Winter Park’s Birk Irving wins men’s ski halfpipe comp at Aspen Freeskiing Open

Winter Park's Birk Irving, center, stands on the podium after winning Saturday's men's ski halfpipe finals of the Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open at Buttermilk. Tahoe's Kyle Smaine, right, was second, and Oregon's Hunter Hess third.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times |

Svea Irving has career dreams, and among them is for her older brother, Birk, to someday share his contest winnings with her. From the sound of it that wasn’t going to be this weekend, where the Winter Park skiers both found their way onto Saturday’s podiums at the 14th annual Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open at Buttermilk Ski Area.

“Maybe someday,” Svea half joked about getting some of her brother’s check. “It’s cool. I look up to that. Seeing him podium makes me want to get up there with him.”

Saturday in the X Games superpipe, Svea won $1,500 for finishing second in the women’s halfpipe competition, while Birk brought in a cool $3,500 for winning the men’s halfpipe competition for the second consecutive year.

“Glad to see her up higher on the podium,” Birk said of his sister. “It was definitely a hectic competition today, for sure. The pipe wasn’t in the best shape, for sure, and everyone threw down way more than I thought.”

With a few inches of fresh snow the night before and overcast skies all day, the Buttermilk superpipe was slow and sticky for Saturday’s competition. Roughly 40 men and 10 women competed in the halfpipe event, which included qualifying early in the morning before the three-run finals.

Birk, 18, is a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s pro halfpipe team. He contended for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team that included Aspen’s Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace, finishing only a few spots outside the top four. He made finals in almost every significant event he competed in this winter, including Dew Tour and the Snowmass Grand Prix, where he finished ninth.

His second run on Saturday scored him 94 and was enough to hold off former World Champion Kyle Smaine of South Lake Tahoe and Oregon’s Hunter Hess, who also pushed the threshold of the U.S. Olympic team this season. Smaine scored 92.50 on his third run — he admitted he forgot there was a third run and appeared defeated after his unsuccessful second run — while Hess scored 90.50 on his third run.

Carbondale’s Joey Lang was the only valley local to make the 12-man final, finishing eighth with 71.

“Definitely did a better run than I thought I was going to and super excited to land it and end up on top of the podium,” Birk said. “It’s super cool to be able to put down the best run I can do and end up on top above those people.”

June Lake, California’s Abigale Hansen won the women’s halfpipe competition, the second time she’s done so. The 19-year-old U.S. Rookie Team member scored 92 on her second run to hold off Svea Irving’s 87.50, the only real competition she had. California’s Eileen Gu was third with 79.50.

“I was unbelievably stoked,” Svea Irving said of finishing second. “The competition here was really hard and this morning I did not think I was going to end up really well. But I just managed to put it together.”

Like her brother, the 16-year-old Svea started to make a name for herself this winter during the Olympic qualifiers. Saturday’s runner-up finish was her best FIS result since she also took second at a Nor-Am Cup event at Copper Mountain in December.

The experience of competing against many of the same women that made the U.S. Olympic team already has her thinking about the 2022 Games in Beijing.

“Competing against those girls in the Grand Prix, those Olympians, I definitely pushed myself more to learn what they had,” Svea said. “It makes me think I have a chance to get in there. I’m already trying to get the tricks I see those girls throwing.”

Birk shares a similar sentiment after coming so close to making the Olympics this winter.

“Definitely the best season I’ve had so far,” Birk said. “I’m hyped to see where it goes and how much better I start doing.”

Also Saturday was the men’s ski big air finals at Buttermilk, won by Canada’s Noah Morrison. Utah’s Rell Harwood won the women’s ski big air contest on Friday.

Both slopestyle competitions were held Friday, with Minnesota’s Willie Borm taking the men’s title and Utah’s Marin Hamill the women’s title. Borm took home the single largest paycheck of the weekend, winning $5,000.