Faulhaber ready to ‘go big’ in halfpipe as Basalt teen makes her Olympic debut
The 17-year-old recently won bronze at X Games Aspen
Now that Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber has set foot in China ahead of her part in the Winter Olympics this coming week, reality might have set in. But prior to getting on the plane to Beijing this past Wednesday, she was still floating around in a dream world.
“That has definitely not set in,” she told The Aspen Times before heading to China. “I still just think of myself as Hanna Faulhaber. I don’t know if it will really ever set in that I am going to the Olympics or that I have been to the Olympics.”
The 17-year-old Basalt High School senior and rising star in women’s halfpipe skiing has made it to Zhangjiakou, where she’ll compete at the Olympics for the first time later this week. Her rise has been increasing in speed over the past year, where she’s quickly gone from being one of the top up-and-comers in the country to a consistent podium threat for the U.S. ski team.
While it wasn’t one of the official U.S. Olympic team qualifiers, Faulhaber’s fourth-place finish at the world championships last March in Aspen firmly put her on the international map. Then came a series of strong results in World Cup events this winter season that secured her spot on the U.S. team for Beijing. This included her first major podium when she finished third at Dew Tour back in December at Copper Mountain.
“We didn’t anticipate this at all. Maybe in the future, something you obviously work toward,” said Belinda Faulhaber, Hanna’s mother, of her daughter getting to the Olympics so soon in her career. “We didn’t anticipate it this quick. Maybe after last year and the world champs and we saw how she was skiing, but a lot of it is on Hanna and all her hard work and training and just persevering and trying to get the new tricks. It doesn’t come overnight. A lot of work goes into it.”
As excited as Hanna Faulhaber is about the Olympics, even she doesn’t know if the experience, regardless of her results in China, will be able to touch that of her time last month at X Games Aspen. Like all local Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athletes, she grew up with X Games in her backyard and earned her first start in ESPN’s iconic event this year at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Getting to drop in was enough on its own for Faulhaber. But she did much more than simply compete, eventually winning bronze behind American teammate Brita Sigourney — who only jumped over Faulhaber in the standings on her final run — and contest winner Kelly Sildaru of Estonia.
“It pretty much feels like a dream still, and probably always will. That night was so special and unreal,” Hanna Faulhaber said. “It was super nice to have friends and family there to watch and support, along with people from throughout the valley. Getting the bronze was definitely the cherry on top, but I was just glad to finally compete in my first X Games. The whole night would have been special with or without the third medal.”
Now, she’ll see if she can add to her medal collection. Faulhaber was named to the U.S. team for the Beijing Olympics alongside California’s Sigourney (third Olympics), Vermont’s Devin Logan (third Olympics) and California’s Carly Margulies. While this is also the first Games appearance for Margulies, at 24 years old she has much more experience to lean on compared to Faulhaber, who is by far the youngest member of the American foursome.
Sigourney is the reigning Olympic bronze medalist in women’s halfpipe skiing, having taken third in Pyeongchang behind runner-up Marie Martinod of France and 2018 champion Cassie Sharpe of Canada. The discipline only made its Olympic debut in 2014, when American icon Maddie Bowman won that inaugural gold ahead of Martinod and Japan’s Ayana Onozuka.
Bowman, Martinod and Onozuka have all since retired from competitive halfpipe skiing.
The U.S. men’s halfpipe skiing team in Beijing includes two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist David Wise of Nevada and reigning Olympic silver medalist Alex Ferreira of Aspen, along with Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck and Winter Park’s Birk Irving.
Ferreira, who like Faulhaber grew up skiing with AVSC, is excited by what he sees from his Roaring Fork Valley comrade.
“Hanna is amazing,” Ferreira said. “I’m so happy for her in not only persevering in doing well in these previous contests, but also making her first Olympic team. She’s shown true grit, a hard work ethic and a good persona so far. So I’m really excited for her.”
Faulhaber will have her work cut out for her in China. On top of both Sharpe and Sigourney being back and looking to defend their podiums from 2018, there is a new crop of athletes hoping to steal the show, led by Sildaru and Eileen Gu.
Sildaru, 19, is a first-time Olympian, having been injured in the 2018 cycle. She recently became the most decorated teenager in Winter X Games history — she’s already won 10 medals — and is among the favorites to win in slopestyle, as well.
The U.S.-born Gu, who competes internationally for her mother’s homeland of China, is arguably the star of this entire Olympics. The 18-year-old from California broke out at X Games Aspen in 2021 when she won three medals, including two gold, in her debut there. And only last week, Gu lived up to the massive hype around her by winning Olympic big air gold in her first competition at the Games.
Both Gu and Sildaru are frontrunners for Olympic halfpipe gold, with qualifiers getting underway Thursday morning in China.
“I definitely need to step up a few things for the Olympics, such as I need a little bit bigger of a switch trick and maybe just rearranging my run a little bit. But definitely still going to be going big,” Faulhaber said of her planned halfpipe run in China. “Definitely not going conservative. Definitely have the thought of ‘go big or go home’ and not leaving anything out on the table. We are going to send it as much as we can and hopefully it all works out.”
Faulhaber’s biggest advantage is her amplitude, which easily ranks among the best in the women’s halfpipe skiing field. She got as much as 17 feet above the lip of the halfpipe at X Games, a number some of the men’s snowboarders don’t even reach on certain hits. That said, her technical skills still need some fine-tuning, and it was Sildaru’s precision that won her gold last month in Aspen.
“My dream run, I think, possibly. We’ll just have to wait and see. Have to do it first,” Faulhaber said when asked if she believes her planned Olympic run has podium potential. She’s hoping her amplitude impresses the Olympic judges more than it did those at X Games. “You never know who is judging and what they will think of it. I definitely think there have been occasions where people have either liked it or people haven’t. I’m still going to do it, but we’ll see. Hopefully adding the new tricks will help out.”
Faulhaber is one of two current or former BHS students at the Olympics this year, as 23-year-old cross-country skier Hailey Swirbul also is competing in China this month. Faulhaber posted on Instagram Saturday of her cheering on Swirbul live from the women’s 4×5-kilometer relay, of which the U.S. finished sixth. This is Swirbul’s first Olympics as well, and both the cross-country skiing events and the halfpipe contests are held in the Zhangjiakou district outside Beijing.
Women’s halfpipe skiing qualifying will be televised live on NBC or USA beginning at 6 p.m. MST on Wednesday night here in the Roaring Fork Valley. The men’s halfpipe skiing qualifier, featuring Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, begins at 9:30 p.m. that same night.
The women’s final will be shown live on Thursday night and the men’s final live on Friday night here in the U.S. Both finals are scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. MST start in primetime.
Without fans at this year’s Olympics — other than some select Chinese citizens who are allowed to watch in person — both Faulhaber and Swirbul talked about how important it is to think about those back in the Roaring Fork Valley who are cheering them on in China. While Swirbul was in Europe training, Faulhaber and Ferreira both got to take part in an Olympic send-off event Jan. 26 from the base of Aspen Mountain.
“I’m going to go represent the valley, Aspen Snowmass, AVSC and Team USA. But it’s going to be weird without everybody there,” said Faulhaber, who appreciated the send-off celebration. “It was super cute to see all the younger kids there and it was a nice opportunity for me to see a few people that I hadn’t seen in a while, just like X Games was. It was definitely refreshing, would be a good word to use to explain it. It was nice to see the whole valley out there and support me and Alex and Hailey. It’s great to see.”