Beck, Faulhaber to represent Roaring Fork Valley at Youth Olympic Games
Both Aspen’s George Beck and Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber can look to the future and realistically dream of one day competing in the Winter Olympics. For Faulhaber, a halfpipe skier, the 2022 Games in Beijing are reasonably within reach. Beck, who competes in ski mountaineering, might have to wait until the 2026 Games in Italy.
Either way, the local teenagers can see the path forward. And that next step will take place this month when they represent the Roaring Fork Valley at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, which is home to the International Olympic Committee. This is only the third time the event has been held, dating back to the first Winter YOG in 2012. Held every four years, YOG athletes range from 14 to 18 years.
“It’s very exciting,” Beck said. “It makes the event a lot more meaningful when you have to qualify to get into something and it’s only a very small group. Just getting there is a large accomplishment, compared to a race where you can just sign up.”
Beck, a 17-year-old junior at Aspen High School, is one of only four Americans competing in skimo at the Youth Olympic Games, and one of only two boys. He and Jeremiah Vaille of Dillon will represent the Red, White and Blue, as will Utah’s Samantha Paisley and Silverthorne’s Grace Staberg. The athletes qualified for the YOG team in November at a competition at Eldora Mountain Resort.
Ski mountaineering is making its Youth Olympic Games debut in Switzerland. It’s not yet an Olympic sport and won’t be part of the 2022 Games, but there is hope it will make its way into the fold for 2026. Beck sees this month’s event as a way to showcase one of the world’s top up-and-coming winter sports.
“Hopefully it will go over well with the spectators because if it does then it will become an Olympic sport,” Beck said. “In the U.S. it’s just kind of starting. So I see the Youth Olympics and hopefully the real Olympics bringing it to the attention of more people in America and hopefully it will grow.”
Halfpipe skiing made its Olympic debut in 2014, which included the valley’s own Torin Yater-Wallace competing on the inaugural U.S. team. Faulhaber, a 15-year-old sophomore at Basalt High School, has had a meteoric rise over the past year, going from an unknown to a member of the U.S. rookie team this winter.
“The girls are amazing and they are all super supportive. So are the boys. It’s just a really close and tight team to be a part of,” Faulhaber said. “Going into the Rev Tour, I wasn’t really expecting anything at all. Then I got invited to junior worlds and was able to go and come back and compete in more Rev Tours and then got invited to the team, which was crazy.”
Faulhaber only started competing in FIS — International Ski Federation — events last winter, as athletes need to be at least 14. She mostly competed on the U.S. Revolution Tour, a stepping stone to bigger events such as the World Cup, and started winning right away. Her 2018-19 season was highlighted by winning the USASA national championship in April, paving the way for her selection to the U.S. team.
Faulhaber was one of only two girls named to the Youth Olympic Games team for the U.S. in halfpipe skiing, the other being Winter Park’s Svea Irving. Irving, however, hurt her knee at a recent World Cup in China and won’t make the trip. She’s been replaced on the YOG roster by Riley Jacobs of Steamboat Springs.
Winter Park’s Hunter Carey and Lakewood’s Connor Ladd will represent the U.S. boys in halfpipe skiing.
The halfpipe contests will be held in Leysin, which also hosted the 2019 FIS Junior World Ski Championships last January, where Faulhaber finished sixth.
“Going into that Rev Tour I would have never thought I would be in the place I am right now. It’s pretty amazing,” Faulhaber said. “I feel like this will be a little different because it will just be younger athletes. It will be a really cool experience.”
Beck was one of roughly three dozen Americans who were selected to compete in the 2019 World Ski Mountaineering Championships last March in Villars-sur-Ollon, Switzerland, which also is staging all the skimo events for the Youth Olympic Games this month. Also on that team last year was Aspen teenager Caden Klein, who partnered with Beck to win the Audi Power of Two skimo race here in Aspen the past two winters.
“That event was almost like testing out the venue for Youth Olympics. I’m very excited because this is the first time that skimo will be in the Youth Olympics,” Beck said of returning to Villars-sur-Ollon. “The Youth Olympics this year is really important because it brings it back to the U.S. In Europe it’s a very, very large sport.”
This year’s Youth Olympic Games officially get underway with the opening ceremony Thursday; it runs through Jan. 22. Beck and the skimo athletes will be among the first to compete, with the individual races scheduled for Friday. After two days off, they return with a sprint Monday before wrapping it up with a four-person co-ed relay Tuesday.
Faulhaber won’t compete until Jan. 20. The men’s and women’s halfpipe skiing qualifications and finals are all held on the same day. Faulhaber, who has two World Cup starts to her name, hopes to get a couple more starts this winter after the Youth Olympic Games conclude. She’s also holding out hope of being named an alternate for X Games Aspen later this month.
“Hopefully next year I do a little better in the World Cups and different bigger events like that and possibly get an invite, which has always been a dream of mine,” Faulhaber said of X Games. “It kind of depends on if I continue to progress at the rate that I am, which hopefully I do.”
Also competing at the Youth Olympic Games this month is Silverthorne-based snowboarder Jake Canter. The slopestyle and big air rider previously trained with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club before joining the U.S. national team.
Fully aware he was in the midst of the mountain bike race of his life, Aspen’s John Gaston said he “tried to not think too far ahead” to prevent the magnitude of the moment from getting to him. He eventually finished runner-up in the iconic race.
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