Aspen halfpipe skiers Ferreira, Yater-Wallace ready for Pyeongchang debut
Men’s ski halfpipe
Qualifying: 9 p.m. MST Monday. Each skier gets two runs with top 12 advancing to finals.
Finals: 7:30 p.m. MST Wednesday. Each skier gets three runs with best single scoring winning gold.
How to watch: All events can be live streamed at www.nbcolympics.com and viewed on NBC and NBC Sports.
Four years ago, Alex Ferreira could only watch as a group of his best friends competed in the first halfpipe skiing competition in Winter Olympics history.
The Aspen native was the first person left off the U.S. team for the Sochi Games, a group that included fellow Aspenite Torin Yater-Wallace, Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, Nevada’s David Wise and Boulder’s Lyman Currier.
This week in South Korea, Ferreira’s own journey to the Olympics will finally merge with that of his American teammates in a halfpipe half a world away.
“It has been a whirlwind of emotions. I can’t believe this is what is happening and we’ve come this far. It’s amazing. I’m blown away,” Ferreira said prior to leaving for Pyeongchang. “I definitely have a lot of goals in mind. What I want out of this is to make some unbelievable friends and be with people that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”
The U.S. contingent in South Korea is almost identical to the group that went to Russia in 2014. Yater-Wallace, Blunck and Wise all are back for their second Olympics, while Ferreira stepped in to replace Currier, who was sidelined with injury during the Olympic qualifiers this winter.
The foursome will make its 2018 Olympic debut in the men’s ski halfpipe qualifying round, which begins Monday at 9 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, immediately following the women’s ski halfpipe final. The three-run men’s final is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. MST on Wednesday. The top 12 from the two-run qualifying round make finals.
“It’s such an extreme honor. Our criteria for making the Olympic team is the toughest of any team out there, by far,” Yater-Wallace said of making his second Olympic team. “Having those close friends with you makes the entire experience and the memories you are creating that much more special.”
Yater-Wallace’s bumpy journey
While the 2014 Sochi Games were tough on Ferreira after not qualifying, it was an especially trying time for Yater-Wallace. Injuries, including a collapsed lung, kept him from qualifying for the U.S. team via competition. Instead, the teen phenom — in 2011 at age 15 he became the youngest X Games medalist, up to that point — earned the team’s discretionary pick.
His best run of 39 in Sochi didn’t come close to getting him out of qualifying. Wise eventually won the contest with a 92, followed by silver medalist Mike Riddle of Canada and bronze medalist Kevin Rolland of France. Blunck finished seventh, while Currier also failed to make it out of qualifying.
“It’s his drive and determination. It’s all him. It’s purely him toughing his way through,” Ron Wallace, Torin’s father, said of his son’s ability to persevere. “It’s really exciting. I think it’s more important to him since he already went once. I think he’s really excited about the whole experience.”
Yater-Wallace’s drama didn’t end with Sochi. In 2015, he spent 10 days in a medically induced coma where a rare bacterial infection nearly took his life. Not even two months later, he won gold at X Games Oslo.
These trials, which included his father’s 2010 imprisonment for fraud, were highlighted in the recently-released documentary “Back to Life,” produced by Red Bull Media House.
Yater-Wallace needed every last competition this winter to qualify for his second Olympics. He won the first qualifier last winter in Mammoth Mountain, but failed to get that second podium needed to objectively qualify until the final qualifier, again at Mammoth.
“Mammoth was hectic. The whole season has been hectic. There has been a ton of pressure on my shoulders, whether it’s from endorsements or media or just anybody,” Yater-Wallace said. “It makes it a lot harder to compete when every event you are told you have to podium to make the team as opposed to skiing for yourself.”
Ferreira’s new attitude
Like Yater-Wallace, Ferreira overcame a lot to get to Pyeongchang, although many of his demons were in his head. He came close to leaving competitive halfpipe skiing behind last winter after injuries continued to get in his way. He bounced around Europe for a time trying to find his purpose, and when he returned he found a whole new level of skiing.
“He’s so happy with life. He’s learned to set boundaries. He’s really solid with who he is,” said Aspen’s Kathleen Callahan, a counselor and sports psychologist who has worked closely with Ferreira over the past year. “He had some fear early on and we worked on abolishing that. No fear at all. His confidence is through the roof.”
Ferreira’s breakthrough came in December when he won Dew Tour. Outside of Wise, who was the first to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team for Korea, nobody has had a better season than Ferreira. He also took second in the Snowmass Grand Prix and won a silver medal at X Games Aspen last month, sharing the podium with Wise and Yater-Wallace, who won gold and bronze, respectively.
“A year ago I was just bumming around Europe, not happy with skiing and now I’m doing it here and it’s just amazing,” Ferreira said. “It’s all about your mental state and how happy you are and what you’re doing. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about the positivity.”
High expectations in Korea
After making a brief stop in Korea earlier this month, the U.S. halfpipe ski team then spent time in Japan training and skiing powder. Now back in Korea ahead of qualifying, the Americans are a group entering with high expectations.
With the reigning Olympic gold medalist in tow and fresh off an X Games Aspen sweep, there is plenty of belief they can pull of a similar feat in Pyeongchang.
And the fact that three of the four U.S. men’s ski halfpipe team members come from either side of the Elk Mountains makes it even more special.
“Whenever you are with your friends you are having a good time. To do it in such a prestigious and special opportunity is really cool. I’m hyped,” Yater-Wallace said. “We’ll look back at it for years.”
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