Aspen skier Alex Ferreira has new energy in push for U.S. Olympic team
Last winter brought with it a low point in Alex Ferreira’s career. The halfpipe skier from Aspen was forced to pull out of the Winter X Games, the first time he’s missed the season’s signature event since his first in 2013, because of a badly sprained ankle.
He rallied in time to compete in the first Olympic qualifier last February in Mammoth, but the ankle hindered him and he finished 35th out of 38 athletes who competed. He did take seventh a few weeks later at the Olympic test event in Pyeongchang, South Korea, before winning a contest in Tignes, France, in early March.
Still, something was missing for the 23-year-old.
“I was pretty lost. I was pretty down about skiing,” Ferreira said recently as he prepared for this week’s Grand Prix at Snowmass. “I went on a six-week ski trip tour over in Europe. I met a lot of people and just traveled to like seven different countries and stayed with friends. I think that brought the love for skiing back to me. It definitely made me want to compete harder.”
Ferreira’s springtime “Tour de Ski” put everything in perspective for him. He returned with vigor and a new attitude toward the sport.
“I was feeling so refreshed. I was so happy about skiing and where my skiing was,” Ferreira said. “Not every skier is a competitor. Most skiers just want to go out there and have a good time, and I wasn’t doing that. I think the balance of competing and having a really good time skiing is the perfect balance.”
This change in mentality carried into this season, where Ferreira is having the best run of his career. He opened the season by winning a World Cup event in New Zealand in September. At the Copper Grand Prix in December — the second of five Olympic qualifying events — he finished 12th, two spots short of making the finals.
“It was tough conditions at Copper,” Ferreira said. “It was really cold and it was freezing and the pipe was really slow. I couldn’t get the speed that I wanted. It’s just like the stars weren’t aligning.”
Everything came together in mid-December at Dew Tour in Breckenridge. Ferreira’s World Cup wins are nice and he’s won bronze a few times at X Games Aspen and even has a silver medal in X Games Oslo 2016, but he’s never broken through to the top in a major competition. That is, until he stomped his final run at Dew Tour last month to score 94.66 and pass Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, a close friend and the reigning X Games Aspen gold medalist, for the win.
“It’s definitely my highest result I’ve ever achieved,” Ferreira said of the win. “I was pretty blown away with the result. I still can’t really believe it. It was probably one of the most nervous I’ve ever been for a contest, honestly. But I told myself before I went that I’m doing this for me.”
While winning Dew Tour is alone a big deal, it also happened to be the third Olympic qualifier and dramatically improved Ferreira’s chances to make the U.S. team. Four years ago, he watched as Blunck and fellow Aspenite Torin Yater-Wallace were named to the four-man team for Sochi. That cycle, Ferreira finished fifth in the Olympic qualifying process and was left wondering what could have been.
“That one cut pretty deep,” he said of coming so close to making the Olympics. “I was so close that last time and I really didn’t realize it until the end when all the commotion and craziness was over.”
With his recent win at Dew Tour, Ferreira finds himself fourth in the Olympic qualification process after three of the five events. To meet baseline criteria for the Olympic team, the American athletes need to make two podiums in the qualifying events. After that, it becomes a points-based system with the final Olympic spot most likely coming down to a coach’s decision.
Ferreira has 122 points, with Telluride’s Gus Kenworthy sitting in fifth with 104 points. Yater-Wallace, who won the Mammoth qualifier last year, holds down the top spot with 150 points, and David Wise, who won in Copper, is second with 132 points. Despite not having a win in the Olympic qualifiers, Blunck’s consistency has him third with 130 points.
Still, heading into this week’s fourth qualifier, the 2018 Toyota U.S. Grand Prix in Snowmass, the door remains wide open for anyone to step up and snag a podium spot and get into the picture. The final Olympic qualifier is next week at Mammoth.
“It’s a full-blown, cutthroat battle. Everyone is gunning for those spots. Everyone wants to do well,” Ferreira said. “For this one, whether I make it or not, at least I know I’m going 120 percent and giving it my all, which is a beautiful thing.”
Considering his recent success, Ferreira is certainly among the favorites to podium in Snowmass in front of the hometown fans. After Wednesday’s qualifying round, Ferreira was one of six Americans to qualify for Friday afternoon’s ski halfpipe final; Blunck recorded the top score of the day, a 93.66; Wise, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, qualified in second with a 91.66 and Ferreira qualified in third with an 88.33. Winter Park’s Birk Irving qualified in sixth (85), Vail’s Taylor Seaton in eighth (81.66) and Kenworthy ninth (79.33).
Should Ferreira or Wise wind up on the podium on Friday, it would give them their second qualifying podium and all but lock up a spot on the Olympic team.
“It would be a really big honor, just to represent America and especially the town of Aspen,” Ferreira said. “It’s going to be such a cool experience. This is a big deal. It’s a big event. It’s going to be cool. I’m excited to compete at Snowmass. I’m excited to be in front of the home crowd.”
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