Aspen comes together to cheer on a trio of its soon-to-be Beijing Winter Olympians

Alex Ferreira, Hanna Faulhaber and Hailey Swirbul all will represent the Roaring Fork Valley at the 2022 Winter Games in China

Halfpipe skiers Alex Ferreira, left, and Hanna Faulhaber get a proper Aspen send-off ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with kind-worded speeches and cheers from a local crowd Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, in gondola plaza at the base of Aspen Mountain.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

American flags waved and chants of “U.S.A.” were heard loud and clear as Alex Ferreira and Hanna Faulhaber made their way onto the stage Wednesday afternoon in gondola plaza at the base of Aspen Mountain.

It was a celebration at the heart of Aspen’s skiing culture and a way to recognize a trio of local Olympians who will soon be on their way to the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

“Wow, we have an amazing town. Thank you so much for showing up,” said Ferreira, who is headed to his second Olympics. “Thank you to Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club for letting me come and train at your gym and your amazing trampoline. We’ve produced some wonderful athletes. You kids are the fabric of this community, and I’m so excited to lead the way and hopefully bring home a lot of gold for us. Right, Hanna? I see a lot of gold in our future.”

Ferreira, Faulhaber and Hailey Swirbul — who was not present as she is currently in Italy with the national team — were at the center of the celebration put on by Aspen Skiing Co., with the help of the city of Aspen and the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. All three of the athletes grew up with AVSC and continue to passionately support the club.

Among the presenters Wednesday were Mayor Torre, Aspen Skiing Co. President Mike Kaplan and event marketing manager Tyler Lindsay, big mountain skier Chris Davenport, and Eric Knight, who has long led AVSC’s freestyle program.

“The best part of working for AVSC so long has been the pleasure of seeing these athletes grow up and develop through our programs. I’ve had a front-row seat to watch these three since they were in their single digits, running around AVSC,” Knight said. “Each of these athletes hasn’t just trusted the process, they loved the process. When things didn’t go their way, they always stayed positive. They always showed up at training sessions with a deep desire to improve.”

Prior to bringing this year’s Olympians on stage, Aspen’s deep Olympic past was recognized. Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley claims upward of 30 Olympians, with nearly all of them having ties with AVSC. As Kaplan pointed out, the local ski club, which is celebrating 85 years this winter, is actually a decade older than Aspen Skiing Co., which just reached its 75th anniversary.

Gallery caption: Photos: Olympic send-off celebration

Who was Aspen’s first Olympian? That honor goes to Dick Durrance, an Alpine skier who competed at the 1936 Winter Games and later became president of Skico. The list of Olympians to have represented the Roaring Fork Valley has grown immensely since then, with a handful of them choosing to take part in Wednesday’s send-off event.

“Reflecting back, I remember doing this exact same thing prior to my first Olympic Games, before going to Vancouver, and that was when it really set in for me that I was going,” said Alice McKennis Duran, a recently retired ski racer from New Castle who trained with AVSC. Her career highlight was a fifth-place finish in the 2018 Olympic downhill. “That was a really defining moment in my career because I had to overcome a lot of challenges. One of the most memorable feelings of it was just the amount of support I felt from the entire U.S. and the people at home. It was something super uplifting for me to know it was not just me that was feeling excited about it, it was an entire community and an entire country.”

Aspen’s Chris Klug recalled similar feelings. An Alpine snowboarder who won a bronze medal at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, he reflected on his three Olympics and how the whole experience far outweighed the competitions and even his podium finish. He hopes this year’s group of Olympians embrace the opportunity beyond the results.

“I remember when we did this for 2002 and 2010, and it was one of the highlights of my Olympic experiences. Representing this community and AVSC and seeing all the future Olympians there is so cool,” Klug said of the send-off celebration. “I really encourage Hanna and Hailey and Alex to just go there and have fun. Go enjoy it, take it all in. It’s such a fun experience. I got to do it three different times, and they were totally different experiences and journeys.”

Aspen’s Ferreira, 27, is the reigning Olympic silver medalist in men’s halfpipe skiing and will be a frontrunner for gold in Beijing. He’s a two-time X Games Aspen champion.

Basalt’s Faulhaber, only 17, is another halfpipe skier and is fresh off a bronze medal in her X Games Aspen debut Friday. She is headed to the Olympics for the first time.

“I just want to say thank you for everybody’s support,” Faulhaber told the emphatic crowd. “It’s been unreal and thanks for following along for this hectic journey. I can’t wait to represent the valley, Aspen Snowmass and AVSC and Team USA, apparently, at the Olympics. Thanks for everything.”

Qualifying for both men’s and women’s halfpipe skiing is scheduled for Feb. 17, with the women’s final Feb. 18 and the men’s final Feb. 19.

Like Faulhaber, Swirbul is a first-time Olympian and also hails from Basalt. The 23-year-old cross-country skier plans to compete in the first race of the Games, the women’s skiathlon Feb. 5. The opening ceremony is Feb. 4 in Beijing.

“I hope every single person who has helped me get here knows that I think about them and appreciate them and am truly grateful,” Swirbul said from Italy in a phone interview with the Aspen Times earlier Wednesday. “I’d give a special shoutout to AVSC for getting me started in this sport, for showing me how to love skiing and being outside in the winter all the time. And for showing me what it’s like to be a good teammate and, hopefully, a good community member, too. I owe a huge thanks to everyone who has helped me get here.”

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