This article was originally published in the Aspen Times by Austin Colbert. Photo by Austin Colbert / Aspen Times.
Cassidy Jarrell is in line to be the next great halfpipe skier from Aspen, but the high school senior first needed a lesson in pressure and to learn from his local mentors and former babysitter.
Torin Yater-Wallace went to the 2014 Olympics. He's medaled at the X Games. In short, the Aspen skier is one of the biggest stars in the sport.
For the 22-year-old Yater-Wallace, dropping into the Copper Mountain Grand
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Prix halfpipe last month was no big deal, even if it was an Olympic qualifier. Right behind him waiting for his turn was Jarrell, who at 18 was experiencing the big stage for the first time.
"Him dropping two after Torin, he was super nervous. But it's a pretty normal thing when you make that step up in competitions," said Greg Ruppel, Jarrell's Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club coach. "He's not quite looking to catch them yet, but for the guys at his age and his level, he's right in there."
Between Yater-Wallace and Alex Ferreira, who won Dew Tour last month and is on the cusp of making the 2018 Winter Olympics, Aspen has had a strong representation in the ski halfpipe.
Jarrell, whose babysitter happened to be Yater-Wallace back in the day, is trying to follow in their footsteps. He will take another step Wednesday when he competes alongside his Aspen mentors at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Snowmass.
Jarrell is coming off a strong breakthrough season last winter. His results led to his first Grand Prix invite at Copper, an invite onto the lower-level Revolution Tour, and a spot in last month's Dew Tour, one of the most prestigious annual competitions in winter sports.
Not surprisingly, nerves came into play for the Aspen High School senior during those competitions.
"I was really getting super worked up about it and not remembering that it's just skiing. I took it a little bit too serious," Jarrell said. "I'm really glad I got Copper out of the way and figured out how it is to be on a high level and how to handle it. I think my skiing is there, I just need to figure out how to control and handle the competitions right now."
The Copper Grand Prix, which was the second of five Olympic qualifiers, didn't go so well for Jarrell. He failed to land either of his Dec. 6 qualifying runs and finish 39th, which was second to last. He said the nerves got in the way of performing. Yater-Wallace took second in qualifying that day and finished fifth in the finals.
About a week later came Dew Tour in Breckenridge, also an Olympic qualifier. Jarrell didn't touch the finals, but he did land a run and carried that momentum into the same weekend's Rev Tour, back at Copper, where he had two podiums, including one win.
"He did one of the nicest runs he's ever done," Ruppel said of Jarrell at the Rev Tour stop. "It's a really nice opportunity for him to take his riding and competing to that next level. He doesn't have a lot of a shot to qualify for the Olympics, but it's a good step to get used to riding with those pro riders and get used to that pressure."
The next Olympic qualifier is this week's Grand Prix at Snowmass. While Jarrell would likely have to win the Snowmass event and then win the final qualifier, next week's Grand Prix in Mammoth, California, to qualify for the Olympics, that's not the end goal this season. In fact, he said landing an invite to X Games Aspen at the end of the month — also a long shot — would be a bigger deal than making the Olympics, at least now.
"I'm kind of pushing it to the side, but it's there. I don't think it's realistic, but I think it's worth a shot. It's worth trying," Jarrell said of the Olympic talk. "I really want to make finals really, really badly. That's what I'm shooting for. It's a little bit stressful having to deal with all the training. I think when the comp comes around it will be just another day skiing."
Jarrell believes competing in his backyard this week at Snowmass, in front of his friends and family, will help him. He lacked that support at Copper, part of the reason he struggled. He'll be an alternate next week at Mammoth and is planning to compete in a handful of other events this winter, including two more Rev Tour stops.
Snowmass qualifying gets underway Wednesday with ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle. The ski halfpipe finals are scheduled for 1 to 2:45 p.m. Friday. Yater-Wallace and Ferreira could lock up an Olympic bid with a win.
The Aspen elders have been watching the younger Jarrell, encouraging him to find his way.
"Some people, like Torin, he came onto the scene and he just started winning," Ferreira said. "Some people, like me, it took me a lot longer to break through. I just had my first major win and I've been doing this for six or seven years. … Everyone's path is different. You just have to follow your path."
Regardless of how this week goes in Snowmass for Jarrell, his career ambitions haven't changed. He wants to be a skiing star like his friends Yater-Wallace and Ferreira and already is eyeing the 2022 Olympics in China.
"The next (Olympics) lines up much better. It's just good to be getting this out now and putting himself in a solid place to be competing for a U.S. Rookie Team spot," Ruppel said. "We checked one big dream with Dew Tour. That was a big one. In the next couple of years it would be nice to add an X. A lot of it is going to depend on how it all shakes out after the Olympics."