HAFJELL, NORWAY -- When Alex Hall dropped in on the slopestyle course at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, he felt a world of pressure – pressure to do well for himself, for his family, for his friends and for his country.
“The expectations were really high for me but I kept telling myself, ‘Whatever happens, just have fun with it and stay calm because that’s how you’re going to land your run,’” Hall said of his mindset. “’If you think too much about getting on the podium and doing well, it goes to your head and you won’t land anything, so just try to stay calm.’”
Hall’s approach paid off when he won the slopestyle skiing silver medal Friday afternoon at Hafjell Freepark.
The 17-year-old earned a score of 83.20 for his first run, solidifying himself in third place behind Norway’s Birk Ruud and New Zealander Finn Bilous, but he was hungry for more. He performed the same run, adding a few grabs he missed the first time and executing his jumps more cleanly to earn a score of 87.40 and move up a spot into second. Ruud won with 89.20 points from his first run and Bilous’ first run held up for the bronze medal.
The silver medal was Hall’s first podium appearance abroad. His contribution to Team USA’s medal count in Lillehammer was made especially significant by the fact that he only began representing the U.S. in 2015.
Unlike the rest of the U.S. Youth Olympic Team, Hall spent most of his life living in Switzerland. He was born in Alaska to parents Marcus, a U.S. citizen, and Elena, an Italian citizen, but they moved to Switzerland shortly thereafter. He holds dual citizenship with the U.S. and Italy, despite spending nearly his entire life in Switzerland.
Last year, Hall made the decision to dedicate his life to freeskiing and left his family behind to move to Park City, Utah, where he attends The Winter Sports School, which aims to accommodate the training and competition schedules of winter-sport athletes.
“We have a super compressed schedule,” Hall said of attending The Winter Sports School. “We go to school from April until November, which gives us time in the winter to be fully separate from school.
“They allow us to not have to deal with schoolwork in the winter so we can focus on skiing, and then when summer hits we can just focus on school. It’s the best of both worlds and you can stay focused on whatever you’re doing and not have to balance both, which can be hard sometimes.”
Attending The Winter Sports School made the decision of which country to compete for easy for Hall, but he says he feels like an American at heart, both because of his father and because “being born in a cool place like Alaska is a deciding factor for sure.”
Competing for Team USA comes with increased expectations for Hall, who says he was intimidated by the depth of the U.S. slopestyle skiing team, especially after watching Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper sweep the podium at the event’s Olympic debut in 2014.
Any concerns were dissipated when Hall made the U.S. Freeskiing Rookie Team shortly after his move and also qualified for the Winter Youth Olympic Games, which he leaves with a slopestyle silver medal and a fourth-place finish in halfpipe.
“It’s pretty crazy definitely because in Russia we got the full podium sweep in slopestyle,” Hall said. “It was definitely a cool moment for me to stand up there today, have all this cool USA gear on, see the flag up there and know I’m following in the footsteps of some pretty big guys.”
Now Hall will aim to continue improving and join some of those “big guys” at the next Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea in two years.
“The Youth Olympic experience was so fun, meeting all these people and traveling to a new place, so I think the real Olympic experience would be just as crazy, if not crazier,” he said. “It’s definitely a huge incentive for me.”