With her X Games and Olympic dreams reached, Faulhaber looks for cherry on top
Basalt teenager will make her X Games Aspen debut on Friday
Even at home this past week, Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber would wander about wearing an N95 mask and distancing herself from her family as much as possible. It’s a little over the top, but with two significant dreams within reach, taking every precaution is a necessity with COVID-19 still a significant part of everyone’s lives.
It’ll all be worth it come Friday night when the teenager competes at X Games Aspen for the first time, and then again next month at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“Right now I’m taking so many precautions to stay safe and not get COVID so I can compete at X Games and the Olympics,” Faulhaber said last week from her home bubble. “It would suck to get invited to the Olympics and then get COVID and not be able to go. So I think all of us athletes are really trying to make the best decisions for ourselves and stay safe and stay away from everything. But once it’s over we can all relax.”
A handful of athletes have opted out of competing at X Games Aspen this week out of injury and coronavirus concerns with the Olympics so close. China has a strict “Zero COVID” policy that has meant various lockdowns in the country and will mean athletes will face many hoops — and lots of testing — before they can compete. One negative test could possibly derail those long-held dreams of competing at the Olympics.
But for Faulhaber, who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and has had a front-row seat for X Games all these years, missing out on ESPN’s signature winter event at Buttermilk Ski Area was never an option. Once she received her first invite to compete, she was locked in, despite the risks to her Olympic dreams.
“That never even reached my mind, just because it’s always been a big dream of mine. Would never miss it,” Faulhaber said of competing at X Games. “Olympics and X Games are pretty close together to which one means more. Almost X Games means more to me, just because of the hometown crowd. I grew up watching it my whole life and now being able to be part of it is — I’ve said this a lot — but it’s crazy.”
Faulhaber, who is only 17, is the latest in a line of local halfpipe skiers to make it to the sport’s biggest stage, but the first woman in recent memory. On the men’s side, Aspen’s Alex Ferreira is currently at the top of the pecking order, having won gold at X Games Aspen in both 2019 and 2020. He’ll also head to Beijing next month, where he’ll look to defend his Olympic silver medal from 2018 in Pyeongchang.
Aspen’s Cassidy Jarrell, a fellow U.S. national team member, competed in his lone X Games back in 2020. Torin Yater-Wallace was among the sport’s biggest stars for a time, winning six X Games medals, including two gold (Tignes 2013, Oslo 2016), before injuries led to an early retirement from halfpipe competition.
Faulhaber now finds herself on that same stage — that is, under the lights on ESPN — that these older athletes have long been on, athletes she grew up idolizing from her time with AVSC.
“It’s super special. I would grow up watching them at X Games and the fact that I’m now competing at the same level as them is crazy. I’m lost for words because I don’t believe it,” Faulhaber said. “Now that I get to do it under the lights with all my friends and family watching and the crowd is so special.”
If you plan to head to Buttermilk over the weekend for Winter X Games, here are a few things to know before you go:
— All spectators need to bring and wear a mask on all shuttles/buses to and from X Games Aspen. There is no onsite parking. Please take shuttles from Aspen or Brush Creek Park and Ride.
— Proof of vaccination required for all spectators 12 and older for entry into X Games spectator viewing areas; 11 and younger can come with a vaccinated adult but must wear a mask at all times, except when eating and drinking.
— Vaccination requirement: Upon vaccination confirmation, spectators will receive a wristband to use through the weekend (same wristband for the entire duration). Vaccination check points are at the main Buttermilk entrance, Rubey Park transit center (Thursday only, 2 to 5 p.m.) and at the Brush Creek lot (Friday, 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday 11 to 8 p.m.).
Faulhaber’s rise has been rapid. She was one of a handful of Olympic hopefuls heading into this cycle, but really started to assert herself last spring. While it wasn’t an official U.S. Olympic team qualifier, her taking fourth at the world championships — also held at Buttermilk — back in March really put her on the map.
This winter has included her first major podium, when she finished third at Dew Tour back in December, two more podiums at a World Cup in Calgary, and a fourth-place finish at the recent Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix, the final official Olympic qualifier.
While U.S. Ski and Snowboard hasn’t officially announced its complete roster for Beijing as of Wednesday night, Faulhaber was among the first wave of athletes announced by the team after the Mammoth event as she easily met the Olympic team criteria.
“I think I have processed X Games,” Faulhaber said. “However, I still don’t believe that I’m going to the Olympics, and I probably won’t believe until I’m on the flight to China.”
Her X Games Aspen competition will be missing a few major names, with China’s Eileen Gu — who won halfpipe skiing gold at Buttermilk last year in her debut — and reigning Olympic gold medalist Cassie Sharpe of Canada both sitting out. But Estonia’s Kelly Sildaru, a nine-time X Games medalist, including her superpipe gold in 2020, is expected to compete, as are many of Faulhaber’s American teammates, including Brita Sigourney, Devin Logan and Winter Park’s Svea Irving.
Sildaru will be a heavy favorite to win Friday’s 7 p.m. competition, with veterans like Sigourney and Logan on that next wave of podium hopefuls, but Faulhaber will certainly be a trendy podium pick in her first X Games appearance. Gu and Sildaru are the frontrunners to win Olympic gold next month in China.
“I’m skiing pretty good. I definitely can clean up my run a little bit going to X Games and hopefully adding a new trick going into the Olympics. But we’ll see what happens,” said Faulhaber, who isn’t setting any higher goals for herself at the moment. “Take it as it comes, for sure. I’m trying not to set too high of a bar for me, just because I don’t want to get let down and I don’t want it to get in my head too much. I’m going to the Olympics, so I’ve reached my main goal and anything that is on top of that is just a bonus.”
A look at the events at the three-day run of X Games Aspen (times listed are MST for in-person viewing):
10:30 a.m.: Women’s snowboard slopestyle
12:30 p.m.: Women’s ski big air
2:30 p.m.: Special Olympics Unified race
6 p.m.: Snowboard knuckle huck
7 p.m.: Women’s ski superpipe
8:35 p.m.: Men’s snowboard superpipe
10:30 a.m.: Women’s ski slopestyle
Noon: Men’s snowboard slopestyle
1:45 p.m.: Women’s snowboard big air
5 p.m.: Women’s snowboard superpipe
6:45 p.m.: Men’s ski big air
8 p.m.: Men’s snowboard big air
11 a.m.: Men’s ski slopestyle
5 p.m.: Ski knuckle huck
6:30 p.m.: Men’s ski superpipe
Roaring Fork Valley natives Emily Ridings and Nikki Ferry have come full circle when it comes to dance. Both studied dance with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) as kids, continued their training with other prominent schools, and now return this weekend, as ASFB presents “The Nutcracker” at Aspen District Theater.