished during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
The Olympic Rings are illuminated at the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Dancers perform during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Teams arrive during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Japan's Satsuki Fujisawa waves to the crowd before leaving the ice at the end of the women's curling final match between Japan and Britain at the Beijing Winter Olympics Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
FILE - Kamila Valieva, of the Russian Olympic Committee, reacts after competing in the women's free skate program during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
United States' Shaun White waves in the halfpipe course after the men's halfpipe finals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 11, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Fireworks light up the sky over Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
President of China Xi Jinping waves during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Flag bearers march into the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
Athletes from Japan wave during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Fireworks light up the sky over Olympic Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Volunteers are honored during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach speaks during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Members of team United States pose during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Athletes from China march into the stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Johaug wins third Olympic gold in Beijing; Diggins gets historic silver for US

Jessie Diggins reacts after crossing the finish line during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

ZHANGJIAKOU, China — Norwegian great Therese Johaug won her third gold medal of the Beijing Olympics on Sunday and Jessie Diggins took silver for the best result by an American in an individual cross-country skiing event since 1976.

Fighting fierce winds and brutal temperatures, Johaug went out front early in the 30-kilometer mass start race and held on to win in 1 hour, 24 minutes, 54 seconds. Johaug also won the skiathlon — the first gold medal of the Olympics — and the 10-kilometer classic race.

“I’m born in a small place where there’s a lot of wind and a lot of cold temperatures in the region, so this was nothing for me,” Johaug said.

Diggins, also skiing alone for much of the race, kept a steady pace behind the Norwegian as gusts whipped across the tracks and battered the skiers, many with tape on their faces to protect from the cold. She dropped to the ground after crossing the finish line, 1:43.3 behind Johaug.

“Every last drop of energy went into that race,” Diggins said. “The last two laps, my legs were cramping. We had amazing cheering out there, and I thought, I just can’t give up, I have to put everything I had into the snow today and finish with nothing left. I did try really, really hard.”

Diggins said she was sick with food poisoning the day before, spending Saturday in bed and force-feeding herself.

“I was feeling pretty bad 24 hours ago,” the American said. “I was talking to my parents and my mom said, ‘Don’t decide how you feel right now. Just go out there and ski because you love to race.’ And she was right.

“That might have been the best race of my entire life, I’m not going to lie,” Diggins said. “It was also maybe the hardest race of my whole life.”

Kerttu Niskanen of Finland led a chase group to the line for bronze, 2:33.3 behind.

“I told myself, I’ve come fourth so many (expletive) times, I’m not going to come fourth again,” Niskanen said. “It wasn’t so bad during the race. It’s actually much worse standing here doing media interviews.”

Diggins made cross-country skiing history for the United States at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics when she and Kikkan Randall won the team sprint — the country’s first gold medal in the sport. Diggins set another U.S. Olympic record at the Beijing Games by being the first woman to win an individual medal when she took bronze in the sprint.

The silver matched the best result ever by an American in an individual cross-country skiing event. Bill Koch won silver in the men’s 30-kilometer race at the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.

Temperatures hovered around minus 14 degrees C (6.8 degrees F) on Sunday but the wind chill made it much colder. The women skied four laps on a 7.5-kilometer (4.6-mile) course.

Johaug pushed the pace on the first lap, creating a long string of single skiers snaking around the corners and downhills.

At the first check point at 2.9 kilometers, Johaug, Diggins, Ebba Andersson of Sweden and Delphine Claudel of France created a gap. Rosie Brennan, Krista Parmakoski and Niskanen were about seven seconds behind, but the gap grew to 28 seconds by the end of the first lap.

Natalia Nepryaeva, the World Cup leader, fell behind and dropped out of the race before the end of the first lap. At the 8.8-kilometer mark, Claudel dropped off the pace.

Johaug pulled away from the leaders at about 10 kilometers, with Diggins and then Andersson chasing. The Norwegian maintained her trademark fast tempo on the climbs, but Diggins stayed close, trailing by about 23 seconds.

At the halfway point, Johaug led Diggins by 27 seconds with Andersson 1:15 behind.

With one lap to go and Johaug and Diggins out front, the chase group caught Andersson and Niskanen pulled ahead in a sprint.

Brennan said training in the cold helped her hang on for sixth place, 2:38.7 behind.

“Luckily, I’ve spent the last decade training in Alaska,” the American said. “We’ve had some pretty miserable days training, so I tried to think about those and remind myself that I’m tough enough to handle it all and that everyone’s out there facing the same conditions. Those that put their head down can make it happen.”

Skiers compete in blustery conditions during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Jessie Diggins competes during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Sweden's Ebba Andersson, center, competes during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Wind blows snow as skiers compete during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Wind blows snow as skiers compete during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Norway's Therese Johaug celebrates after crossing the finish during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Norway's Therese Johaug celebrates as she nears the finish during the women's 30km mass start free cross-country skiing competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Ferreira’s Olympic bronze among the many storylines from halfpipe skiing

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira shows off his bronze medal after the men's halfpipe skiing finals at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP

A world away from Beijing, Colorado’s top high school skiers gathered on Friday night at Middle Park High School in Granby for the CHSAA state championships awards ceremony. Slowing the procession down was the Olympic battle in men’s halfpipe skiing that featured both Alex Ferreira of Aspen and Winter Park’s Birk Irving.

“They were doing the awards and they had a split screen going on, because they had one side showing all the awards, but the other side was showing a live superpipe stream, because of their guy, Birk,” Aspen High School Nordic ski coach Travis Moore said Saturday. “And they kept pausing the awards ceremony for Birk to ski, but then at the end, our Aspen guy beat him.”

It was the final freeskiing event of the Beijing Winter Olympics, won by New Zealand’s Nico Porteous with Nevada’s David Wise finishing second. But taking the bronze was Ferreira, who held onto that final podium spot over Canada’s Noah Bowman and Irving, who was fifth.

“Didn’t quite go my way,” Irving told reporters after the contest from Zhangjiakou. “It was really difficult with the wind, finding little windows of good skiing opportunities, I guess. Couldn’t quite find the speed, but hyped to put something down and participate in my first Olympics.”

Here are some other nuggets to take away from the Olympic men’s halfpipe skiing final:

Ferreira overcomes for another Olympic podium

Ferreira, the 27-year-old native of Aspen, won silver at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, his first time competing at the Olympics. But over the next few years he developed serious neck pain due to a pair of pinched nerves he let go untreated for too long, resulting in necessary surgery only nine months ago.

After one of the worst seasons of his career last winter — by his standards, at least — Ferreira found renewed life with a clean bill of health, and it’s shown in his skiing this season. He won the season-opening Copper Mountain Grand Prix and then won Dew Tour for the third time, both in back-to-back weeks in December, to secure himself a spot on the plane to China.

He did sit out X Games Aspen, something he admitted was a tough decision, in order to rest for the Olympics, a move that paid off when he was presented with the bronze medal for placing third.

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, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

“I’m ecstatic,” Ferreira told reporters after finals. “Just to be on the podium is unbelievable. It was such a difficult contest with some really tough conditions, so to be able to share the podium with my teammate, David Wise, and a friend, Nico Porteous, is a true joy.”

Dealing with Mother Nature

The weather didn’t do the athletes any favors on Saturday at Genting Snow Park. A steady breeze that included reported gusts of up to 40 mph — on top of a wind chill that dipped to minus 26 degrees Fahrenheit — made it a challenging contest.

“I had so much prepared,” Wise said of his planned Olympic runs. “It’s like I cooked a meal for everybody, and I didn’t get to share it.”

Ferreira said his runs were about 85% of what he was capable of because of the wind. The final saw a large majority of the athletes crash, and all three of the podium runs were put down in the first of the three rounds.

Porteous was among those to take quite the dinger on his final run with only Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck still to go. Blunck also took a hard hit on his final run, but seemed to be doing well after the contest.

“Bit of a stupid decision to do that,” Porteous said of his final trick, a failed 1440 attempt, which drew blood on his right ear. “But it’s the Olympics. So you’ve got to leave everything out there.”

While it looked like the wind was mostly impacting the skiers when they rose above the lip of the halfpipe, Irving said the transitions were equally as difficult.

From left, David Wise, Nico Porteous and Alex Ferreira stand after receiving their medals from the men's halfpipe skiing finals during the medal ceremony at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

“It was just swirling around and hitting both sides of the pipe, so you kind of get it to the chest coming through,” he said. “It would just slow you down going into the left wall or the right wall, really whichever one you were going into. It happens. It’s part of it. We don’t do indoor sports.”

A familiar podium

The medalists from the Beijing Olympics were the same three who podiumed in South Korea four years ago, although in a different order. Wise had won gold in both 2014 and 2018 — halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut in those 2014 Sochi Games — so this year’s silver officially ended his reign atop the sport. Still, that’s three medals in three Olympics for the 31-year-old from Reno, who seems unlikely to contend for a spot at the 2026 Olympics in Italy but also never brought up the idea of retiring in the lead-up to Beijing.

Porteous won Olympic bronze in 2018 as a mere 16-year-old and since then has taken over the sport. He heads into the offseason as the Olympic champion, world champion and the two-time reigning X Games Aspen champion. If there was any doubt about who the best halfpipe skier in the world is, the Kiwi clearly put that discussion to rest in China.

“It feels unreal. We’re a bunch of workhorses, I guess,” Ferreira said with a laugh about why that same trio found the Olympic podium together again. “The hardest workers get up on the podium and Dave’s a great friend of mine. He’s a good person. Nico’s a good friend of mine. He inspires me. They both do every day.”

From left, David Wise, Nico Porteous and Alex Ferreira celebrate at the bottom of the halfpipe during the venue award ceremony for the men's halfpipe skiing final at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Lee Jin-man/AP

Ferreira said Porteous, who became the first to land back-to-back 1620s at X Games Aspen 2021, was his inspiration for also learning the double cork 1620, which requires four-and-a-half rotations on top of the two inversions, or corks. Ferreira has landed the trick a few times in competition now, although not on back-to-back hits like Porteous. He successfully put down the 1620 in the Olympic finals on Saturday, but missed grabs kept him from pushing Wise and Porteous for a higher spot on the podium.

“Being on the podium in such tough conditions, I honestly feel like I got the gold,” Ferreira said. “The wind was definitely a factor. There’s tough conditions and sometimes the universe has other plans for you and you have to adapt as we do. I did my best and ended on the podium.”

Fun with numbers

Since men’s halfpipe skiing made its debut at the Olympics in 2014, nine medals have been handed out. Wise and Ferreira now combine for five of those, with Porteous accounting for two more. The other two belong to Canada’s Mike Riddle (silver) — Riddle happens to coach the U.S. halfpipe team at the moment — and France’s Kevin Rolland (bronze), both from 2014. Rolland was sixth in Beijing.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous stands after receiving his gold medal from the men's halfpipe skiing final at the Winter Olympics on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China.
Francisco Seco/AP

A not-so-fun number for Blunck is seven, which is the exact place the 25-year-old Colorado native has finished in all three of his Olympic appearances. Blunck has won at X Games and at the world championships, so the Olympic podium is about the only thing missing from his resume.

Happy trails

The Beijing contest was the career finale for at least two of the skiers, Rolland and Gus Kenworthy, who both are retiring. Rolland, 32, who is the cousin of French freeskier Tess Ledeux, was the 2009 world champion (he also has three other podiums at worlds) and was a three-time X Games champion.

Kenworthy, 30, grew up in Telluride and was long a mainstay for the U.S. ski team before deciding to compete for his mother’s homeland of Great Britain in his final Olympics. A five-time X Games medalist, Kenworthy won Olympic slopestyle silver in 2014 and was one of the first action-sports athletes to come out as being gay.

“This sport and the Olympics and competing on a professional level has changed my life in ways I could have never imagined,” said Kenworthy, who finished eighth in Beijing. “I’m gay. I felt like I didn’t fit in, in sport. To be out and proud, competing at the Olympics, and all of the opportunities that have come my way since the Olympics, I couldn’t be more thankful.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.