Taking an Alternate Route to Success

This article was written by KJHK Sports Staff member Madison Osberger-Low. Originally from Jan. 24, this article was edited for timeliness.

Cassidy Jarrell flies out of the halfpipe during training on Jan. 20 for X Games Aspen 2020.
Photo courtesy of Kyler Sciarrone.

As Aspen local Cassidy Jarrell awaited word on whether he would move from alternate to competitor in the X Games men’s SuperPipe, Jarrell took comfort in knowing other athletes in similar situations had received the call-up.

Skier Birk Irving of Winter Park had been in Cassidy Jarrell’s boots before. In 2017,  Irving, 20, was an X Games alternate who moved from the hot seat into the big show.

“It was insane. I was sitting in class in high school and got an email invitation as an alternate,” Irving said. That year, he ended up competing in the event and finished fourth. 

The next year, Irving was also selected as an alternate but “I didn’t medal and didn’t ski,” he said Wednesday. “I didn’t fully understand it because I thought I did well the year before as an alternate.”

Alternates are selected as back-ups in case a confirmed athlete gets hurt or has to withdraw for whatever reason. Irving recalled that he moved up because Bryon Wells of New Zealand withdrew because of an injured shoulder.

One of Jarrell’s teammates on the P.R.O. Team coached by local Peter Olenick, 18-year-old Yujin Jang of South Korea, also remains an alternate. The women’s SuperPipe was scheduled for that Saturday.

Yujin Jang surveys the scene atop the Buttermilk Mountain halfpipe during training under the lights.
Photo courtesy of Peter Olenick.

“As the first Korean to be invited in this unreal games, even if an alternate, I am so stoked and excited for this event,” she said. “It was the best Christmas present ever in my life. I literally cried. Dream come true!”

Jang’s fifth place finish Dec. 21 at the Olympic halfpipe in Secret Garden, China, helped her cause. She received word about the X Games invitation on Christmas Day.

Asked if veteran skier Maddie Bowman’s retirement (which was announced this week) opened up a spot, Jang replied, “No it did not. I have been working really hard and skiing very well. My ranking and results got me a spot.”

Jarrell had continued to practice in the pipe alongside confirmed athletes. The Great Clips Men’s Ski SuperPipe Elimination was Jan. 24th. Birk Irving took the top spot. The finals took place that Sunday, with return champion Alex Ferreira of Aspen taking first place again.

During a recent interview, Jarrell said he may not know until the final moments whether he will compete in the X Games.

“It could be five minutes before the competition. Someone could get hurt on the last run,” he said.

Jarrell received his invitation to be an alternate while returning home from the December trip to Secret Garden. “I had just landed in Denver from China. I got an email while we were waiting for our bags.”

This season so far hasn’t lived up to his expectations, “Last year was a better year,” he said. “This year I’m 0 for 3” with results, he said.  Jarrell said he’s impressed by the deep talent seen across all halfpipe teams.

“It’s wild. Everyone is progressing super fast. I’ve never seen anyone ski like the Canadians. They have no fear ever,” he said. His early favorite is Nico Porteous of New Zealand, the bronze medalist in the 2018 Winter Olympics, behind David Wise and Alex Ferreira.

Jarrell said he likes the format change to the jam session (instead of a three-run final) in this year’s X Games.

“It’s way less stressful. You have more of a feel…like it’s more relaxed, you kinda just ease into harder tricks. I think its going to make for a way better competition,” he said.

Peter Olenick said it’s a better format because the event will go faster and judging will be based on how the athletes are ranked, rather than on their scores.

For X Games Aspen 2020, Birk Irving made the jump to invited athlete ,which he said is easier than the uncertainty that comes with being an alternate. 

“As an alternate, I feel like it is more stressful and can be more pressure. Because you don’t know if you are gonna go in or not so you are just always on the fence waiting,” said Irving.  He grew up competing against Jarrell. Both are members of the U.S. Freeskiing Team, with Jarrell having been named to the rookie team last spring. Irving is part of U.S. Freeskiing’s Pro Halfpipe Team and has been a team member since 2015

“It would be so cool and big if Cassidy was able to get into that spot and be the hometown hero,” Irving said.

As both of Peter Olenick’s halfpipe athletes awaited final word on their status at these X Games, they continued to train and prepare for the event. While a competitor, Olenick won four X Games medals, including gold in 2010 for High Air.

Jang, who has worked with Olenick for the past four years, said she has “spent more time with him than my family. That’s why I call him ‘Dad.’” Jarrell has been part of Olenick’s program since 2014.

The P.R.O. Team (which stands for Peter Ryan Olenick) likes to foster a family environment. Its other members include: Aspen’s Tristan Feinberg, Aaron Durlester and Kangbok Lee.

“I’m super honored to be invited with my favorite ‘brother,’ Cassidy Jarrell,” Jang said.