Ferreira back enjoying skiing, looks forward to his next Olympic challenge

Aspen local is the reigning silver medalist from the 2018 Games

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, an Olympic halfpipe skier, greets the crowd as he’s introduced at the Olympic send-off celebration on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, at the base of Aspen Mountain.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

On back-to-back weeks in December, Aspen’s Alex Ferreira returned to the top step of the podium for the first time since January 2020, when he won his second X Games Aspen crown.

The year prior had been a struggle for the halfpipe skier and included minor surgery to alleviate some neck pain, a stretch that allowed certain doubts to creep in about his career’s trajectory.

Then came those two weeks at Copper Mountain and those two victories. And just like that, the world was shining bright once again for the homegrown superstar.

“It’s a spectacular feeling,” Ferreira recently told The Aspen Times. “I never knew if I was going to stand on top of the box again. And to be able to do it back-to-back weeks is such a joy and such a privilege and such a grateful moment.”

Those two wins — one at the Copper Grand Prix and another at Dew Tour, contested in the same halfpipe — secured a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for Ferreira, who arrived in China only days ago ahead of his second Winter Games appearance.

The 27-year-old is the reigning Olympic silver medalist in men’s halfpipe skiing, but he doesn’t believe his life has changed too dramatically since his runner-up finish in Pyeongchang, South Korea, four years ago.

“Maybe I get a certain degree more respect from people who don’t know me or people who do know me,” Ferreira said. “I’d like to think I’ve grown as a person, but I’m still the same old Alex. Nothing has changed. Hopefully I just continue to be better and better.”

Ferreira’s rapid rise ahead of his first Olympics began with his Dew Tour victory in 2017, the first major win of his career. He followed that by winning Dew Tour again in 2018, and a few months later finished second behind only Nevada’s David Wise in Pyeongchang.

His upward trajectory didn’t slow down after the 2018 Olympics. Ferreira’s biggest career win came at X Games in 2019, when he finally won his prestigious hometown event in his seventh appearance there at 24 years old. He successfully defended his X Games Aspen title in 2020 before finishing a mere seventh in 2021 when fans weren’t allowed to attend because of the pandemic.

Alex Ferreira smiles after winning gold for the second year in a row in men’s halfpipe skiing at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“I didn’t do well last year at any of the three events and that just frustrates the heck out of me,” Ferreira said. “I hate pouring my heart and soul into something and not being able to provide results in return. That just drove me kind of crazy, as well as being in so much pain and having neck surgery. I was just so hungry to feel normal again. And I think that’s a big part of why I’m so motivated. I feel like myself again.”

Ferreira’s 2020-21 contest season also included a fourth-place finish at the world championships and a sixth-place finish in the Aspen Grand Prix, which served as the first official U.S. Olympic team qualifier. All three of Ferreira’s contests last season were held at Buttermilk Ski Area.

Entering this winter on the Olympic bubble, Ferreira edged out world champion Nico Porteous of New Zealand to win the season-opening Copper Grand Prix and all but assure himself a spot on the trip to Beijing. He took any remaining doubt away when he won Dew Tour only days later, which also was an official U.S. Olympic team qualifier.

Ferreira even landed on the podium twice in two World Cup contests around the New Year in Calgary — he took second both times to Canada’s Brendan Mackay — but failed to make it out of qualifying at the final Olympic qualifier a week later, the Grand Prix in Mammoth, although by then his Olympic fate had already been sealed.

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira drops in during the second run of the men’s halfpipe skiing finals at X Games Aspen on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

“I’m excited. I feel the same jitters that I did the first time. I feel a little bit more calm than I did the first time as well, in some ways,” Ferreira said of returning to the Olympics and of surviving the U.S.’s rigorous qualification process. “It’s intense. It pushes you to the brink of what you think you can do and what is possible. To be able to lock it up early, it’s been different for me in the past. I usually wait until the last minute, so it’s nice to get it locked a bit earlier than others and sit back and maybe just enjoy it a bit more.”

In a last-second decision, Ferreira opted to sit out X Games Aspen this year, which he said was “mostly just to stay in the right head game and watch the competition and just get the body right and the mind even more right.” Porteous won the contest for the second straight year, while Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck finished second and Wise was third.

Entering the Beijing Olympics, Ferreira looks to be all systems go, and he understands he’ll have to be. The 2018 contest in Pyeongchang was an intense back-and-forth affair, mostly with Ferreira and Porteous, then only 16, trading the lead each round of finals. However, it was Wise, who also won the first Olympic halfpipe skiing contest in 2014, who stole gold on his final run, pushing Ferreira back to silver and Porteous to bronze.

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira airs out of the halfpipe during finals at X Games Aspen on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Ferreira doesn’t recall much in the way of sights from that Olympics as he typically doesn’t like to watch the other skiers’ runs. But he does recall the sounds and the emotions of that day in South Korea.

“I remember hearing screams and cheers from the chairlift ride,” Ferreira said. “It was interesting to be able to hear how the contest was and then be able to watch it later on and see what happened. It was very exciting. There were a lot of position changes throughout the contest and a lot of great runs landed. Going into Beijing I’ll probably take a similar strategy. I’ll not watch any of the runs and I’m going to listen to the contest.”

This year’s competition — men’s qualifying is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. local time in China on Thursday at the Genting Snow Park near Zhangjiakou — will be much more challenging than in 2018. The difficulties surrounding COVID-19 and simply getting into the Olympic bubble were problematic enough for Ferreira and the U.S. team, but they know the level of skiing will be a lot higher than it was in Pyeongchang, and Porteous has a lot to do with it.

Alex Ferreira holds up his gold medal after winning the men’s halfpipe skiing final at X Games Aspen on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Kiwi raised the bar significantly at X Games Aspen in 2021 when his winning run included back-to-back 1620s, done for the first time in a contest in men’s halfpipe skiing. His winning run at X Games in 2022 included a similar combo.

“It keeps getting harder and harder and what I think it’s going to take to win this year is definitely both way double cork 1620s and probably both ways switch skiing,” Ferreira said of the 2022 Olympic contest. “I didn’t really think I was ever going to do it until Nico had done it and I realized where the sport was going. At first I was thinking, ‘Oh, jeez, that’s going to be hard.’ And now that I’ve put the time in and learned both of them, I’m so grateful that he expanded my horizon and made me better and made me do better. It made me believe what I didn’t think was possible in myself. I’m super grateful.”

Aspen’s Alex Ferreira airs out of the superpipe during practice for X Games Aspen on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Unlike in last week’s men’s halfpipe snowboarding contest at the Olympics, won easily by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano behind his historic triple cork, the men’s halfpipe skiing competition should have a few more athletes legitimately in the mix, although Porteous is certainly the favorite. Wise, who is 31, faces an uphill battle for his Olympic three-peat, but Ferreira, Blunck and even Mackay should be able to go run-for-run with Porteous.

Winter Park’s Birk Irving, the 22-year-old Olympic rookie who rounds out the four-skier U.S. lineup, should also be a podium contender.

How to watch

Men’s halfpipe skiing qualifying will be televised live on NBC or USA beginning at 9:30 p.m. MST on Wednesday night here in the Roaring Fork Valley. The women’s halfpipe skiing qualifier, featuring Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber, begins at 6 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.

“I feel prepared,” Ferreira said. “I feel ready. I put a lot of time into my training and doing the exercise side of things this past fall. I think it’s going to be a really good one.”

The Olympics serve as the final major halfpipe contest of this season, ending the competition schedule a bit earlier than usual for most athletes. Ferreira, who would be 31 by the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, said he hasn’t put much thought into his career beyond Beijing, but above all is grateful to be enjoying skiing once again.

“Honestly I haven’t thought too much about it. I know I’m having a lot of fun skiing right now and having fun with my friends,” Ferreira said of his future. “Obviously, the results speak for themselves, doing good, so if that continues to roll on, then why not? I think just go day by day, moment by moment and continue to do my best.”

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