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Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber earns her first invite to X Games for halfpipe skiing

Basalt's Hanna Faulhaber trains ahead of the women's freeski halfpipe qualifier of the Land Rover U.S. Grand Prix and World Cup on Friday, March 19, 2021, at Buttermilk Ski Area in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Hanna Faulhaber’s dream season just got a little bit dreamier. The Basalt High School senior has received her first official invite to compete at X Games Aspen in January, a major step for the rising halfpipe skiing star.

The 17-year-old made the announcement Tuesday evening on Instagram, complete with pictures of herself as a young, brightly-clothed child hanging around the Buttermilk Ski Area halfpipe prior to a past X Games competition.

“As u may be able to tell X Games has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl in my purple onesie,” Faulhaber wrote on Instagram. “It is a big reason why I compete in the halfpipe. Thanks @xgames for making my dream come true.”

The invitation is hardly a surprise considering Faulhaber’s recent success. On Friday, she finished third at Copper Mountain’s Dew Tour for her first major podium, and a week earlier had finished fifth at the Copper Grand Prix. Both of those events were official U.S. Olympic team qualifiers, and the Dew Tour podium all but assures Faulhaber a bid to the 2022 Winter Olympics with only a single halfpipe qualifier remaining.

X Games is not a World Cup nor an Olympic qualifier and often includes a much more select field of athletes. With a month to go until the event’s return to Buttermilk, Faulhaber has been added to a list that currently includes seven others for the women’s halfpipe skiing contest, scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, the first night of X Games.

The list also includes rising Chinese/American sensation Eileen Gu, Estonian superstar Kelly Sildaru and reigning Olympic champion Cassie Sharpe of Canada. Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin, Canada’s Rachael Karker, China’s Fenghui Li and California’s Brita Sigourney round out the current lineup.

The U.S. Olympic ski and snowboard teams will likely be announced sometime around or before X Games, with the Winter Games set to start Feb. 4 in Beijing. Based off the three qualifiers so far, Faulhaber and Sigourney look set to make the trek to China. After that, the roster remains relatively fluid with only the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix from Jan. 6-9 remaining to qualify.

Faulhaber’s recent run of strong performances goes back to last spring when she was a surprising fourth at the world championships, also held at Buttermilk back in March. A week later at the Aspen Grand Prix and first U.S. Olympic team qualifier, she had to withdraw after a hard crash during training, but has made up for it with her performances at Copper Mountain the past two weeks.

Faulhaber, who grew up skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, is poised to add her name to a list of recent local athletes to have competed in both X Games and the Olympics. Alex Ferreira, the reigning Olympic silver medalist in men’s halfpipe skiing and a two-time X Games Aspen champion, tops that list. Fresh off back-to-back wins at both the Copper Grand Prix and Dew Tour, Ferreira is among the gold-medal frontrunners for X Games and the upcoming Olympics.

The Roaring Fork Valley’s Torin Yater-Wallace, who has since retired from competitive halfpipe skiing, is an X Games icon who competed in both the 2014 and 2018 Olympics. Aspen’s Cassidy Jarrell, who remains in the thick of the Olympic team chase although will need a magical run or two at Mammoth to get to China, made his X Games Aspen debut as a halfpipe skier in 2020.

Hanna Faulhaber poses for a portrait at the base of the Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open course on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Halfpipe skiing has only been an Olympic sport since the 2014 Games — halfpipe snowboarding made its debut way back in 1998 — with Nevada’s David Wise having won both Olympic gold medals for the men. Tahoe’s Maddie Bowman won Olympic gold for the women in 2014, followed by Sharpe’s win in 2018. Bowman has since retired from the sport.

Next up for the halfpipe skiers is a World Cup event in Calgary held around the New Year. Faulhaber said she plans to compete; the Canadian contests are not official U.S. Olympic team qualifiers. After that, athletes will travel to Mammoth and then X Games, before the lucky few will make their way to China for the Olympics.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Only vaccinated fans, athletes are to be allowed at next month’s X Games Aspen

Skiers on Buttermilk Ski Area stop on the other side of the boundary fence to watch the slopestyle finals during the 2021 X Games at Buttermilk on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Live fans will be back at next month’s Winter X Games in Aspen, though concerts and motor sports will remain on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was the word Tuesday from an ESPN representative who briefed Pitkin County commissioners on the Jan. 21-23 event that has been held at Buttermilk Ski Area for the past 20 years. Fans were not allowed at last year’s event because of COVID-19 transmission concerns.

“I’m really glad you’re having some crowd this year,” Commissioner Steve Child said. “There’s nothing more exciting than to be up on the halfpipe somewhere and have, just a few feet away from you, people doing these amazing things. It’s a whole different element than watching it on television.”

To accommodate fans in the COVID era, the 2022 Winter X Games event area will have a hard fence line separating it from the larger Buttermilk Ski Area for the first time ever. Only vaccinated spectators will be allowed inside the event area, and a vaccination card and government identification will be necessary to receive an entrance wristband, said Vanessa Anthes, associate director for ESPN’s global X Games events.

Staff, athletes and vendors also must be vaccinated to participate in X Games next month. While testing will not be part of the games like it was last year because of the vaccination requirement, anyone suspected of having COVID-19 will go through protocols that include testing, quarantine and contact tracing, Anthes said.

Feedback from Winter X Games last year — when spectators were not allowed because of the pandemic — indicated that athletes and Aspen locals missed the crowd energy and being able to see local favorites perform, Anthes said.

Event capacity will be based on whatever the final fenced-in area turns out to be and capacity maximums determined by fire code. ESPN is not worried about accommodating crowds who show up, though there will not be a reservation system for event tickets, said Anthes and Danny Chi, ESPN senior director of communications.

“It’s great to have spectators back,” Chi said.

No parking will be available on site at Buttermilk, with Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses running shuttle service to the venue.

Child cheered the lack of motor sports events at this season’s games, an element also missing last year when just skiing and snowboard competitions were held.

“To me, the noise is annoying when you go in person,” he said.

Commissioner Francie Jacober, however, took issue with Child’s brush-off.

“I know lots of people who are wild about the snowmobile events,” she said. “So I don’t necessarily agree with you on that.”

Climate change was on the mind of two commissioners, who suggested ESPN do more to offset the X Games’ carbon footprint.

Commissioner Greg Poschman asked if the network could offset the carbon footprint for people who drive or fly in to attend the event, while board Chair Kelly McNicholas Kury wondered if ESPN might be able to make X Games a carbon-neutral event.

“Make X Games the first carbon-neutral big games sporting event for other sporting events to look up to,” McNicholas Kury said. “It would support our community goals.”

Anthes said the network would be happy to participate in future planning for X Games.

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo praised ESPN as a reliable and responsive partner during the past two decades of Winter X Games.

“This is our 21st year together,” he said. “It’s always been raising the bar every year. I think they are probably the gold standard for events that we should hold other events to. I trust them implicitly.”

jauslander@aspentimes.com

Fans to return to X Games Aspen 2022 with proof of COVID-19 vaccination

Media and athlete support stand in an otherwise empty spectator corral during the women’s ski big air final at the base of the course during the 2021 X Games Aspen at Buttermilk on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Fans will return to X Games Aspen in 2022, it was announced Tuesday by ESPN. After last year’s event was held for the first time without spectators because of the coronavirus pandemic, they’ll be allowed to return for January’s contests, although attendees will be required to wear a mask indoors when not eating or drinking, and will be required to show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination for admittance.

“X Games Aspen 2022 will welcome spectators back to competition viewing and X Fest areas with proof of full COVID-19 vaccination, and masks must be worn in all indoor X Games event areas except when eating or drinking,” the news release said. “Fans 11 years old and under may attend without vaccination if accompanied by a vaccinated adult and must wear a form-fitting facemask at all times except when eating and drinking.”

The news release did make clear that Buttermilk Ski Area, which is set to host X Games for the 21st straight year, will be open to regular skiing and snowboarding during X Games under Aspen Skiing Co. guidelines and proof of vaccination won’t be required to access the mountain. Vaccines are only required for those wanting access to the competition viewing areas and X Fest areas.

X Games is scheduled for Jan. 21 through 23 and once again looks like it will be a slimmed down version without any of the motorsports, although the Special Olympics Unified competition will return. The announced competitions include superpipe, slopestyle, big air and knuckle huck for both skiing and snowboarding.

The 14 disciplines between men and women will include 13.5 hours of live coverage on ESPN and ABC, with additional coverage found through ESPN’s social media platforms.

ESPN has already announced an extensive list of invited athletes, including Aspen’s own Alex Ferreira, who won gold in halfpipe skiing in both 2019 and 2020. Plenty of other familiar superstars were listed as having been invited, including snowboard icon Shaun White, who hasn’t competed at X Games since 2017. He had intended to compete in 2021, but withdrew from the competition after hurting his knee during training.

Jamie Anderson holds her seventh gold medal in slopestyle after winning the 2021 women’s slopestyle final at X Games Aspen at Buttermilk on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Jamie Anderson, Henrik Harlaut, Scotty James, Gus Kenworthy, Chloe Kim and Mark McMorris are all among the A-list names on the invitee list so far. McMorris, the Canadian snowboarding superstar, was the biggest name to miss X Games 2021 after he tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the contests.

X Games Aspen will likely be the final competition for the athletes ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, scheduled for Feb. 4 through 20 in Beijing. Unlike many of this year’s skiing and snowboarding competitions leading up to X Games, including Dew Tour at Copper Mountain in December, X Games is not an Olympic qualifier for U.S. athletes.

Skico hopes for colorful setting when X Games, Gay Ski Week in town

Aspen Skiing Co. President and CEO Mike Kaplan addresses the group gathered for the Afternoon Blend hosted by Skico and Aspen Chamber Resort Association at Bumps at Buttermilk Ski Resort in Aspen on Monday, October 4, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Drag queens commentating about high-flying stunts over a rainbow-colored superpipe is a scenario Aspen Skiing Co. is envisioning for January when the Winter X Games and Gay Ski Week overlap.

With Gay Ski Week scheduled Jan. 16-22 and the Winter X Games Jan. 21-23, two of Aspen’s premier winter events will share the spotlight for two days and nights. The last overlap came in 2004.

Gay Ski Week is celebrating its 45th year in Aspen this winter; the Winter X Games has been held in Aspen since 2002.

“We thought, ‘What if we really brought two unexpected things together?’” Erin Sprague, Skico’s chief brand officer, said Monday during Skico and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s annual Afternoon Blend previewing the winter ahead.

Skico has partnered with both events over the years, providing the Buttermilk venue to ESPN, which produces the X Games, and playing host to Gay Ski Week’s Friday drag-skiing race on the Little Nell run at Aspen Mountain, for example.

Sprague showed the audience a mock version of a rainbow superpipe, the same place from where the likes of Aspen’s own Gretchen Bleiler, Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace have dazzled spectators with medal-winning X Games performances over the years.

“This is one of our ideas,” she said. “I’m sure ESPN is going to be thrilled about this idea. But we really want to bring these two unexpected things together.”

Sprague also discussed the plan to have drag queens provide some commentary about the X Games as a fun departure from the heavy dose of extreme-sports jargon — think “alley-oop,” “vertical axis,” “corkscrew” — broadcasters regularly employ.

“We’re going to bring in a drag queen, and we’re going to have a drag queen narrate X Games, what’s happening, a live special,” she said. “We’re working closely with Gay Ski Week on this, and we’re really excited about it.”

Skico has a recent history of taking environmental, social and political positions. And a “warming future,” said Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan at the Afternoon Blend, is one reason the company is proposing the 153-acre expansion of Aspen Mountain into the Pandora’s terrain. The matter is scheduled to go to Pitkin County commissioners for final approval Oct. 13.

“To have a whole new pod of skiing that’s above 10,000 feet and north-facing, it’s necessary in today’s ski business,” he said. “And I think it’s critical to us, not only maintaining the competitive edge that Aspen Mountain and our four mountains have, but to really ensure this remains a vibrant ski town, a ski-centered town. And that’s really our agenda here, our only agenda here.”

Rebranding effort underway

Also underway at Skico, which will be celebrating the company’s 75th anniversary this season, is a rebranding effort that included the quiet launch of its redesigned website this week and the August debut of its ski-wear business inspired by employee uniforms with the new company logo. The company’s app will be updated in November, Sprague said.

Some 1,000 employees recently attended Skico’s inaugural brand camp emphasizing “this is who we are and what we believe,” Sprague said.

Skico also is repainting the exteriors of the buckets on the Aspen Mountain gondola, and also replacing their plexiglass windows. Buckets on the Elk Camp Gondola at Snowmass Ski Area are getting touch-ups showing the new logo, as well, according to Sprague.

The intent of the rebrand is to bring more cohesion and uniformity among the Skico properties.

“Doing a rebrand across a resort is a mighty task,” Sprague said. “Some of our assets have been updated, some are in process, so you can expect a little bit of a transition period.”

Season passes this year — in keeping with Skico’s tradition of exhibiting artwork on them — will highlight the bear-inspired work of Italian artist Paola Pivi.

Recognizing local workers

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association also announced Monday that it is dedicating this month of October to frontline and guest service workers working under pandemic conditions.

“Their job continues to be tough, and I just really want to recognize that,” said ACRA President and CEO Debbie Braun.

The chamber this week handed out gift cards to employees at Clark’s Market, and they’ll continue to recognize workers at other businesses this month.

“Throughout the month ACRA is surprising local frontline staff with gifts, offering public recognition throughout town, and hosting a grand prize giveaway,” said an ACRA announcement.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com