On January 31, Aspen’s gondola plaza filled with excited locals, not to line up for a powder day but for a celebratory event to send off six of our own to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Actually, a total of nine Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) alumni are competing in this year’s Games — compare that to three athletes from Montana and nine from the entire state of Utah. At the 2014 Games, four athletes with Aspen roots competed on Team USA. Impressive, indeed, and clearly a huge source of great local pride, judging by turnout at the Olympic send-off event.
Three-time Olympian Chris Klug, who won a bronze medal in alpine snowboarding at the 2002 Games, was met with cheers as he called Aspen “one of the greatest ski and snowboard towns in the world.” Klug read the lengthy list of local Olympians, beginning with alpine skier Dick Durrance in 1936, and emphasized the notion of the Olympic Games bringing people together, creating lifelong ties with each other and promoting understanding of different cultures.
After AVSC Executive Director Mark Godomsky pointed out how Aspen’s athletes and Olympians have a tradition of giving back to their communities, Club athlete Zala Smalls delivered an inspiring good-luck statement on behalf of “all the kids at AVSC with Olympic dreams.”
Plenty of teary eyes went along with the applause as each of the six local athletes were introduced and their accomplishments listed. Halfpipe skiers Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace echoed the dominant theme of how the community’s support was instrumental in helping them reach the pinnacle of athletic achievement. And if anyone doubts that Aspen is still fundamentally a ski town, this event dispelled that notion, as alpine skier Wiley Maple’s father, Mike Maple, noted during his speech when he said, “Skiing, together, is what makes this community what it is.”
Here’s a little more about AVSC’s nine Olympians and their local ties. To cheer them on in South Korea, you can find the full Olympic competition schedule on this page.
Third-generation Aspenite Wiley Maple was introduced at the Olympic sendoff as “the fastest member of Aspen’s fastest ski gang, The Freaks.” That’s true Aspen cred to be part of the long-held, unique Aspen Mountain tradition of ski gangs, groups of like-minded skiers who ski together and are known for certain characteristics. More impressive, however, is Maple’s track record as a speed specialist. Making the national ski team just out of high school in 2008, he’s been racing on the World Cup circuit since 2011, albeit missing a lot of time due to injuries, and won back-to-back national downhill titles in 2015 and 2016. This season, it’s especially poignant that he made Team USA — after not being named to the US Ski Team, he raised his own funds to join the World Cup circuit and was welcomed to train with the team by head men’s ski coach Johnno McBride, a fellow Aspen native and AVSC alum and former coach. The partnership seems to be working well, as Maple is going into the Olympics with some steam — three top-30 finishes so far this season.
Alice McKennis grew up on a ranch in New Castle, just west of Glenwood Springs, learning to ski and race at Sunlight Ski Area. She joined Ski Club Vail at the age of nine, watching Lindsey Vonn during her rise to alpine stardom, then landed at AVSC, where she was coached by five-time Olympian Casey Puckett. A speed specialist, McKennis made the 2010 Olympic team during her rookie World Cup season and had her first and so far only World Cup victory in 2013. Though she missed the 2014 Olympics due to injury, she’s had had several strong finishes since the 2015 season. A true Colorado girl, she used to be a competitive equestrian, loves fishing and mountain biking, and regularly runs the Colorado River with her dad.
Aspen native Alex Ferreira started out skiing moguls with AVSC, but never looked back after taking to park and pipe. Since graduating from Aspen High School in 2013, he’s won four X Games halfpipe medals, three of them at home in Aspen, including, most recently, a silver in January. Not that the road was totally smooth — a sprained ankle severely hindered his 2017 season, and it took a ski tour of Europe to reinvigorate his love of the sport. Now, the high-energy halfpipe skier with the big, goofy smile is heading to his first Olympics with one of his best friends, Torin Yater-Wallace.
On skis before the age of two, Torin Yater-Wallace grew up in Basalt and with AVSC, all of which led to him becoming the youngest (at the time) Winter X Games medalist in 2011, when he earned a silver in ski halfpipe at the age of 15. The halfpipe phenom would end up with four X Games medals by the time he was 18 (and two since then), but he’s also overcome some serious drawbacks. A collapsed lung kept him sidelined for part of the 2014 season, although he was able to compete in the Olympic debut of halfpipe skiing in Sochi. Then, a life-threatening bacterial infection struck in November 2015 — the fact that he was back on skis for the 2016 X Games in Aspen and won gold at X Games Oslo that season is a testament to Yater-Wallace’s unreal determination. With a story worthy of a documentary — Back to Life, which aired during X Games in January — and coming on the heels of winning X Games bronze in Aspen, Yater-Wallace heads to PyeongChang on a mission.
Simi Hamilton’s local roots go back to his great-grandfather, who bought several Aspen mines in the 1880s, and grandfather D.R.C. Brown, an early and longtime chief executive of the Aspen Ski Corp. Raised on the Aspen slopes and backcountry, Hamilton pursued a number of mountain sports and was certified mountain guide before going into elite-level Nordic racing. He had started cross-country racing with AVSC at age 13 and went on win nine national junior titles. A three-time Olympian, he is one of the top cross-country sprinters in the world and the most decorated on the men’s Nordic team. Among Hamilton’s most notable achievements was breaking a 30-year drought of US men’s victories with a World Cup sprint stage win in 2014.
Distance-racer Noah Hoffman was born in Evergreen, CO, and grew up in Aspen, running cross-country in middle school and then in high school starting training cross-country skiing with ’92 Olympian John Callahan at AVSC. After graduating from Aspen High in 2007, he focused full time on ski racing, working hard toward three national championships and two World Cup stage victories. But his career has been not unlike the roller coaster-like Aspen High School track he’s most familiar with. The 2014 Olympic season was one of his strongest — Hoffman finished in the top 30 in every race in Sochi. Injury and illness struck in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and he wasn’t named to the US Ski Team for this season. Still, he earned his way onto the team as a discretionary pick.
A child prodigy who has had custom Never Summer boards made for him since the age of seven, slopestyle and big air snowboarder Chris Corning started riding at Echo Mountain near his family’s Arvada home. His parents eventually moved the family west, to Silverthorne, so he could be closer to the slopes, and as a 14-year-old Corning moved to the Roaring Fork valley for two years to train with his coach, Nichole Mason, a USSA coach of the year who works for AVSC. Now 18 and in his second year on the national pro team, Corning, whose career highlights include a pair of silver world championship medals in slopestyle and big air, was one of the first to secure his spot on the US Olympic snowboarding team.
Born in Boulder and raised in Eagle, CO, halfpipe snowboarder Jake Pates’s first appearance on an Aspen venue was quite impressive — he foreran the 2007 X Games superpipe when he was eight years old, not long after first strapping on a board. Now 19, he has trained with clubs from Summit County to Vail to Aspen, but it’s AVSC that’s identified as his home club on his official Team USA bio. Pates, who was named to the US Rookie Team at age 15, won double gold in slopestyle and halfpipe at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games. At first considered a long shot for the Olympics, now he joins one of his idols, the dominating Shaun White, along with two other first time Olympians, as part of the men’s halfpipe team in PyeongChang.
As a young child, Pennsylvania native Hagen Kearney fell hard for snowboarding when his family moved to Telluride, CO. Growing up chasing skiers and flirting with slopestyle competition for a while, he eventually settled into snowboardcross, combining his love of speed with his clear skills in the discipline (he’s also a huge skateboarder and motorcycle enthusiast). Kearney’s Aspen ties are through his longtime coach, Jason Troth, formerly with AVSC — he’s also bounced around training in Silverthorne, CO, and Park City, Utah. Breaking onto the international stage with a World Cup victory in December 2016, Kearney finished last season fifth in the boardercross standings.
Photo of Wiley Maple by Art Burrows/courtesy Aspen Skiing Co. Photos of Alex Ferreira and Torin Yater-Wallace by Jeremy Swanson/courtesy Aspen Skiing Co. Photo of Noah Hoffman from NoahHoffman.com