Alex Ferreira, Winter Olympics lead best of Aspen sports world in 2018
With 2019 here, this is our last chance to take a glance at 2018. It was a strong year for sports in the Roaring Fork Valley, with all the Olympic hype and plenty of strong performances from our high school teams. There’s no rhyme or reason to this list — it’s simply my personal thoughts on what stood out these past 12 months.
1. Alex Ferreira’s silver medal
This seems to be making a lot of lists, as it should. Winning an Olympic medal is incredibly difficult; you have one chance every four years against the best athletes in the world and there are only three medals per event. The odds aren’t good.
So, when Aspen native Alex Ferreira won Olympic silver in the ski halfpipe back in February at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, it was a big deal. It was an incredible competition, one that ended with Nevada’s David Wise just edging close friend Ferreira. Certainly it’s been life-changing for the now 24-year-old Ferreira.
2. AHS boys golf wins state title
As rare as Olympic medals are, high school state championships aren’t far behind. The Aspen High School boys golf team has long been among the best in the state, but it wasn’t until this past fall that it came together with the program’s first state title. Playing at Boulder Country Club, a course he’ll play at plenty as a member of the University of Colorado golf team, AHS senior Jack Hughes finished second in Class 3A to lead the Skiers. Now, 3A coach of the year Mary Woulfe will need to do something for an encore after losing four seniors. The Pevny brothers, Jack and Nic, could be that encore.
3. The Olympics and Snowmass
Ferreira’s run was awesome, but so was everything else and it deserves its own slot. Before some of the athletes got to Pyeongchang, they first had to go through the Snowmass Grand Prix, one of the Olympic qualifiers. It had been about 20 years since the Snowmass halfpipe and slopestyle course had held an event of this magnitude. Highlights included Ferreira finishing second in the ski halfpipe competition, and snowboard legend Shaun White scoring a perfect 100 to punch his ticket to the Olympics, where he eventually won gold.
One of the best Olympic stories of 2018 might have been Aspen native Wiley Maple finally making it after a long and injury-riddled World Cup career. He wasn’t even named to the U.S. Ski Team to begin the season, so his story is certainly that of an underdog.
4. Hailey Swirbul
A 2016 Basalt High School graduate who is going to college up in Alaska, Hailey Swirbul probably had the best season of any local not named Alex Ferreira. All she did was become the most decorated junior worlds cross-country skier in U.S. history. This led to her nomination to the U.S. Ski Team for the first time this winter.
The 20-year-old is having a strong season, taking fourth in a Nor-Am Cup 10-kilometer classic race in British Columbia, and taking second in a FIS race in Alaska. Via social media, Swirbul recently announced she will get her first career World Cup start Jan. 12-13 in Dresden, Germany.
5. Gents win Ruggerfest
One of the most fun weekends of the year is always Ruggerfest, the annual rugby tournament hosted by the Gentlemen of Aspen Rugby Club. The Gents have won their own tournament many times over, but heading into the 2018 event they were in a bit of a rut, having lost the previous two years to the Dark ‘n Stormy Misfits. Those two teams met yet again in the finals back in September, and early on it looked like another Misfits rout. But the Gents stormed back to win the match 40-38 and retake their rightful crown as Ruggerfest champs. Ruggerfest will return for the 52nd time next fall.
— AHS skiing: Arguably the most dominant ski program in Colorado high school sports, Aspen won both the boys and girls state titles back in February. The state meet, a combined Nordic/alpine event, was held at Ski Cooper near Leadville. Prior to 2018, the AHS girls ski team had last won state in 2016, and the boys in 2014.
— Alex/Torin share podium: As good as Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace have been over the years, the hometown heroes only shared an X Games Aspen podium for the first time last January when they finished second and third, respectively, in the Buttermilk superpipe. That was a fun moment for two close friends. Nevada’s David Wise won X Games gold a year ago.
— Olympic hockey team in Aspen: A little off the radar, it can’t be ignored how neat it was having the 1998 U.S. women’s hockey team in Aspen. Playing at Lewis Ice Arena against the University of Colorado women’s hockey team as part of Aspen Junior Hockey’s annual Stirling Cup, it was pretty much the first time Team USA had played together since winning Olympic gold at the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.
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This past Saturday, Alice McKennis Duran was a forerunner in the women’s downhill at the U.S. Alpine Championships at Highlands, her run serving as a victory lap for a career that included two Olympic appearances and a World Cup win.