After powder days in Japan, U.S. halfpipe skiers get down to business in South Korea
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — They just finished a rigorous two-month Olympic qualification process.
They face one of the biggest competitions of their lives in days.
What did the U.S. ski halfpipe team do as soon as they landed in South Korea?
They skipped over to Japan for some powder skiing.
“It was the deepest turns of my life,” Alex Ferreira — which is saying a lot for someone who grew up in Aspen. “It must have snowed by 3 feet while I was there.”
With the qualification runs 13 days after Opening Ceremonies, the coaches decided a few days away from the Olympics would help reset and refresh the team. While the team had access to a halfpipe, the weather at Aomori Spring Ski Resort in Japan was more conducive to powder turns, which they took full advantage of.
Torin Yater-Wallace, also of Aspen, said the deep snow was more of a boost to his Olympic preparation than any pipe training could be.
“I don’t really ski much halfpipe personally, but I like to think that everything else I ski I grab inspiration from and bring it into my halfpipe skiing,” he said.
Finding inspiration together all over the mountain is nothing new for Yater-Wallace and Ferreira, who have known each other since they were 7 years old. They’ll often go ski the park at Buttermilk or Snowmass together, or, if it’s a powder day, find deep turns at Highlands or Ajax.
Meanwhile, they’ve shared podiums for years — including at this year’s X Games. Now they are at the Olympics for the first time together.
“Sheer raw talent,” Ferreira, 23, said of Yater-Wallace, 22. “He’s unbelievable in the air, unbelievable on his skis. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so cool to be a part of and watch, and also to be able to ski with him and share all those great moments.”
Yater-Wallace — whose journey back from injury, illness and family struggles was recently documented in the film “Back to Life” — has seen a new mental strength from his longtime friend Ferreira.
“Everybody has similar tricks and similar runs, but when it comes to riding under pressure, that’s where it really comes down to mental strength, and Alex has adapted into a stronger person mentally over the past year and a half and is skiing amazing,” he said.
U.S. teammate David Wise, 27, is the reigning Olympic and X Games gold medalist, but Yater-Wallace, Ferreira and Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, 21, all could easily land on the podium of the Feb. 22 finals.
Blunck said Wise has a great run — but so do the other three Americans, as well as the Canadians and New Zealanders.
“Yeah, Dave is the defending gold medalist, the X Games gold medalist, but that doesn’t mean he’s won every competition this year,” Blunck said “In my eyes, he’s good but he’s not the best. No one will ever be the best halfpipe skier because everyone could always win at any given point.”
Ed Stoner is the director of content for Swift Communications. He is covering the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, focusing on athletes from Swift’s communities in Colorado, Utah, California and Nevada.