After Olympic experience, Faulhaber ready to start grinding again in the halfpipe
Basalt halfpipe skier finished sixth at Beijing Olympics in February
Life hasn’t changed much for Hanna Faulhaber since the Olympics. That’s because, according to her, life had already pivoted so much over the previous months that it couldn’t change much more.
“It’s been changed for a while. I’m far off of a normal teenage girl in high school now,” Faulhaber said April 15 in an interview with The Aspen Times. “Overall, it was absolutely amazing. I have nothing bad to say on it. It was such an amazing experience. I still honestly can’t believe that it’s happened.”
The Basalt teenager has quickly become an international star in women’s halfpipe skiing. Her fourth-place finish at the world championships that Aspen hosted last spring firmly put her on the map and helped pave the way for the now 17-year-old being named to her first Olympics with the U.S. ski team earlier this winter.
Just prior to competing at the Beijing Games in February, Faulhaber had won bronze in her X Games Aspen debut at Buttermilk Ski Area, a dream night for the former Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club standout who grew up training in that halfpipe.
That Olympic experience, however, was truly unique, and one Faulhaber didn’t want to end.
“I got to say, I wanted to go back. Right as we boarded the plane, I was like, ‘Can we just go back and hang out in the village?’ The village was super fun to be in,” Faulhaber said. “I didn’t really want to leave. That was kind of a bummer to have to go, but that’s how every trip goes. You go there, you compete and you do your thing and then you leave. But I definitely could have been there for longer.”
The Beijing Winter Games came with a whole host of challenges, from political tension between host China and other countries, as well as the ongoing pandemic that kept fans, outside of a few local Chinese citizens, from attending the events. Everyone involved, from athletes to coaches to officials and media, were kept in a strict bubble they couldn’t leave.
Despite this, Faulhaber was nothing but complimentary of her time in China.
“They did a really great job of keeping us safe, but also allowing us to go out and have fun and watch other events. There were virtual reality rooms around the village, a pool table, ping-pong table,” Faulhaber said. “I tried to watch as many other events as I could.”
The halfpipe contests were held in Zhangjiakou, which is about an hour northwest of Beijing via train. That also happened to be where the cross-country skiing contests took place, allowing Faulhaber to connect with a second Basalt Olympian competing in her first Games in the 23-year-old Hailey Swirbul.
One day in China, Faulhaber made her way over to the cross-country venue to catch the end of one of Swirbul’s races. Shockingly, the two had never crossed paths prior, despite both growing up in the midvalley, training with AVSC, attending Basalt High School and being part of the U.S. ski team.
“It was a super cool experience. She had finished and I was able to sneak in right by the finish line and I shouted out to her,” Faulhaber recalled. “She came over and that was the first time we met. Absolutely insane that we hadn’t met before, but not a bad way to meet.”
Faulhaber’s competition was its own sort of roller coaster. Even though she broke both a boot and a binding during her Feb. 17 qualifier, she finished ninth among the 20 women competing to advance to the 12-skier final the next day.
That qualifier, according to Faulhaber, was a very good experience.
“I know that kind of sounds stressful, but in a way it was kind of nice because I was stressing out about that and not my actual run. I think in a way it almost calmed me down,” Faulhaber said of her equipment issues during qualifying. “Even though my boot and binding broke, I was just having a blast. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. It was really different for finals.”
The reality and the pressure of the Olympics finally set in a little bit for Faulhaber in the Feb. 18 final. With the world watching and the Olympic rings standing front and center near the halfpipe as the skiers dropped in, the magnitude of the moment was impossible to ignore.
Windy conditions made navigating the halfpipe difficult, and it put Faulhaber in a negative headspace before the competition had even begun.
“I took a fall during practice. Not a horrible fall, but enough to mentally bring me down. Also, the wind was so bad that I couldn’t really get out on my last hit, which was where I do my biggest trick. I ended up crying all throughout practice,” Faulhaber said. “It was tough not to have family there when that happened. But I had such a great support system that was my family. At the time I had my team manager at the bottom and I just went up to her and was like, ‘I need a hug.’”
Faulhaber regrouped enough to put together a solid contest, finishing sixth in her Olympic debut. While Eileen Gu, the Californian-born star who was representing her mother’s homeland of China in the contest, ran away with the gold medal (95.25), and 2018 Olympic champion Cassie Sharpe of Canada comfortably won silver (90.75), there wasn’t much separation between that final podium spot and Faulhaber.
Canada’s Rachael Karker ultimately won bronze with 87.75, while Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru was fourth (87), China’s Fangui Li was fifth (86.50) and Faulhaber sixth with 85.25. Faulhaber was easily the top American, with Californians Brita Sigourney finishing 10th (70.75) and Carly Margulies 11th (61). Vermont’s Devin Logan officially finished 13th after not making finals.
“Definitely the pressure got to me and I kind of realized with the conditions and everything that I probably wouldn’t podium,” Faulhaber said. “We were able to land two runs and then the third run I went for the switch cork, which is a relatively new trick and knew I didn’t have the highest chance of landing it, but happy to have put it all out there. But also at the same time disappointed that I didn’t land, because I know if I did I would have had a much better result.”
Her final Olympic run happened to have been the final legitimate competition run of the season for Faulhaber, as the World Cup halfpipe slate had concluded prior to the Beijing Games.
Two months removed from that experience, Faulhaber already is eager to get back after it.
“I was happy, but at the same time not happy. It’s a weird feeling,” Faulhaber said of her Olympic results. “I miss competition season so much. That’s when I’m having the most fun.”
Still, Faulhaber is keeping busy. She’s in line to graduate from BHS this spring — she plans to attend the in-person graduation ceremony next month if a spring training camp at Mammoth doesn’t get in the way — and was recently seen hanging out at U.S. nationals at Copper Mountain, where she got to hand out hardware to the podium finishers.
This weekend, she went to Colorado Springs as part of an Olympic celebration for Colorado athletes, and at the beginning of May she will head to Washington, D.C., with most of Team USA — summer and winter athletes included — to meet President Joe Biden and tour the White House.
That’s fun and all, but Faulhaber already has her eyes set on next winter’s competition season. She believes she learned something from her Olympic debut and already wants to put those lessons to use in pursuit of a spot on the 2026 Winter Olympic team.
“I feel like I learned a little bit, but I still feel like I have a lot to learn. The next Olympics isn’t for another four years and I’ll be, what, 21 if I get to go? Hopefully by then I’ve learned a lot more,” Faulhaber said. “I’m excited for what it holds for me. I’m definitely hoping for more podiums, obviously, and just progressing the sport and trying to make it as good as we can and encourage younger girls to come up in it, because it’s super fun.”
While some athletes might take time off this coming season, Faulhaber isn’t likely to be one of them. It is a world championship season again, and Faulhaber won’t dare miss out on competing at another X Games, an invite she is all but assured of getting, considering her bronze finish back in January.
That said, at the end of the day Faulhaber is still in love with skiing, and that’s all the motivation she needs to keep moving forward in the sport.
“A big motto I have in life is just to have fun, so as soon as I’m not having fun in the sport I’ll probably finish out the year and be done,” Faulhaber said. “But I’m having fun now, so why stop?”
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