Aspen’s Feinberg makes jump to national team, jumps in on chase for Olympic spot
When Tristan Feinberg made his first World Cup final this past winter at Buttermilk Ski Area, he finally had the proof he’d been chasing that showed he belonged.
The Roaring Fork Valley has a long, and very present, history of producing elite halfpipe skiers, and Aspen’s Feinberg has added his name to a list that already includes the likes of Alex Ferreira and Cassidy Jarrell.
“I just wanted to show Aspen who I was,” Feinberg said. “It was very validating for me. I’m not going to say I grew up in the shadow of Cassidy and Alex. They all deserve to be in the place that they are. It’s very special to me that I can perform in a field of people that I’ve been watching since I was 8 years old on TV.”
The 18-year-old Feinberg has been on the doorstep of that next level for a few years now, and it seems he’s finally arrived. Earlier this month, he was nominated to the U.S. men’s halfpipe rookie team for the upcoming 2021-22 season, his first foray with the national squad.
Feinberg will join a deep and relatively local field of athletes vying for a spot on the 2022 U.S. Olympic team, a position he didn’t think he would be in only a few years ago.
“It’s crazy to think I possibly could go to the Olympics,” Feinberg said. “I don’t want to downplay my situation. I’m going to try my hardest and do everything I can to go to the Olympics and get on that team. But at the same time, it’s a learning experience for me just to have that experience coming into the next Olympics.”
Feinberg will certainly be a long shot to make that team, considering his American competition. Along with Ferreira, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, and Jarrell, a rising name looking to make his first Olympic team, the men’s A team for next season will include Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, Winter Park’s Birk Irving, Boulder’s Lyman Currier and Nevada’s David Wise, the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist, among others.
But Feinberg’s final competition of this past season showed he belongs in the conversation. On home snow at the Buttermilk World Cup and Grand Prix back in March — the first official Olympic team qualifier — Feinberg qualified through to his first World Cup final, eventually finishing 11th in a contest won by Blunck.
He was only seventh among the Americans that day, but simply making finals was a major step for the Aspen teenager.
“One of the biggest things I put together when I competed in Aspen is I was comfortable,” Feinberg said. “I’ve been working hard. In my head, I didn’t come into that competition being, ‘I need to make it to finals.’ I came into that competition thinking I need to just ski the way I skied in Copper and I just need to do the best I possibly can and everything else will figure itself out.”
Feinberg saying he was “comfortable” in Aspen does come with an asterisk. He had been dealing with a shoulder that had dislocated on numerous occasions starting around the new year and even had it pop out again before finals in Aspen. This led to surgery April 1 and a quiet spring in terms of training, but he expects to be ready to go come this fall.
Like everyone else, Feinberg didn’t have many opportunities to compete this past winter because of the coronavirus pandemic. His first competition came in the Revolution Tour stop at Buttermilk in late February, finishing 10th, and he took third in another Rev Tour contest barely a week later at Copper Mountain. His third and final competition would end up being the Aspen Grand Prix, the fifth World Cup start of his young career.
Undoubtedly, Feinberg’s performance at the Grand Prix likely had a lot to do with his nomination to the national team.
“It definitely opens a lot of doors,” Feinberg said. “It feels good. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. I don’t want it to get to my head too much. It’s really nice to be able to use the resources. I’m just going to try and take the same mindset that I always have.”
Feinberg has spent many a recent week training out of U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s Center of Excellence in Park City, Utah, while recovering from surgery. Among his training partners has been the 21-year-old Jarrell, who did not compete this past winter after injuring his back ahead of the Grand Prix.
Along with Jarrell, who is one of his best friends, Feinberg also looks up to the 26-year-old Ferreira, who has blossomed into one of the world’s best halfpipe skiers in recent years with his 2018 Olympic podium and back-to-back X Games Aspen gold medals in 2019 and 2020. Ferreira competed three times this season, finishing fourth in the world championships at Buttermilk and sixth in the Aspen Grand Prix. He was seventh in January’s X Games Aspen in his three-peat quest.
Feinberg mostly works with Carbondale skiing icon Peter Olenick as his coach. Olenick has become coach and mentor to many rising skiers in recent years through his P.R.O. team, including Jarrell.
“You can’t just pull up to a halfpipe and do an Olympic-winning run. There is so much that goes into it. It’s a puzzle,” said Feinberg, who is always looking to learn from his veteran teammates. “I’ve looked up to those guys since I was a little man. It’s really helpful, because I can learn so much from what they have done in their careers and being close to them and knowing them helps a lot.”