Faulhaber top American in women’s halfpipe skiing at world championships
Roaring Fork Valley local Hanna Faulhaber went big and only got better as the competition went on, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with San Francisco’s Eileen Gu on Friday in the women’s halfpipe skiing final at the world championships at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Gu’s rapid rise from her X Games debut in January hasn’t slowed down, as the 17-year-old put down a near flawless opening run in Friday’s finals to score 93 and hold off Canada’s Rachael Karker for her first world championship gold in her first time competing at the biennial event. Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin won bronze, and Faulhaber was the first off the podium in fourth.
“I’m feeling amazing,“ Faulhaber said. ”It’s just been so much fun being out here with all the girls. Just nice to lay down a clean run in finals.“
The 16-year-old Faulhaber, an active Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club athlete and Basalt High School junior, put down three solid runs and seemed unaffected by the stage in her first worlds appearance. Her massive airs out of the 22-foot superpipe were impressive, but a lack of technical tricks to go along with them kept her well back of the podium.
She was the top American finisher among the three to make finals.
“It was just amazing to be with them and compete up against them,” Faulhaber said of her veteran teammates in Brita Sigourney and Devin Logan. “I’ve always looked up to them growing up and just to compete against them at such a big event is amazing.“
Faulhaber, a member of U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s rookie halfpipe team, had scores of 82.50, 84.25 and 86.75 and briefly held a podium spot early in the three-run contest. But Gu, who competes for her mother’s homeland of China and was the second skier to drop in after a modest qualifier, opened with a run that proved insurmountable. Her second and nearly identical run scored 92.50 and her third, safer run netted 89.
“It’s such an honor to win my first world champs,” Gu said. “I was really struggling during the first practice and during qualifiers. I qualified pretty low, so it shook my confidence a little bit. This is also my first time competing without poles.”
Gu, who said she prefers having ski poles, was unable to use them due to a broken hand. She also has a few other minor injuries, none of which seemed to hold her back much in finals.
The 23-year-old Karker, a three-time X Games medalist and former Dew Tour champion, crashed on her first run but came back swinging, scoring 91.75 on her third and final run to put some pressure on Gu as they awaited the scores at the bottom of the halfpipe.
Gu’s first-run score held, giving her yet another gold in the Buttermilk superpipe. As an X Games rookie earlier this winter, she won gold in both halfpipe and slopestyle to go with a bronze in big air.
She also will compete in Saturday’s slopestyle final, where she was the top qualifier on Thursday.
“I felt so relieved and so happy to put down that first run,” Gu said Friday. “It felt like forever. My hands were shaking. I love Zoe so much. She is one of my best friends. Rachael is such an amazing, amazing skier. So I really wanted them both to do well.”
China will host the 2022 Winter Olympics next season and Gu now has to be considered among the favorites for gold as she will represent the host nation in the competition.
A future Stanford student and cover girl — she’s also a successful model — Gu has taken over women’s freeskiing, especially with two of the sport’s superstars in Canada’s Cassie Sharpe and Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru sidelined by injury. Sildaru had been the reigning world champion in women’s halfpipe skiing, while Sharpe took silver and California’s Sigourney bronze in the 2019 event in Utah.
Finishing fifth in Friday’s finals at worlds was Sigourney (86.25), followed in sixth by her Vermont teammate in Logan (79.25). Russia’s Valeriya Demidova (75) finished seventh and Japan’s Saori Suzuki (73) rounded out the field in eighth.
“I’m really happy. I’m always happy to end up on the podium, no matter what position it is,” said Karker, who was fourth in her only other worlds appearance in 2019. “It’s just something that happens. You can try your best and sometimes you don’t do everything exactly how you wanted to do it, but I’m happy with how I skied.”
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