As Alex Ferreira was driving back toward Aspen last week, he stopped to marvel at the X Games superpipe and that’s when it hit him. It was finally time to defend his gold medal.
“I pulled up to Buttermilk and I look over to the pipe and I just looked at the walls and everything and was like, ‘OK, show time. Let’s go,’” Ferreira told The Aspen Times last week during a break in training. “I’ve said it before — this is our Super Bowl of skiing.”
A year ago in that halfpipe, Ferreira became the first Aspen local to win X Games gold since Gretchen Bleiler and Peter Olenick did so in 2010. Ferreira, now 25, grew up with X Games only a short drive from his own bed and, like most young Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club athletes, dreamed of winning in front of the home crowd.
Entering last year’s contest, Ferreira already had a pair of Dew Tour titles and a silver medal from the 2018 Winter Olympics to his name, but the halfpipe skier didn’t have that coveted X Games gold. This changed the night of Jan. 24 when a perfect run sent Ferreira to the top of the freeskiing world.
“If anything, I think it takes the heat off a little bit. I achieved my goal I tried to break my entire life, so now I can just go ski and do exactly what I want to do and have a good time,” Ferreira said of being the reigning X Games champion. “I think what’s changed the most is I’m just putting more time into skiing. I love it so much. I have this newfound love to ski and to ski pipe. I just want to compete with the best of them. I just want to be the best.”
A GOLDEN RUN
Ferreira recently rewatched last year’s men’s ski pipe competition from X Games with Avon’s Taylor Seaton, a friend and fellow competitor. They analyzed Ferreira’s gold medal-winning run and came to the same conclusion: it was pretty much perfect.
“He was like, ‘There is no doubt about that, Alex, you won that competition straight up, fair and square,’’’ Ferreira said. “From watching it again, I felt the same way.”
Ferreira’s run that day was pretty standard affair for him. The key piece of his five-hit run were his two double cork 1260s (two inversions with three and a half rotations), one to his left and one to his right, both with mute grabs. The very first hit was his right side 1260, a splashy trick to get the judges’ attention.
“The first hit sets the tone of the run,” Ferreira said. “When we were younger I always wanted to match both double cork 1260s, so the left side one and the right side one. That was always the goal, and I think now it’s my staple trick because I spin forward left and it just feels like I’ve done it a million times. So I just try and do it better and better each time.”
He followed the first 1260 with a left double cork 1080 with safety grab, into a switch right 720 with Japan grab before endeavoring on his second 1260, this time rotating in the opposite direction of the first. He finished his run with his version of the double Michalchuk 900, a trick he and fellow local star Torin Yater-Wallace have made their own over the years.
“While it may not be the most technically savvy trick, it just has a nice flow to it and it looks good and it’s a nice way to end the run,” Ferreira said. “It may not have been my best run of all time, but it got me my most important medal of all time. So I’m super grateful for it. This year I’m planning on switching up the run, and that’s given me life, it’s given me new air, so I can’t wait to do it because I’ve never done it before.”
Ferreira said as the sport has progressed, and as runs have become more difficult, skiers have shifted to honing in on perfecting one run as opposed to going for variety. His silver medal-winning run at the 2018 Olympics was slightly more difficult, namely because one of his double corks was done switch in Pyeongchang.
One reason for this was because the halfpipe at the Olympics was a little longer than the one at Buttermilk, which also is flatter — meaning less speed and less air — than many other halfpipes. Ferreira said competing at X Games Aspen requires more strategy than some other competitions.
“With the Aspen pipe, you kind of need pipe management. You need to make sure you are not going too far down and have enough room for all of your hits,” he said. “Skiing in Aspen is more of a strategic game. For me, if I can keep all of the hits really consistent in length going down the pipe, then I can do really well.”
The run Ferreira won X Games gold with last year has been his go-to for some time, but he said you won’t see it here in 2020. He has a game plan in place for what he wants to do and it could be a bit different than what we’ve seen from him in the past.
“Definitely a little different, which is good. It’s given me a new fire, which is fun,” Ferreira said. “This year I’m coming in, I feel healthy, I feel strong, I feel like I’ve had a decent amount of training, and I’m just ready to give it my all.”
Innovation has long been the name of the game for freeskiing, and big competitions like Dew Tour and certainly X Games have helped move the sport forward. As for Ferreira, who seems to be at the height of his career at the moment, he said he has plenty of drive and desire to remain one of those athletes pushing freeskiing into the future.
“It’s always the million dollar question: are you going to keep going?” Ferreira said. “I’m really happy with what I’ve done in the past and there is so much more to do in the future it’s probably impossible to attain all the skiing goals that each skier wants to. But I got more in the tank. I want a couple more things checked off the list and I got the fire, so why not keep going?”
The X Games Aspen men’s ski halfpipe finals are scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 26.