SPORT: Cross-country skiing. HOMETOWN: El Jebel.
Meet Aspen's Olympians
Get to know the three local skiers representing the Roaring Fork Valley at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Aspen Snowmass has always fostered world-class athletes, from alpine skiers to snowboarders to figure skaters and cross-country stars. And more than two dozen have reached the pinnacle of sport—the Olympic Games. This year, three hometown heroes who grew up skiing on local slopes and trails—all products of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club—are representing our Valley and our country at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China. Here’s everything you need to know about Hanna Faulhaber, Alex Ferreira, and Hailey Swirbul before cheering them on in their Olympic endeavors this March.
Five Things to Know About Hailey
- Mountain biking was Hailey’s first love of sport. Growing up, her family would follow the racing circuit all around Colorado—“that was our vacation,” she says. She competed until she was 15, and these days, mountain biking is still her favorite training activity when she’s not on snow.
- Hailey was in fifth grade when she started cross-country skiing with AVSC. Following in the ski tracks of her older brother, Keegan, it began as a way to stay fit through the winter, as they both raced mountain bikes in the summer. Hailey distinctly remembers her first skate ski ever, on Colorado’s Grand Mesa, cementing her passion for the sport: “I couldn’t do it at all, but it was so rewarding that I decided I was going to go full cross-country.”
- In races, Hailey tends to start at a slower pace than her competitors. This can be nerve-wracking for people watching, and it’s a psychological hurdle she still has to battle. But keeping a consistent pace for 10 or 15 kilometers, while those who start fast often fade, is her secret weapon—born of skiing at altitude, where a steady rhythm is key to keep pushing until the end.
- Coming into the 2021–’22 competition season, Hailey was the most decorated junior racer in US history. The 23-year-old, who graduated in December from the University of Alaska with a civil engineering degree, has three medals from the Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in 2017 and 2018, and added her first World Cup podium to the list that same month, finishing third at a 10K in Davos, Switzerland.
- The main focus of Hailey’s pre-race ritual is to “connect with my body, mind, and spirit.” (That’s the Aspen Idea—the concept of finding harmony with all three for a complete, healthy life.) Given the chaos that can surround races, she like to test her gear away from the race course, taking in her surroundings and allowing herself to ski “without judgment or expectation.” Now that she’s no longer studying during her downtime, she loves to read between races—and would appreciate book recommendations!
SPORT: Ski halfpipe. HOMETOWN: Aspen
Five Things to Know About Alex
- Alex hated skiing at first—his parents had to drag him kicking and screaming from age three, when he started in AVSC’s Powder Pandas program. But when he was around eight years old, he realized that the sport “can be whatever you want it to be.” Adopting that positive, goal-oriented mindset helped him land his first 360 the following season.
- This season, Alex is self-admittedly “on a bit of a tear.” After a COVID-shortened 2020–’21 season in which he finished off the podium in the three events that were held, he got neck surgery to deal with lingering whiplash issues. “It was the best decision of my life,” says Alex, who partially credits being healed and pain-free for his two back-to-back halfpipe victories (in World Cup and Dew Tour competitions, both held at Copper Mountain) in December, followed by two silver medals at World Cup events in Calgary. That brings him to a whopping 21 total podium results going into the 2022 Olympics.
- A decorated X Games athlete—having earned six medals (two of each color) since 2014—Alex made the tough decision to sit out X Games 2022. He sprained his ankle and knee at a competition in Mammoth in January, after “letting his ego get in the way” and deciding to compete despite windy conditions that ended up tossing him into the middle of the pipe. Usually one to push himself, the reigning Olympic silver medalist decided to prioritize healing to be in better shape for his second Winter Games, where his goal is to go for gold.
- Alex has an alter ego: Hotdog Hans, a crass, washed-up old “hot dog” (before it was called freestyle) skier, trying to reclaim his youth. Alex’s buddies at Aspen’s Vital Films captured the antics of Hotdog Hans—a very believable-looking old guy with deep wrinkles, a long gray beard, dated ski gear and jeans—in a short film released in early 2021. “We thought it’d be one-off click bait, something to make people laugh with coronavirus going on,” says Alex, whose convincing get-up and big tricks in the park perplexed some onlookers. “But it’s taken on its own thing.” The second Hotdog Hans film comes out in February, just in time for the Olympics.
- Off the hill, Alex is an avid pickleball player—he invites anyone to take him on at the ARC court, where he can frequently be found. He’s also a big believer in the power of sauna, “to release steam and be strong mentally, physically, and spiritually.” (There’s that Aspen Idea again!) And he lives life by a favorite saying of his grandfather: “Love all. Trust few. Paddle your own canoe.”
SPORT: Ski halfpipe. HOMETOWN: Basalt
Five Things to Know About Hanna
- At age 17, Hanna has been on the US Ski Team for four years, almost her entire high school career (she’s a senior now). A dedicated freestyle skier her whole life, she remembers dragging her mom, Belinda, through the park and pipe as a grom. She was always inspired by X Games, which has been in Aspen her whole life, and there are many photos of her gazing longingly up at the superpipe as a little girl in a purple onesie.
- To focus fully on skiing this season, Hanna completed all her senior year class requirements (except for one project) the summer before the school year started. As a freshman she went to school full time while also training and competing, moving to a hybrid schedule her sophomore year. During her junior year, COVID allowed her to attend school completely online—some classes with Basalt High and others with her regular online program.
- Hanna’s first significant result in international competition came at the FIS Freeski World Championships, held at Buttermilk last March. Though she had “no expectations” and “was just happy to be invited,” her fourth-place finish (and the top American spot) was just the beginning of a series of impressive results this season: third place in the Dew Tour at Copper, a silver and a bronze in World Cup halfpipe events in Calgary, fourth place at the Mammoth World Cup competition, and most recently, a bronze X Games medal.
- Despite the omicron surge that’s sidelined a number of athletes, there was no question in Hanna’s mind about competing in X Games. “I couldn’t turn down an X Games invite, it’s been such a big influence in my life,” she says. Meanwhile, her family is taking every precaution, including everyone masking at home and limiting interaction to the point where her younger sister, Lucy, hasn’t been attending school in person or going to AVSC training. “It definitely sucks, but I think it will all be worth it,” says Hanna. Besides fulfilling her Olympic dreams, she adds, “I can’t wait to cuddle with Mom.”
- Hanna is dedicated to inspiring more girls to get into and succeed in freestyle skiing. As her capstone project for high school, she volunteer-coached for AVSC last summer on the Buttermilk “glacier.” There were many fewer girls than boys in the program—not unlike when Hanna was growing up—and she did it in part to “get new recruits,” she says. “I was always inspired by the older girls who’d encourage me to keep up with the sport.” Known for her amplitude (she can match height out of the pipe to her age), she hopes that her example, and working regularly with young athletes, will inspire more girls to “go big or go home.”