Hanna Faulhaber, Troy Podmilsak win titles as freestyle ski, snowboard worlds end


Hanna Faulhaber became the first American woman to win a freeski world title, taking the halfpipe on the final day of the world championships in Bakuriani, Georgia, on Saturday.

Later, fellow 18-year-old Troy Podmilsak became the first American man or woman to win a world title in ski big air, which made its Olympic debut last year.

Faulhaber, who was sixth in halfpipe at the Olympics, earned her first top-level victory with a 95.75-point third and final run to overtake X Games champion Zoe Atkin of Great Britain. She landed a 900 and back-to-back 720s. Canadian Rachael Karker took bronze.

“It’s unbelievable,” Faulhaber said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “I’m really at a loss of words right now. I shed a couple tears, and wow. That is really the only word I can use to describe it right now — wow.”

China’s Eileen Gu, the Olympic and world champion the previous two years, missed worlds after suffering a season-ending MCL strain, ACL strain and bone bruise in a heavy training crash at X Games practice in January.

Faulhaber has been on skis since age 2 1/2, starting in moguls, then inspired to take up halfpipe by watching the X Games near her Colorado hometown.

Before Faulhaber, all nine U.S. women to win an individual freestyle skiing world title did it in aerials or moguls, the last being aerialist Ashley Caldwell in 2017. In the freeskiing events of halfpipe, slopestyle and big air, American woman racked up eight silver or bronze medals dating to 2005 before Faulhaber’s breakthrough.

Podmilsak scored 91.25 and 96.50 on his first two runs in the three-run big air final, enough for gold over Austrian Lukas Muellauer. Olympic champion Birk Ruud of Norway earned bronze. He landed a triple cork 2160, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard.

“Actually nothing was going through my head; I kind of went into this zone where I didn’t actually exist,” said Podmilsak, who made his major championships debut at last month’s X Games, finishing sixth. “I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t tired. I was just nothingness.”

Frenchwoman Tess Ledeux earned her second world title in ski big air in the absence of Olympic champion Gu.

In men’s ski halfpipe, American Alex Ferreira added his first world championships medal (bronze) to his Olympic silver and bronze and two X Games titles.

Canadian Brendan Mackay won with a 97.25-point third and final run that included a 1620, followed by Finland’s Jon Sallinen (95.75) and Ferreira (93.00). American David Wise, a two-time Olympic champ, was ninth.

Austrian Anna Gasser earned her second world title in snowboard big air to go along with her two Olympic gold medals and 2018 X Games crown. In January, Gasser, 31, withdrew moments before the X Games big air after suffering what she called a mild concussion in slopestyle the day before.

Japan’s Taiga Hasegawa, 17, won the men’s snowboard big air for his first global championships podium. Olympic champion Su Yiming of China didn’t enter worlds.

The ski and snowboard big air finals were moved up from Sunday to Saturday due to weather forecasts.

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Birk Irving, last man on Olympic team, extends breakout season with Mammoth win


One year ago, Birk Irving was the last man to make the four-man U.S. Olympic ski halfpipe team. Since, he continued to climb the ranks in arguably the nation’s strongest discipline across skiing and snowboarding.

Irving earned his second World Cup win this season, taking the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California, on Friday.

Irving posted a 94-point final run, edging Canadian Brendan Mackay by one point. David Wise, the two-time Olympic champion who won his fifth X Games Aspen title last Sunday, was third.

A tribute was held to 2015 World champion Kyle Smaine, a U.S. halfpipe skier who died in an avalanche in Japan last Sunday.

“We’re all skiing the best we have because we’re all skiing with Kyle in our hearts,” Irving said, according to U.S. Ski and Snowboard. “We’re skiing for him, and we know he’s looking down on us. We miss you Kyle. We love you. Thank you for keeping us safe in the pipe today.”

Irving also won the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on Dec. 17. Plus, the 23-year-old from Colorado had his best career X Games Aspen finish last Sunday, taking second.

The next major event is the world championships in Georgia (the country, not the state) in early March. Irving was third at the last worlds in 2021, then fifth at the Olympics last February.

The U.S. has been the strongest nation in men’s ski halfpipe since it debuted at the Olympics in 2014. Wise won the first two gold medals. Alex Ferreira won silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. Aaron Blunck is a world champion and X Games champion.

Irving is younger than all of them and has beaten all of them at multiple competitions this season.

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t competed since the Games after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

In snowboarding events at Mammoth, Americans Julia Marino and Lyon Farrell earned slopestyle wins by posting the top qualification scores. The finals were canceled due to wind.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine

Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”