Aspen native Alex Ferreira was asked to be on the U.S. Ski Team before he graduated high school. The 19-year-old freeskier competes in the halfpipe and the 2014 Olympics would be his first. Right now, he’s splitting his time between training, competing and studying. He’s enrolled in college in Utah, and he says it keeps his life balanced. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.
"It keeps my routine going and it’s a good plan for me because I can go to school, go work out and then I can go train, for me, it’s so that I don’t get so wrapped up in skiing that I don’t get burned out," he says.
Outside of the classroom, the athlete has been turning heads on the halfpipe. In 2012, he ranked in the top ten in the Association of Freeskiing Professionals world championships. And, earlier this year, he competed in the X Games in Aspen and Tignes, France.
His career started in Aspen, when his mom got him on skis at age three.
"My mom loves skiing, she goes skiing every single possible minute that she possibly can. So, she would just take me out and I guess I followed my mom."
Soon, he started skiing with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and then came the tricks.
"We would go to training with AVSC and do the moguls and stuff, and a lot of my friends and I would go skiing and jump off the catwalks and make our own little powder jumps in my front yard. We just loved to jump and try new things and even if we knew we were going to fall super hard, we would just go for it."
Now Ferreira does tricks in the halfpipe with names like cork 360’s, cork 900 tails and a flare with a grab.
"A flare is basically a side flip and then any grab you choose, like a tail grab, a nose grab, or a nose grab, where you go behind your leg and under the foot."
So, when Ferreira flies 18 feet above the lip of the halfpipe, he’s bending every which way.
"It basically feels like you’re flying, when I’m in the air, time slows down and I can hear people on the side of the pipe. It’s really cool and it’s crazy," says Ferreira.
During a competition, the judges are watching closely for things like amplitude, technical difficulty and style.
Before, athletes like Ferreira didn’t have an opportunity to compete in the Olympics. The upcoming Games will include the discipline Ski Halfpipe for the first time.
Ferreira’s mom, Colleen Delia, says he’s got a shot at making Team USA.
"It’s a possibility, he has to compete well. The opportunity’s there and if he doesn’t make it this time around, I would imagine he’s got two more tries since he’s only 19," she says.
She’s watched his progression from powder jumps in the front yard to splitting his time between competitions and high school classes. He’s diligent, she says, and he’s had to overcome some big challenges.
"When he was in the 8th grade, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency."
Ferreira’s pituitary gland wasn’t producing enough growth hormones so, he had to take them for about four years.
"That was really hard on him and he was just driven. And, when someone would call him a pip-squeek or shorty, and if anyone said anything derogatory, he would say, ‘meet me on the track.’ And, he was fast and determined," Delia says.
She says she thinks that drive and determination will take him far in the sport of freesking. Ferreira says, right now, he’s focused on making the Olympic team.
"I’m stoked, I’m really happy. I hope I go to Sochi, I’m going to give it all I got. I’ve been training everyday and going to the gym, so I think it’ll all work out for me," he says.
Ferreira has to qualify for one of four open slots for the United States in the Ski Halfpipe discipline. The Olympic team will be announced just before the Games in February.