Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber shines in her X Games Aspen debut, wins halfpipe bronze

Kelly Sildaru claims the win, while Brita Sigourney takes silver

Basalt’s Hanna Faulhaber airs out of the halfpipe during her X Games Aspen debut on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, at Buttermilk Ski Area. Faulhaber placed third and next heads to Beijing for the 2022 Olympics.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Yes, Hanna Faulhaber felt the butterflies. But as sensational as her first-ever X Games Aspen halfpipe run was on Friday night, those wings couldn’t have been flapping too fast.

“The nerves were definitely there,” she said. “I could definitely hear the crowd a little bit, which got me pumped and got me going throughout the run. Being able to land the first run definitely took off a lot of stress, so that was nice.”

Making her X Games debut, the 17-year-old from Basalt drove home with a bronze medal after finishing third in the women’s halfpipe skiing final under the lights at Buttermilk Ski Area. Her first run, highlighted by the amazing amplitude she is known for, had her briefly in first place as the second-to-last skier to drop in, but it was short-lived after Estonian superstar Kelly Sildaru, herself only 19, took over the top spot as the last to start.

Sildaru’s first run would prove to be enough to win her sixth X Games gold medal, and second in superpipe after also winning in 2020. She dropped out of the 2021 competition at the last second after getting hurt during training. Sildaru’s other four gold medals are in slopestyle, her primary discipline.

With 10 X Games medals total to her name, Sildaru will enter her 20s as the most decorated teenager in the history of the winter event.

Finishing second on Friday was California’s Brita Sigourney, who jumped past Faulhaber in the final round, highlighted by an impressive 1080 in the middle of her run.

“I just gave it my all. There is nothing to lose and I definitely wanted to climb up a spot,” Sigourney said. “It’s really hard to beat Kelly when she has such perfect execution, so I was just really focusing on amplitude and trying to lock my grabs in better. I’m stoked to put the 1080 into the middle of my run. I’ve never done that before, so I’m really happy to just land a new run here.”

Sigourney, 32, will head to her third Olympics next month in China and has become the savvy, veteran leader of the U.S. women’s halfpipe ski team. Joining her on the 2022 Beijing Olympics team will be Vermont’s Devin Logan, now a three-time Olympian who won slopestyle silver at the 2014 Games, and Olympic rookies in Faulhaber and Carly Margulies, a 24-year-old from California.

“I can’t really believe it. The way my body feels and to be able to still perform like that, I’m just really happy,” Sigourney said of winning her fifth X Games medal, and third silver. She’s never won gold at X Games. “I feel like I’ve really persevered over some injuries and I’m just happy to still be skiing like I want to be and to still be pushing myself and hopefully the rest of the field and progressing the sport as a whole. Events like this are so fun because they really do force you to push yourself.”

Faulhaber, who is nearly half Sigourney’s age, grew up idolizing her, along with the likes of Logan and the now-retired Maddie Bowman. So sharing a podium with Sigourney at her first X Games on Friday meant a lot to Faulhaber.

“It was super special. Finally being able to share a podium with her, I’ve looked up to her all my life and it’s great,” Faulhaber said. “It’s mind-blowing. I can’t believe it. Rookie, third at X Games, I would have just been happy to get eighth or seventh or whatever. Just being out here has been such an experience, especially since we have fans this year.”

Friday’s contest did lack some thunder, as last year’s X Games halfpipe champion, China’s Eileen Gu, decided to sit out to prepare for the Olympics. Also missing were Canadians Cassie Sharpe, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, and Rachael Karker, who finished second to Gu at the world championships hosted by Aspen only last spring.

Still, Sildaru is a bona fide star who will likely battle it out against Gu for Olympic gold in China, and Faulhaber was nipping at her heels all contest on Friday. Faulhaber’s amplitude far outshines any of her competitors, although she’s still working on the technicality of her tricks. Sildaru didn’t bring the wow factor that Faulhaber did, but as Sigourney said, Sildaru’s execution is difficult to match and the judges rewarded her for it.

Great Britain’s Zoe Atkin was the first off the podium in fourth on Friday, followed in fifth by Logan. In sixth was another X Games rookie in Canada’s Dillan Glennie, in seventh was Winter Park’s Svea Irving — another X Games rookie and the little sister to men’s halfpipe skier Birk Irving — and in eighth was Massachusetts’ Annalisa Drew, who competed in both the 2014 and 2018 Olympics.

This will be Faulhaber’s first Olympics, and likely not her last. For Sigourney, she knows this is likely the end of her Olympic career. She won halfpipe bronze at the 2018 Games and is certainly capable of landing on the podium in China, but also sounded ready to pass the torch to the younger generation.

“She has been freakin’ lighting my fire all season. It’s been a force to keep up with and she is definitely pushing me. I respect her for it. She is going to be good,” Sigourney said of Faulhaber. “I’m stoked to show the young girls what it’s all about and hopefully we’ll manage to have a good time because I know it’s going to be a little bit weird with all the COVID protocol. Just try to keep the vibes high and have a good contest.”

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