ASPEN, Colo. — Famed big mountain snowboarding icon Jeremy Jones is known for his backcountry escapades. Last spring, he took to the John Muir Wilderness in California for his latest film, Teton Gravity Research's "Ode to Muir," and wanted to bring along someone outside the norm.
So he asked Olympic halfpipe snowboarder Elena Hight, who lives in nearby Tahoe, to come along for the ride. Turns out, that experience ended up being somewhat life-changing for the former X Games champion.
"I've always really loved all aspects of snowboarding, but really getting into the backcountry and learning more about the big mountains has always intrigued me," Hight said in a recent interview with The Aspen Times. "That really sparked the transition and solidified the fact that I really want to pursue this side of snowboarding and challenge myself in a new way."
This might have been the final nail in the coffin for Hight's exit from the halfpipe world. Currently 29, Hight has spent the better part of 15 years competing in the pipe. She's won multiple X Games medals, including her breakthrough gold in 2017. She competed in both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics and is a former Burton U.S. Open champion.
Much like icon Kelly Clark, who recently announced her retirement from the sport and took one final ride down the X Games superpipe before Saturday's contest at Buttermilk, Hight is moving on. She opted out of X Games this year in favor of a trip to Japan with TGR, where she is to be featured in an upcoming film.
Hight is hardly retiring from snowboarding, but her halfpipe days are likely going to be replaced with backcountry expeditions and a lot of more freeriding.
"The 'Ode to Muir' was definitely the first big expedition I've ever done. It really was eye opening. It was a couple of days in when I realized just how much I was learning and how really at peace and connected I felt being out in the mountains," Hight said. "Obviously, Jeremy Jones is the godfather of this stuff, so I was learning from the best person I could possibly learn from and really felt like it was the place that I was supposed to be."
In "Ode to Muir," Hight certainly seemed out of her element compared to Jones. She wasn't completely comfortable with the splitboard and camping in the cold and snow didn't seem to bring her much joy. But by the end of the film she seemed to have gone through a transition that has remained well beyond the final credits.
"Coming up in the competition scene was really a dream come true and being able to contribute to women's snowboarding and push the limits where I could and challenge myself was all I ever hoped to do," Hight said. "I feel like everything is falling into place for me and I'm really excited for this next chapter of filming and stepping into the backcountry. I think it's going to be a real fun next couple of years."
ASPEN, Colo. — Alex Ferreira, who lives at the base of Aspen Highlands, pulled his back Thursday morning shoveling snow off his driveway. He claimed he could barely walk.
Later that night, the 24-year-old Aspen native dropped into the X Games superpipe and made a loud statement. Nearly as loud as the ruckus his substantial fan base was making in the corral at the bottom of the venue.
“I’ve just been trying to stay alive,” Ferreira joked, citing a “nasty virus” and hip injury during training as his other ongoing ailments. “It feels phenomenal. Absolutely elated right now. I’m just so happy I can’t even believe it. I’m so grateful and so, so happy.”
Ferreira’s first run Thursday set the tone and his final run closed the deal on his first X Games gold medal. Making his seventh appearance at X, Ferreira put together the performance of his lifetime to win the men’s ski superpipe contest at Buttermilk. It was his fourth X Games medal in Aspen, but his first win.
“I was calling him Mr. Consistency all night,” said Nevada’s David Wise, who finished second behind Ferreira. “He is always trying to push it to the next level, do the next trick, do the next big thing the same way I am. It’s so cool to have a guy out here pushing me, forcing me to do bigger tricks. There were years where the run I did would have won it. But Alex put that out of my reach.”
Ferreira won X Games gold with a score of 92.66 on his third and final run. Wise, who is the two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist in the discipline, scored 90.33 on his final run, matching the score from Ferreira’s first run. Wise was the last person to drop in Thursday, and his final run made the wait uneasy for Ferreira, who was standing next to Wise at the base as they waited to see the score.
It was close, but not close enough for Wise, who has won X Games Aspen gold four times. For Ferreira, it was sheer elation.
“This is so amazing, and I’ll tell you why. Not just so much for me or my family, Alex really wanted to do this for Aspen,” said Colleen Delia, Ferreira’s mother. “He just loves Aspen so much. He just wanted to be there for his fans and his best friends in life. I actually don’t think he’s ever moving out of the house because he loves Aspen so much.”
Ferreira and Wise are close friends, going so far as getting tattoos together while in South Korea. Wise, who crashed on his first two runs Thursday, was more than happy to take silver. And he was more than happy to see Ferreira atop the podium.
“In Alex, I honestly feel I have a brother. He is not just a friend anymore,” Wise said. “We’ve been doing this for so long, and we have some similar mentalities. We have different styles of skiing, but we have really similar mentalities of approach to skiing.”
Entering his final run in first place, Ferreira still knew he had to send it. Wise was waiting in the wing with all the talent in the world to steal that gold medal from the local hero. So Ferreira left it all out there and became Aspen’s newest golden boy.
“I was thinking all-in. Put all my eggs in there, put all my thoughts, all my energy, all my heart, put it all in,” Ferreira said. “I feel pretty phenomenal right now. I don’t know if there is any comparison (with the Olympics). This is the most special night of my life, for sure.”
According to X Games, Ferreira is the first Aspen local to win gold in nine years. The last would have been snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler, who won the women's superpipe contest in 2010, the final of her four X Games gold medals.
ASPEN, Colo. — During Wednesday’s introductory press conference, X Games Aspen host Jack Mitrani mentioned to Cassie Sharpe that she had won pretty much everything there is to win — including Olympic gold last winter in South Korea — but had never won at Buttermilk.
It didn’t look like her luck was going to change Thursday in the women’s ski superpipe contest, especially with Estonian teen Kelly Sildaru executing flawless run after flawless run.
Then, Sharpe delivered when she had to.
“I knew I had to be perfect. If I wasn’t perfect, I wasn’t going to beat Kelly,” Sharpe said. “She beat me in Copper and I knew that she could have beat me here again today. This medal is so important to me. This is a bucket list thing. X Games Aspen is just such a prestigious event. I knew I wanted it.”
Sharpe scored 94 on her third and final run to win her first X Games gold medal in Aspen. It was her third X Games medal overall, having won bronze last winter and having won gold in Norway in 2016.
She needed every bit of that 94 to knock off Sildaru, who finished second with 92.33, scored on her first run. Sildaru also had runs of 89 and 90.66 in what was her first X Games halfpipe contest. She’s already won gold twice in Aspen, in 2016 and 2017, but in slopestyle.
“This is my fourth time here and I hit the podium last year, but I wasn’t really proud of my riding,” Sharpe said. “I was frustrated that my riding wasn’t what I wanted it to be. So to come out and do it now, it was super important to me. I feel like I came really prepared and knew what I wanted. I’m just glad it all came together.”
Taking third Thursday was Rachael Karker, who, like Sharpe, is Canadian. Karker has recently emerged onto the scene, having won Dew Tour last month. She scored 86.33 on her second run for her X Games bronze, while Brita Sigourney was fourth (84.66) and Tahoe’s Maddie Bowman, a five-time X Games gold medalist in the event, was fifth.
“Honestly, I was a little chapped to lose to Kelly at Copper, but I was really hyped to lose to Rachael at Dew Tour,” Sharpe said. “I’m so proud of her. She’s just blossomed into an incredible, aggressive rider the last few months.”
While the halfpipe is Sharpe’s only event, it was only the first of three for Sildaru. She’s also scheduled to compete in the women’s ski big air and slopestyle events Friday.
“I’m pretty stoked about my run and I’m really happy to be here,” Sildaru said. “I think three events in 27 hours, so it’s pretty crazy and the schedule is really tight.”
Alex Ferreira didn't make the 2014 Olympic team and it haunted him for years. But Thursday in South Korea, the Aspen freeskier was able to banish those demons forever.
"It just crushed him. And he knew what he needed to do to get here. It made him work so much harder," said Ferreira's mother, Colleen Delia. "I don't know that there are any words. I was sick to my stomach. I've been a nervous wreck, but it's beautiful. I knew he was going to be on the podium. He's so ready for this."
With his family watching, the 22-year-old Ferreira made the most of his first Winter Olympics by winning a silver medal in the men's halfpipe in Pyeongchang. Less than a year ago, rattled by injuries and failures, Ferreira came close to leaving competitive skiing behind.
But Thursday's silver medal brought everything full circle for the Aspen High School graduate.
"I was prepared for this day, I think. I just worked extremely hard and I'm happy to be here," Ferreira said. "It's amazing. I'm back, baby."
Ferreira's third-run score of 96.40 was bested only by the 97.20 scored by Nevada's David Wise, one of Ferreira's best friends and teammates. Wise also won gold in 2014, the first time halfpipe skiing was included in the Olympics.
New Zealand's Nico Porteous surprisingly won bronze, while Crested Butte's Aaron Blunck settled for seventh and Basalt's Torin Yater-Wallace finished ninth.
"For me, this is the most satisfying competition I've ever had," Wise said. "I feel so excited and just humbled by how Alex Ferreira skied today. Sharing the top two steps of that podium with Alex is amazing. The reality is the other guys had the opportunity."
Entering the Pyeongchang Games, the U.S. foursome was favored to leave with a podium sweep. The possibilities seemed very real after Blunck, Ferreira and Yater-Wallace finished 1-2-3 in Tuesday's qualifying, where Wise qualified eighth after landing his second and final run.
But after the first of three runs in Thursday's finals at Phoenix Snow Park, Ferreira was the only American truly holding up his end of the bargain. His first-run score of 92.60 led the competition early, holding off Canada's Noah Bowman and New Zealand's Beau-James Wells.
Blunck was sixth after his first run of 81.40, but Yater-Wallace only scored 65.20 on his first run after backseating his landing and Wise couldn't even complete his run.
The real surprise came early in the second run, when the 16-year-old Porteous scored 94.80 to overtake Ferreira, at least temporarily, on the podium.
"I was going to be just as happy with myself even if I didn't get on the podium," Porteous said. "You just got to go for it. You are at the Olympics. Why not just take advantage of it and harness that adrenaline and really go for it?"
Ferreira was the only one to answer the young Kiwi, scoring 96 on his second run to retake the lead two-thirds of the way through the competition.
"I was a nervous wreck, but I was so sure he had it and would nail it down. He was confident," said Marcelo Ferreira, Alex's father. "He worked very hard for three and a half years and the results, they are here. It's a dream come true."
Wise, who also crashed on his second run, overtook Ferreira on his third and final run. Ferreira had one more chance to reclaim that podium's top spot and left it all out there with his best run of the night, but still came up just a hair short of Wise.
Prior to the contest, Ferreira and Wise each got tattoos together in South Korea.
"I am not disappointed the U.S. didn't sweep. I would have loved it. There was certainly a lot of hype about the U.S. sweep," Wise said. "It made me realize that freeskiing won today whether I landed my run or not. So that kind of gave me a little bit of a boost."
Yater-Wallace crashed on both his second and third runs. Making finals in South Korea was a step up from Sochi in 2014 when he failed to make it out of qualifying.
Yater-Wallace did not talk to reporter immediately following Thursday's finals.
"I would not be where I am today without Torin Yater-Wallace. He is one of my best friends. I respect him bar none over anybody. He is a fantastic skier and beyond that a fantastic person," Ferreira said. "I worked really hard to be here and I'm just extremely happy to be part of the event."
Leaving little to doubt, Aspen skiers Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace threw down in spectacular fashion Tuesday in the qualifying round of the Olympic men's halfpipe competition at Phoenix Snow Park in South Korea.
Crested Butte's Aaron Blunck scored 94.40 on his second run to lead qualifying, with Ferreira coming in second and Yater-Wallace third to send the American trio and close friends into Thursday's finals, which will air live on Wednesday night in Colorado.
Yater-Wallace, competing in his second Winter Olympics, set the bar high early with an 89.60 on his first run in the two-run qualifier. Ferreria, a first-time Olympian followed only a few skiers later with a 92.60, the top score after the first run.
The fourth American, reigning Olympic gold medalist David Wise of Nevada, scored 79.60 on his second run after crashing on his first to finish eighth in qualifying. The top 12 of the 27 who competed in qualifying will compete in finals.
Four years ago in Sochi, Russia, an injury-riddled Yater-Wallace failed to make it out of the qualifying round but delivered Tuesday in Pyeongchang.
"It was unreal," Yater-Wallace said after Tuesday's qualifier. "Putting the first run down regardless of the circumstances is always an amazing feeling. And obviously I had some unfortunate instances that I have dealt with that just added to that feeling, and it was just such a relief to land that first one after my less than stellar performance in Sochi dealing with my lungs and ribs back then. Unreal to just land that first run."
Ferreira was the first person left off the U.S. Olympic team in 2014, but left little to chance this winter, highlighted by his win at Dew Tour. He's optimistic that the Americans can sweep the finals podium in Korea.
"Yes, it's definitely a possibility," Ferreira said Tuesday. "The other countries, respectively, are amazing as well. I just hope everyone skis to their full ability and we showcase halfpipe skiing on the world's biggest stage in a great light."
New Zealand's Byron Wells qualified fourth while his brother, Beau-James Wells, was fifth. France's Kevin Rolland, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, was sixth, and Canada's Mike Riddle, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, was seventh.
Round out the qualifying skiers were Canada's Noah Bowman, France's Thomas Krief, New Zealand's Nico Porteous and Austria's Andreas Gohl.
Canada's Simon D'Artois, probably the most notable name to not make finals, was one spot out in 13th.
Ed Stoner of the Vail Daily contributed to this report.