Basalt’s Faulhaber lands on Dew Tour podium, looks like area’s next Olympian
17-year-old halfpipe skier takes third place Friday at Copper Mountain in the latest U.S. Olympic team qualifier
Hanna Faulhaber’s close relationship with California’s Eileen Gu might be fortuitous, as the latter is competing for her mother’s homeland of China and the former might need to brush up on her Chinese ahead of the Beijing Olympics in February.
Faulhaber, the 17-year-old halfpipe skier from Basalt, may have just punched her first ticket to the Winter Games by landing on the women’s Dew Tour podium Friday at Copper Mountain, behind Gu and Estonian superstar Kelly Sildaru. It’s the first major podium of Faulhaber’s career, and it just happened to come in one of the U.S. Olympic team’s official qualifiers.
“A lot to process. Still at a loss for words,” Faulhaber told The Aspen Times on Friday. “Definitely did not expect to do as well as I did. I think I have tried to not set too many goals and to not let pressure and stuff get to me.”
Somewhat of an Olympic darkhorse coming into the season, Faulhaber has vaulted up the charts and now looks like a lock for the U.S. team with only a single qualifier remaining.
While an injury during training forced her to pull out of the Aspen Grand Prix last March, the first of the four qualifiers, she opened this season by finishing fifth at the Copper Mountain Grand Prix — it was only her fourth career World Cup start — last week, second among Americans behind only Californian Brita Sigourney, who was fourth.
Sigourney, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, was third in Aspen, the only other American besides Faulhaber to have made the podium in one of the three qualifiers so far. This is important, as a podium finish brings with it a lot more weight to the rankings than simply making finals.
“I’m just trying to keep a good mindset and not really put too much pressure on myself with thinking about the Olympics,” Faulhaber reiterated. “Definitely really nice to be up there, and with Eileen especially. Me and her talked today and we both remembered where it all started. When I first started competing in the USASA Nationals, we have a photo of us up on the podium together and just had a flashback of that and to see where we are now is crazy.”
The 18-year-old Gu, who also won the big air World Cup event in Steamboat Springs on Dec. 4 and the halfpipe competition at the Copper Grand Prix last week, made it three straight wins by scoring 96 in Friday’s finals at Dew Tour, enough to hold off Sildaru (93), herself only 19, and Faulhaber (90.75).
Those three far outdistanced the pack, with Canada’s Cassie Sharpe, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in women’s halfpipe skiing, finishing fourth with 81.75. In fifth was China’s Fanghui Li (81.50), in sixth China’s Kexin Zhang (80), in seventh Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin (77.50), and in eighth was Sigourney (76.50).
Faulhaber’s best score came on her third and final run of finals, and included a cork 900, something new to her repertoire this season. In fact, that run at Dew Tour was the first time she landed the trick in a significant competition.
“By adding the 9, it has stepped up my level of skiing by quite a bit. But there is definitely still a lot more to improve,” said Faulhaber, who has become known for her amazing amplitude out of the halfpipe, giving her the hangtime for tricks like a 900.
“I trained it awhile back but never really got to do it on snow. And then I finally did it on snow in Copper last year. I didn’t land it, but I was getting pretty close. And then I bruised my heel doing that. Then I waited until spring camp, gave it a few more shots. Still didn’t land it. And then over in Europe I started to get a lot more confident with it and finally landed it and kept landing it. So decided to put it into the run.”
Adding the 900 to her run and pulling it off at Dew Tour could become a signature moment in Faulhaber’s career. Gu and Sildaru, who are both set to make their Olympic debut this February, as well, look like the future of the sport — both also compete in big air and slopestyle, which to date Faulhaber does not — but Faulhaber apparently isn’t far behind in the halfpipe.
With Sigourney being 31 and likely chasing her last trip to the Olympics, and the 28-year-old Devin Logan of Vermont closer to the end than the beginning — not to mention the surprising early retirement of Tahoe’s Maddie Bowman two years ago at a mere 26 — Faulhaber in recent weeks has established herself as the one to watch going forward among the young American women.
“I definitely need to do a little bit more,” Faulhaber said of trying to keep pace with Gu and Sildaru. “It’s great. It’s always good to have a high level of skiing to compete up against, to be able to push myself more and more.”
While nothing is locked in, Faulhaber seems likely to join Gu and Sildaru in Beijing. What she’s also hoping for is to join them at X Games Aspen next month (Jan. 21-23), something she’s been dreaming of most of her life. Sildaru has been an X Games mainstay for years already, winning slopestyle gold all the way back in 2016 when she was only 13. Gu made her first X Games appearance last winter, winning three medals, including two gold, in her debut.
Faulhaber is hoping her Dew Tour podium, and likely nomination to the U.S. Olympic team, means a call from ESPN to compete in her hometown event prior to heading to Beijing. Faulhaber has spent many hours training in the Buttermilk halfpipe with the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club.
“I really hope I do,” Faulhaber said of possibly getting an X Games invite. “X Games is such a big deal to me because it’s my hometown and especially now, since they are allowing more spectators, so all my friends can come watch. I don’t know, X Games is pretty much one of the biggest reasons why I’m in the sport right now, because I grew up watching it.”
Before X Games can become reality, Faulhaber plans to compete in a pair of World Cup halfpipe events in Calgary around the New Year — these are not official U.S. Olympic team qualifiers — before heading to Mammoth for the Jan. 6 to 9 Grand Prix, the final U.S. qualifier.
After that it’s about the “two great unknowns,” as she put it, X Games and the Olympics, which begin Feb. 4. With no official invitation for either yet on the table, it will be a waiting game for Faulhaber. But with a new bronze medal from Dew Tour and a 900 in the bag, a trip to China at the very least seems a foregone conclusion.
“That would be pretty damn cool,” Faulhaber said of going to the Olympics. “It feels amazing. I don’t think it’s set in yet.”
Aspen City Council approved a contract with Daniel Joseph (DJ) Watkins during Tuesday’s regular meeting to move forward with his intentions to operate his proposed “Aspen Collective,” which is currently occupied by Mia Valley’s Valley Fine Art.