Aspen bids farewell to its Olympians during Wednesday send-off event | AspenTimes.com

Aspen bids farewell to its Olympians during Wednesday send-off event

The town of Aspen came together four years ago to send off its Winter Olympians much as it did Wednesday at the base of Aspen Mountain. Alex Ferreira, who finished as the first person left off the U.S. men's ski halfpipe team that year, didn't attend in 2014 because he was "emotionally not there."

Wednesday, he was all smiles, finally living the life of an Olympian.

"I'm just blown away by the support of the community and the town. It's unbelievable," Ferreira said. "I think it will set in on the plane, but wearing some of the Olympic gear I definitely feel like I'm doing it. It's a beautiful feeling, that's for sure."

Coming off a strong showing in the qualifiers, highlighted by his win at Dew Tour in December, Ferreira will compete in his first Winter Olympics this month in South Korea. He was one of six local athletes recognized Wednesday at the send-off event, put on by Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club with the help of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

"Part of our mission statement is to help kids excel through winter sports, and it's kind of neat that that does mean all the way to the highest levels of the sports," AVSC executive director Mark Godomsky said. "It's just an exciting time for the community and sometimes we forget how important the mountains are to the kids in this valley and the opportunities it provides them."

After opening statements from Aspen Olympian Chris Klug, Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan, ACRA President Debbie Braun and Godomsky, Skico event marketing coordinator Tyler Lindsay introduced Aspen's 2018 Olympians. Of the six recognized, only Ferreira and fellow halfpipe skier Torin Yater-Wallace were in attendance.

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The rest — alpine skiers Wiley Maple and Alice McKennis, and cross-country skiers Simi Hamilton and Noah Hoffman — were represented by friends or family. All told, the AVSC is sending nine former athletes to the Olympics this month, including Summit County snowboarder Chris Corning, Eagle snowboarder Jake Pates and Telluride snowboarder Hagen Kearney.

"It's unreal the support of the Aspen community for Alex and I and all of us heading to the Olympics," Yater-Wallace said. "Seeing the turnout at the send-off today, it's really special to see the whole community behind you and know you're not just representing the country, but representing the town you come from."

This will be Yater-Wallace's second Olympics, although his 2014 campaign was limited because of injury. McKennis, who is from New Castle but trained with Aspen Olympian Casey Puckett and the AVSC, was a 2010 Olympian before missing the 2014 cycle because of injury.

Hamilton is heading to his third Olympics and Hoffman his second. Both Hoffman and Maple, who will be a first-time Olympian, weren't named to the U.S. Ski Team ahead of the season but persevered to earn a trip to Pyeongchang.

"It's amazing," said Maple's father, Mike, who stood in his son's place during the send-off. Wiley Maple is currently in Europe training ahead of the Olympics. "Being selected to the Olympic team is certainly an incredible accomplishment, but for me I didn't really give it much thought until it happened."

Most of the 2018 Olympians will be en route to South Korea by the end of the weekend, if not sooner. The opening ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 9, with the closing ceremony set for Feb. 25.

"You are not only representing this community, you are representing this way of living. And I know you are going to do it right," Kaplan told the Aspen Olympians. "It's pretty phenomenal to reflect on what all these Olympians and their families sacrificed to get to this point. It's sort of unfathomable."

acolbert@aspentimes.com

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