Ferreira’s Olympic bronze among the many storylines from men’s halfpipe skiing final

Nico Porteous, David Wise and Alex Ferreira shared an Olympic podium for the second straight time

A world away from Beijing, Colorado’s top high school skiers gathered on Friday night at Middle Park High School in Granby for the CHSAA state championships awards ceremony. Slowing the procession down was the Olympic battle in men’s halfpipe skiing that featured both Alex Ferreira of Aspen and Winter Park’s Birk Irving.

“They were doing the awards and they had a split screen going on, because they had one side showing all the awards, but the other side was showing a live superpipe stream, because of their guy, Birk,” Aspen High School Nordic ski coach Travis Moore said Saturday. “And they kept pausing the awards ceremony for Birk to ski, but then at the end, our Aspen guy beat him.”

It was the final freeskiing event of the Beijing Winter Olympics, won by New Zealand’s Nico Porteous with Nevada’s David Wise finishing second. But taking the bronze was Ferreira, who held onto that final podium spot over Canada’s Noah Bowman and Irving, who was fifth.

“Didn’t quite go my way,” Irving told reporters after the contest from Zhangjiakou. “It was really difficult with the wind, finding little windows of good skiing opportunities, I guess. Couldn’t quite find the speed, but hyped to put something down and participate in my first Olympics.”

Here are some other nuggets to take away from the Olympic men’s halfpipe skiing final:

Ferreira overcomes for another Olympic podium

Ferreira, the 27-year-old native of Aspen, won silver at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, his first time competing at the Olympics. But over the next few years he developed serious neck pain due to a pair of pinched nerves he let go untreated for too long, resulting in necessary surgery only nine months ago.

After one of the worst seasons of his career last winter — by his standards, at least — Ferreira found renewed life with a clean bill of health, and it’s shown in his skiing this season. He won the season-opening Copper Mountain Grand Prix and then won Dew Tour for the third time, both in back-to-back weeks in December, to secure himself a spot on the plane to China.

He did sit out X Games Aspen, something he admitted was a tough decision, in order to rest for the Olympics, a move that paid off when he was presented with the bronze medal for placing third.

“I’m ecstatic,” Ferreira told reporters after finals. “Just to be on the podium is unbelievable. It was such a difficult contest with some really tough conditions, so to be able to share the podium with my teammate, David Wise, and a friend, Nico Porteous, is a true joy.”

Dealing with Mother Nature

The weather didn’t do the athletes any favors on Saturday at Genting Snow Park. A steady breeze that included reported gusts of up to 40 mph — on top of a wind chill that dipped to minus 26 degrees Fahrenheit — made it a challenging contest.

“I had so much prepared,” Wise said of his planned Olympic runs. “It’s like I cooked a meal for everybody, and I didn’t get to share it.”

Ferreira said his runs were about 85% of what he was capable of because of the wind. The final saw a large majority of the athletes crash, and all three of the podium runs were put down in the first of the three rounds.

Porteous was among those to take quite the dinger on his final run with only Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck still to go. Blunck also took a hard hit on his final run, but seemed to be doing well after the contest.

“Bit of a stupid decision to do that,” Porteous said of his final trick, a failed 1440 attempt, which drew blood on his right ear. “But it’s the Olympics. So you’ve got to leave everything out there.”

While it looked like the wind was mostly impacting the skiers when they rose above the lip of the halfpipe, Irving said the transitions were equally as difficult.

“It was just swirling around and hitting both sides of the pipe, so you kind of get it to the chest coming through,” he said. “It would just slow you down going into the left wall or the right wall, really whichever one you were going into. It happens. It’s part of it. We don’t do indoor sports.”

A familiar podium

The medalists from the Beijing Olympics were the same three who podiumed in South Korea four years ago, although in a different order. Wise had won gold in both 2014 and 2018 — halfpipe skiing only made its Olympic debut in those 2014 Sochi Games — so this year’s silver officially ended his reign atop the sport. Still, that’s three medals in three Olympics for the 31-year-old from Reno, who seems unlikely to contend for a spot at the 2026 Olympics in Italy but also never brought up the idea of retiring in the lead-up to Beijing.

Porteous won Olympic bronze in 2018 as a mere 16-year-old and since then has taken over the sport. He heads into the offseason as the Olympic champion, world champion and the two-time reigning X Games Aspen champion. If there was any doubt about who the best halfpipe skier in the world is, the Kiwi clearly put that discussion to rest in China.

“It feels unreal. We’re a bunch of workhorses, I guess,” Ferreira said with a laugh about why that same trio found the Olympic podium together again. “The hardest workers get up on the podium and Dave’s a great friend of mine. He’s a good person. Nico’s a good friend of mine. He inspires me. They both do every day.”

Ferreira said Porteous, who became the first to land back-to-back 1620s at X Games Aspen 2021, was his inspiration for also learning the double cork 1620, which requires four-and-a-half rotations on top of the two inversions, or corks. Ferreira has landed the trick a few times in competition now, although not on back-to-back hits like Porteous. He successfully put down the 1620 in the Olympic finals on Saturday, but missed grabs kept him from pushing Wise and Porteous for a higher spot on the podium.

“Being on the podium in such tough conditions, I honestly feel like I got the gold,” Ferreira said. “The wind was definitely a factor. There’s tough conditions and sometimes the universe has other plans for you and you have to adapt as we do. I did my best and ended on the podium.”

Fun with numbers

Since men’s halfpipe skiing made its debut at the Olympics in 2014, nine medals have been handed out. Wise and Ferreira now combine for five of those, with Porteous accounting for two more. The other two belong to Canada’s Mike Riddle (silver) — Riddle happens to coach the U.S. halfpipe team at the moment — and France’s Kevin Rolland (bronze), both from 2014. Rolland was sixth in Beijing.

A not-so-fun number for Blunck is seven, which is the exact place the 25-year-old Colorado native has finished in all three of his Olympic appearances. Blunck has won at X Games and at the world championships, so the Olympic podium is about the only thing missing from his resume.

Happy trails

The Beijing contest was the career finale for at least two of the skiers, Rolland and Gus Kenworthy, who both are retiring. Rolland, 32, who is the cousin of French freeskier Tess Ledeux, was the 2009 world champion (he also has three other podiums at worlds) and was a three-time X Games champion.

Kenworthy, 30, grew up in Telluride and was long a mainstay for the U.S. ski team before deciding to compete for his mother’s homeland of Great Britain in his final Olympics. A five-time X Games medalist, Kenworthy won Olympic slopestyle silver in 2014 and was one of the first action-sports athletes to come out as being gay.

“This sport and the Olympics and competing on a professional level has changed my life in ways I could have never imagined,” said Kenworthy, who finished eighth in Beijing. “I’m gay. I felt like I didn’t fit in, in sport. To be out and proud, competing at the Olympics, and all of the opportunities that have come my way since the Olympics, I couldn’t be more thankful.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.

Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.

If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.