Colbert: Looking at Aspen’s Olympic hopefuls after ski team nominations
This past week, U.S. Ski and Snowboard announced its nominations for the 2020-21 season. Surprises were few in regard to Roaring Fork Valley athletes, with household names like Alex Ferreira and Simi Hamilton again on the list, and a couple, like Hailey Swirbul, getting a slight promotion.
What the nominations really do is give us an indication on what the next Winter Olympic season will be like. We’re past halfway between the 2018 Games in South Korea and the 2022 Games in Beijing, and this coming winter is an important one in terms of positioning for those coveted spots on the U.S. Olympic teams.
The bulk of the qualifying will happen in the two or three months leading up to the Beijing Olympics, but we’re plenty close enough to start making some guesses on who will don the Red, White and Blue in China. Below is a list of Roaring Fork Valley — or thereabouts — athletes who have a shot at making the Olympics two years from now, grouped by probability.
Keep in mind, these are nothing more than my best guesses and don’t factor in injuries or pandemics. Also, this list is hardly all-inclusive, so it may be missing a few of the athletes pushing the next level.
GOLD (see you in China)
Alex Ferreira: Aspen’s golden boy might be the best halfpipe skier on the planet right now. He won silver in his lone Olympic appearance in 2018 and has won gold at X Games Aspen the past two years. He’s a legit rock star (no, seriously, he’s sponsored by Rockstar Energy) and will be a frontrunner for Olympic gold in 2022.
Hailey Swirbul: The Basalt High grad was promoted to the A team for the 2020-21 season, a huge nod of approval from the U.S. cross-country ski team. This coming winter will only be her third with the national team, and if she continues on her current path, there’s no question she’ll compete at her first Olympics in two years.
Alice McKennis: The New Castle native and former AVSC athlete is a veteran on the U.S. alpine ski team and competed in both the 2010 and 2018 Olympics (injury kept her out of 2014). She was a surprising fifth in the 2018 Olympic downhill (only two spots behind Lindsey Vonn) and I think she’ll get one more shot at Olympic glory before calling it a career.
Chris Corning: He’s really more of a Summit County guy, but the big air and slopestyle snowboarding star did spend a few years training in Aspen with AVSC, so we claim him. He’s won everything under the sun outside of X Games Aspen and the Olympics, and in my mind rivals Max Parrot and Mark McMorris in terms of big air talent. He finished fourth in big air at the Games in South Korea, his first Olympic appearance, and should be a podium favorite in 2022.
SILVER (nothing is guaranteed, but decent chance)
Hanna Faulhaber: Only 15, the Basalt High School student is a star-in-the-making in women’s halfpipe skiing. With Maddie Bowman retired, a youngster like Faulhaber will have a shot at making the 2022 Olympic team. The 2026 Games might be more realistic for her, but Faulhaber has taken leaps, not baby steps, in her development each year, so let’s dare to dream.
Cassidy Jarrell: Aspen’s next great halfpipe skier is now on the U.S. pro team with Ferreira and Aaron Blunck, and will be one of a handful competing for an Olympic spot in 2022. He made his X Games Aspen debut this past winter, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of him going forward. However, men’s halfpipe skiing in the U.S. is lit right now, so Jarrell will have a lot of competition for only a few spots on the Beijing team.
Bridger Gile: The Aspen-raised alpine skier might have a legit shot at the 2022 Olympics, considering he’s been moved up to the B team for the upcoming winter. He was a star on the Nor-Am Cup this past season and will hopefully get his first World Cup start before the year is out.
Jake Canter: Another rising star who formerly trained with AVSC, Canter remains on the U.S. rookie team. Only 16, the slopestyle snowboarder has competed in knuckle huck the past two years at X Games Aspen. Sadly, knuckle huck is not yet an Olympic sport, so Canter will need to step it up in the traditional events to make it to China.
Hagen Kearney: The Telluride alpine snowboarder also has ties with AVSC and competed at the 2018 Olympics, taking 13th in snowboardcross. He’s once again on the A team for this coming winter and should no doubt make a good case for a return trip to the Olympics in 2022.
We need to also shout out Eagle’s Jake Pates here, a halfpipe snowboarder and 2018 Olympian. He had a very brief stint with AVSC when he was younger and could push for a 2022 spot.
BRONZE (probably won’t happen, but you never know)
Cooper Cornelius: Another young alpine skier, the Glenwood Springs product and AVSC athlete is nipping at Gile’s heels in terms of being the area’s next great ski racer. He’s on the C team, so he probably needs a big winter to firmly move into the Olympic conversation.
Kate Oldham: The Colorado Rocky Mountain School senior and AVSC athlete was named to the U.S. national training group, which feeds into the national teams. The cross-country skier really is a long shot to make the Olympic team, but considering she’s knocking on the door of the national team and still has two winters to make her case, she’s worth bringing up.
Galena Wardle: Injuries have plagued the young Aspen alpine skier’s career so much that she wasn’t named to the U.S. national team for this coming winter. Doesn’t mean she’s out of the equation, but it’s not promising. Utah’s Isabella Wright, who has also trained with AVSC, made the U.S. development team for the 2020-21 alpine season. Current AVSC alpine skier Stella Johansson also is pushing the threshold of the national team, getting an invite to be part of the national training group.
Tristan Feinberg: Another one of the area’s rising stars in halfpipe skiing — we seem to have a lot of them these days — the teen is not on the national team but is certainly knocking on the door. He’s got a few World Cup starts under his belt and is only a couple of stellar runs away from adding his name to the mix. Young Kai Morris is coming up fast as well, so keep him in mind.
OFF THE PODIUM (been there, done that)
Simi Hamilton: Aspen’s timeless wonder is the only member of the men’s A team in cross-country skiing for the 2020-21 season. He’s a three-time Olympian and has long been the country’s top sprinter. However, he’s 32 and earlier this spring basically said this coming season will likely be his last. But who knows, maybe he has a change of heart ahead of the next Olympic push.
Noah Hoffman: A two-time Olympic cross-country skier who grew up in Aspen, the distance specialist retired after the 2018 Olympic season. Safe to say he won’t compete in Beijing, but we had to give him a nod for one solid career. He’s still got it, though, as he showed last fall by winning the Aspen Backcountry Marathon.
Wiley Maple: A true Aspen cowboy, Maple recently retired because of a lingering back injury. He’s been on and off the U.S. alpine ski team more times than we can count, but defied the odds and made the 2018 Olympic team, taking 30th in the downhill. Bon voyage to the Aspen legend.
Torin Yater-Wallace: As long as he’s been around, I’d bet a lot of money Yater-Wallace was at least 35. Shockingly, the halfpipe skiing icon is only 24 but has seemingly stepped away from the competitive world. The two-time Olympian did make an X Games Aspen cameo in knuckle huck back in January, but won’t compete in halfpipe anymore. He wasn’t named to the U.S. national team for the coming season, a choice he likely made.
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The Owl Creek Chase continues — with a catch. Skiers in this year’s race won’t ever set foot on the Owl Creek Trail.