X Games Freeskier Shines as Telluride’s Hometown Hero
Chalk up another win for Olympian and X Games competitor Gus Kenworthy, who recently won annual back-to-back championships in the slopestyle competition at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo. His is a household name among fans of the freestyle skiing circuit, who thrill to the sight of his big air and intense moves, an elite athlete who has been hailed as the top freeskier on the planet. Clearly, Kenworthy’s daring feats are not for the faint of heart, requiring an enormous amount of grit and guts and an undeniable love of action and adventure.
Kenworthy grew up in the picturesque ski town of Telluride, Colorado, where he was a fixture in the terrain park, hitting rails and jumps until the lifts closed down. In his early days of competition he earned a reputation for “guinea-pigging,” meaning he loved to try out novel tricks and jumps before any of his competitors or teammates. He turned pro at 16 years old, when a YouTube video landed him some sponsors.
Today Kenworthy is widely regarded as one of the sport’s most well-rounded freestyle skiers, and looks forward to showing his prowess in Slopestyle, SuperPipe and Big Air at the upcoming X Games Aspen. Thus far, he has earned a Bronze at the X Games, but his performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he took Silver, reveals he is determined to compete … and to win big. Winning the Silver represented more than an individual accomplishment for Kenworthy. At the games, he and fellow teammates Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper swept the podium in freestyle skiing, an event that has happened just twice before in Olympic history.
Freestyle skiing mania swept the nation upon the athletes’ return, and Kenworthy soon became a favorite on the media circuit, with appearances on Today, The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon and The Late Show With David Letterman. His handsome face graced the covers of magazines such as People and US Weekly, and he and his fellow medalists were pictured on the Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box.
Kenworthy has wowed fans across the globe, who watch in awe as he performs jumps and twists from high up in a style that is unique and seemingly impossible. Yet his bravado on the slopes is coupled with a highly endearing side, evidenced by his rescue of five stray dogs, a mother and four puppies, which were abandoned in Sochi. Kenworthy garnered national media attention when he remained in Sochi well after the 2014 Winter Olympics wound down, bringing to light the growing number of stray dogs in that part of the world.
A few months ago, Kenworthy once again made headlines when he came out as gay, a courageous move that rocked the world of extreme sports. In an interview with Alyssa Roenigk for ESPN Magazine, the 24-year-old explains why he finally decided to tell the truth about why he wanted fans to know who he is. “I never got to be proud of what I did in Sochi because I felt so horrible about what I didn’t do. I didn’t want to come out as the silver medalist from Sochi. I wanted to come out as the best freeskier in the world.”
For Kenworthy, his public announcement represented a breakthrough in an industry that prides itself on image. As he told ESPN, “They say it’s a community of individuals and everyone is doing their own thing and it’s not a team sport, so you get to be yourself. But you don’t, really. Between the contests and the
shoots, everyone’s always skiing and training together. But it is the same, it’s totally like that: Be creative, be yourself, be all this stuff, but also literally just be like everybody else.”
Then again, Kenworthy’s willingness to stretch the boundaries of what is “safe” really has never been the obstacle that would prevent him from moving to the next level, whether in his personal life or in a professional capacity.
Kenworthy’s rise to the top nearly ground to a halt following last year’s X Games in Aspen. Heralded as the one to watch, his presence was everywhere, on promotional materials and signs surrounding the entire event. Yet he failed to medal in any of his competitions, and even contemplated quitting the sport he so loved. Convinced by his father and agent to get back in the game, Kenworthy placed third in halfpipe at the Mammoth Mountain Grand Prix, and two weeks later won the inaugural ski big air event and the Shaun White Air + Style event at the Rose Bowl. Then in February, competing in an event in Park City, Utah, he made history, debuting a new trick, a double cork 1260. In the end, he performed the first-ever run that included four different double corks, which was lauded as the greatest performance in ski halfpipe history. He finished the season in first place, named by the Association of Freeskiing Professionals(AFP) overall champion for the fifth consecutive year.
As the X Games Aspen nears, Kenworthy is determined to continue making history, and to show the world that he is at the top of his game. He comes in as a triple threat in Slopestyle, SuperPipe and Big Air. As the five-time consecutive AFP overall champion and Silver medalist at the Sochi Olympics, he has been deemed the one to beat.
But the X Games are much, much more than just another competition for Kenworthy. Indeed, these games are personal, and carry an intense meaning for Kenworthy that goes well beyond the strive to win. “X Games is the pinnacle event,” he says. “I grew up watching it, wanting to compete there, and winning Gold. A Gold Medal at X Games is still my ultimate goal in skiing. The Olympic Games happen every four years but X Games takes place every year and continues to be the most important event in our sport. It’s my favorite weekend of the season.”
A lot of pressure on this 24-year-old superstar. But then again, Gus Kenworthy proves time and again that he is more than up to the challenge.