Resilient Blunck wins Aspen Grand Prix; Ferreira and Feinberg miss the podium |

Resilient Blunck wins Aspen Grand Prix; Ferreira and Feinberg miss the podium

Aspen's Alex Ferreira competes in the men's freeski halfpipe final at the U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Aaron Blunck nearly died in a preseason training crash in Switzerland. Yet, he recovered in time to win X Games silver in January before finishing fifth in last week’s world championships in Aspen.

So, when the 24-year-old from Crested Butte crashed on his first run of the men’s freeski halfpipe finals in Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup at Buttermilk Ski Area, there was little reason to believe he wouldn’t bounce right back — even after he dropped to the ground in obvious pain in the finish area at the bottom of the course.

About an hour later, he was standing on top of the podium as a World Cup winner.

“After that first run fall, I kind of had to completely regroup and remember that honestly, I wasn’t even supposed to be able to ski,” said Blunck, who originally thought his preseason injuries would keep him out the entire season. “After that second run landed, it wasn’t the best run, but I was like, ‘All right, if I can land that one, I can go for broke, for sure.’ Third run I knew what I had to do, and I wasn’t going to let that get away from me.”

Blunck’s massive third and final run Sunday scored him 96.50 to jump over a star-studded field that saw four different skiers make it into the 90s. He needed every bit of that score to beat Canada’s Brendan MacKay, the runner-up with 95, and New Zealand’s Nico Porteous.

Even two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist David Wise of Nevada scored 91.25 on his second run but still finished one off the podium in fourth.

Aspen's Tristan Feinberg competes in the men's freeski halfpipe final at the U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup on Sunday, March 21, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

An early bout of snow got the contest off to a slow start Sunday, but around the beginning of the second run, the skies parted and the sun finally showed up, setting up a wild finish.

“You can only do so much when it’s overcast and it’s early,” MacKay said. “But as the day went on, the sun came out and the snow got faster. Everyone was building off each other’s energy and it ended up being a great contest.”

Blunck’s win ended quite a run by Porteous, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, after the 19-year-old Kiwi won both X Games Aspen and world championships this year behind his back-to-back 1620s. He wasn’t quite as on point Sunday — then again, that’s according to him, and not his scores — finishing third, even with scores of 84.75, 94.50 and 94.

“Today went really well. It was really challenging conditions throughout the day, changing every single run,” Porteous said. “I just went out there and as I have for the past couple of events — just went out there with a goal of skiing my best. Unfortunately I didn’t quite get there today, but I’m just stoked to be riding with Blunck and Brendan.”

Winter Park’s Birk Irving (88) finished fifth; he won his first X Games medal back in January. Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, the reigning Olympic silver medalist and two-time X Games champion, finished sixth with a strong 87.25, scored on his final run. Canada’s Noah Bowman was seventh (86.25) and Boulder’s Lyman Currier was eighth (85.75), their scores in the mid-80s that far back an indication of how strong the skiing was.

Rounding out the finalists were New Zealand’s Miguel Porteous, Nico’s brother, in ninth (82); Oregon’s Hunter Hess in 10th (79.25); Aspen’s Tristan Feinberg in 11th (66.25); and Switzerland’s Robin Briguet in 12th (60.75).

This was the first career World Cup final appearance for the 17-year-old Feinberg, who looks to be next in line in becoming a star halfpipe skier from the Roaring Fork Valley, a list that includes recent standouts in Ferreira, Torin Yater-Wallace and Cassidy Jarrell, who did not compete this week because of injury.

“I’ve said it a million times, but I got to pinch myself all the time, it’s crazy. I remember looking at all these boys on TV and wondering of the day I would be able to compete on this stage and compete at this level,” Feinberg said. “I’m super hyped to be in the my first finals. A little bummed I couldn’t put down my full run because of the speed, but happy to be here, happy to be OK. Looking forward to the next one and as hungry as ever.”

Sunday’s Grand Prix was the first U.S. Olympic team qualifier ahead of next year’s Winter Games in China. Blunck will head into the summer with a big head start on making the team after his win, with Wise, Irving and Ferreira all nipping at his heels. Wise, Ferreira, Blunck and Yater-Wallace made up the four-man U.S. team at the 2018 Olympics. Yater-Wallace has since stepped away from competitive halfpipe skiing.

“It means a lot to me, but honestly I wasn’t even thinking about it as an Olympic qualifier,” Blunck said. “The more I think about that stuff the harder it gets on me. I was thinking just win this contest. It’s just another contest, it’s just another day of skiing, so just do your best.”

Karker takes down small women’s halfpipe field

In the women’s halfpipe skiing contest Sunday, Canada’s Rachael Karker won over a field that kept getting smaller ahead of the first run. Only six of the eight qualifiers actually competed after California’s Abigale Hansen and China’s Eileen Gu both pulled out due to injury.

Already missing were Olympic gold medalist Cassie Sharpe and Estonian phenom Kelly Sildaru, who are both out with injury. Even Basalt teen Hanna Faulhaber, one of the rising stars, was hurt during qualifying, although she seemed mostly in one piece Sunday as she watched the finals from the base of Buttermilk.

“It feels really great. This is the perfect way to end the season,” Karker said of her win. “I’m really excited to train. It’s been a while because of injuries and stuff that I’ve been able to go and try and learn some new stuff, and I’m really excited to start doing that again.”

Karker, who finished second to Gu in the world championships last week, scored 93.25 on her third and final run to win. She scored an identical 93 on each of her first two runs. Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin was second (91.50) and California’s Brita Sigourney was third (89), a key podium for the American in the Olympic team qualifier.

“It’s a huge relief,” said Sigourney, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist. “Obviously there is a little bit of pressure going into this one knowing it was an Olympic qualifier. So I’m just really happy to put down three runs and to have improved each time. I’m stoked to walk away with third place.”

Her American teammate, Devin Logan, was fourth with 85.50, followed in fifth by Russia’s Valeriya Demidova (82.75) and Japan’s Saori Suzuki was sixth (70.50).

The contest ended the World Cup competition season for the halfpipe skiers.


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