Hanna Faulhaber (right) stood tall this week in a competitive halfpipe field at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland. Her bronze medal came as a surprise, according to the 15-year-old BHS sophomore. Eileen Gu won gold and her teammate Fanghui Lui of China was second.

By winning a surprise bronze medal in women’s halfpipe this week during the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland, Basalt High School sophomore Hanna Faulhaber received an outpouring of thanks from friends, acquaintances and perfect strangers, she said Tuesday.

On Jan. 20, Faulhaber overcame a poor first run to charge back in a best-of-three runs contest before family and throngs of spectators on a spectacular day in the Leysin Pipe and Park.

Faulhaber, a 15-year-old member of the U.S Freeski Rookie Team, finished with a score of 77.33 behind gold medalist Eileen Gu, who lives in San Francisco and became a Chinese citizen in order to compete on the Chinese Ski Team. Gu’s team switch opened up the U.S. Team spot for Faulhaber, she said.

Faulhaber said in a phone interview she was “shocked to win a medal. It was really cool because I was not really expecting it. Maybe a top five. But then I medaled and I was shocked.

“Going into my last run, I knew I had got in third because people behind me were second and first so I kinda knew. I still wanted to do another run to give it my all. I came down and it hit me and I was just in shock. Such a cool experience,” she said.

China dominated the contest, landing three women in the top five. Fanghui Lui took silver, with 85.66, behind Eileen Gu’s solid score of 93. Wu Meng was fourth and Ruby Andrews of New Zealand took fifth. Beijing will host the next Winter Olympics in 2022, a goal that Faulhaber is eyeing.

High 5’s all around

After her podium finish Monday, Faulhaber said she received congratulations from Basalt High School principal Peter Mueller and scores of others, including “people I see on the train and people here” in the Olympic Village. The 2020 Lausanne games concluded Jan. 22 with the extinguishment of the Olympic flame and were open to athletes aged 14-18 in alpine and Nordic skiing, snowboarding, skating, hockey and other winter sports.

Despite the bronze YOG medal, she was not invited to this year’s Winter X Games. Faulhaber said on Tuesday, “If so, I would be flying back as soon as I could.” Instead, she leaves Jan. 26 for a Grand Prix event at Mammoth Mountain.

Faulhaber is a member of Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club who is coached by Greg Ruppel.

Ruppel said this week, “We’re very excited and proud of her bronze medal performance. She’s been training hard and it’s obviously paying off.”

In a statement provided by the Olympic news service, Faulhaber was quoted as saying how important it is for the next generation to see athletes competing in their backyard. She grew up watching her heroes including Carbondale’s Torin Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira of Aspen, ski in the X Games halfpipe at Buttermilk Mountain.

“The Youth Olympics can make a difference, 100 percent,” Faulhaber said. “There are not that many girls doing our sport but here so many have been watching me practice even, it’s amazing.”

Faulhaber ascended quickly to the elite World Cup ranks since winning a Revolution Tour halfpipe contest in December 2018 at Copper Mountain as a 14-year-old. Later last season, she won bronze at the Aspen Open. U.S. Skiing announced her elevation to the U.S. Freeskiing rookie team by spring.

In a December 2019 World Cup event, Faulhaber finished 15th in a field that included Olympians and halfpipe veterans.

Another Roaring Fork Valley resident who qualified for the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games was Aspen resident George Beck, who competed in three ski mountaineering competitions. “Skimo” will have its trial as a Winter Olympics test event in 2026.