CRMS grad Jon Sallinen to represent Finland in halfpipe skiing at Olympics
Finn standout, Colorado Rocky Mountain School alumnus works with Roaring Fork Valley skiing icon Peter Olenick
Like all the kids these days, Jon Sallinen really built his reputation through social media. The Finn’s skiing antics created quite the following for himself on apps such as TikTok and Instagram, and it turns out he’s much more than just a gimmick on snow.
A native of Finland who in recent years found a home in the Roaring Fork Valley, the 21-year-old Sallinen is in China this week and will represent his home country at the Winter Olympics in halfpipe skiing, where he is being coached by Carbondale freeskiing icon Peter Olenick.
“It’s always been a big dream of mine to go to the Olympics since I started skiing. I’ve always followed the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics, and it’s always been this crazy big thing that it would be awesome to be a part of one day,” Sallinen told The Aspen Times prior to leaving for Beijing. “It’s not really hit me yet that I’m going. But once I step on that plane going to China, I’ll be feeling a little different. But I’m super excited to go.”
Sallinen came to the valley as an exchange student, eventually graduating from Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale in 2020. He chose CRMS in large part due to its proximity to the Aspen skiing culture, and he wanted to continue to grow in the sport, but maybe making the 2022 Olympics wasn’t necessarily on his original list of reasons to leave his homeland.
He grew up ski racing — and doing just about everything else on skis, really — but halfpipe skiing is hardly a major part of the Nordic country’s sports culture. Among Sallinen’s idols is AJ Kemppainen, a now-retired Finnish halfpipe skier who competed at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, as well as made a handful of X Games appearances.
Finland has plenty of representation at the Olympics this year, including slopestyle snowboarders Rene Rinnekangas and Enni Rukajarvi, and the cross-country skiing siblings of Iivo and Kerttu Niskannen.
Also representing Finland at this year’s Olympics is Simo Peltola, a 21-year-old slopestyle and big air skier. But Sallinen is the lone halfpipe skier representing Finland in Beijing, and is the first from the country since Kemppainen. There were no Finnish halfpipe skiers at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang.
“I’m excited to represent Finland and go there and try to bring halfpipe skiing back to Finland,” Sallinen said. “I just did everything as a kid, and when I came here to Aspen and studied here for a couple of years, there were a lot of kids that were super good at halfpipe skiing. And then I guess I wanted to get better than them and just try halfpipe more. I kind of got hooked on it because it’s super technical and hard. It’s probably the most technical sport of all the freestyle skiing sports.”
Sallinen eventually got connected with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and soon was on Olenick’s radar. Olenick, himself a CRMS product, was a trailblazer in freeskiing and won four X Games Aspen medals, including a silver (slopestyle) and bronze (halfpipe) in his 2004 debut. He claimed another halfpipe bronze in 2007 and won his lone gold in ski high air in 2010. Unfortunately for Olenick, freeskiing events like halfpipe and slopestyle didn’t become Olympic sports until 2014, after his career had mostly come to an end.
These days, Olenick runs his P.R.O. Team — an acronym for Peter Ryan Olenick — and specializes in coaching rising halfpipe skiers. He’s worked with many of the valley’s top prospects in recent years, including Cassidy Jarrell and Tristan Feinberg. Olenick also coached the South Korean national team at the 2018 Olympics and is technically the Finnish Olympic coach this winter through Sallinen.
“I heard for a little while from the other kids and coaches about this crazy Finnish kid doing double backflips and doubles and all the jumps the whole time that I was coaching them and how good he was,” Olenick said. “Then I got to see him for one of the first times compete in Mammoth, and he had natural talent, I would say. He reached out to me about joining up with us because he knew a bunch of the kids I was coaching already and wanted a more halfpipe-specific training program. In the last year and a half of working with Jon, I can easily say he’s the best skier I’ve ever seen.”
Men’s halfpipe skiing qualifying, featuring Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira, will be televised live on NBC or USA beginning at 9:30 p.m. MST on Wednesday night here in the Roaring Fork Valley. The women’s halfpipe skiing qualifier, featuring Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber, begins at 6 p.m. that same night and on NBC’s Peacock streaming.
The women’s final will be shown live on Thursday night and the men’s final live on Friday night here in the U.S. Both finals are scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. MST start in primetime.
According to his FIS page, Sallinen has six World Cup starts in halfpipe skiing, plus another in slopestyle. His best result was taking sixth on Dec. 30 in Calgary, a competition Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, took second in. Sallinen also represented Finland at the 2021 world championships in Aspen, where he finished 19th in halfpipe skiing.
Sallinen’s primary goal in Beijing is to make finals and put down a strong run for Finland. Qualifying is Thursday in China, which is Wednesday night in Colorado.
“The one big goal for me is to make finals and land a run that we planned in finals,” Sallinen said. “If I get that done, I can be more happy.”
Olenick has even more ambitious goals for Sallinen.
“It’s the Olympics, and it has a lot more pressure, but he’s got lots of World Cup experience, and I think we’ve been working from the last year trying to get as comfortable in that situation as we can,” Olenick said. “I am expecting Jon to podium at the Olympics. I know that’s fully in his realm. And I’m expecting him to smile.”