Friday Interview: Gus Kenworthy

One of the world's best park and pipe skiers talks about new tricks and competing in the 2014 Olympics, and demystifies the life of a young, pro skier—it’s not all fancy cars and film premieres

Gus Kenworthy.     Photo: Wanaka.tv

Fresh off a second place finish at the Dew Tour in early December—in which he stomped his new, signature trick, a double cork 1620 blunt grab in the big air competition—and having snagged last season’s AFP overall title for the second year in a row, 21-year-old Gus Kenworthy has cemented his status as one the world’s best park and pipe skiers. A triple threat in slopestyle, half-pipe, and big air, Kenworthy is one of the most well-rounded newschoolers out there. In 2012, he won the Dumont Cup, the Jon Olsson Invitational, and the big air and slopestyle events at the World Skiing Invitational. The only thing missing from his trophy collection now is an X Games medal, which he is gunning for—big time—this season. Look for him to come in hot to January’s X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

Based in Breckenridge, Colorado, Kenworthy’s rise to ski stardom has been meteoric. Since 2010, the London-born, Telluride-bred skier has graduated high school, won the 2011 and 2012 AFP overall titles (one of freeskiing’s top accolades), landed a spot on the inaugural U.S. Freeskiing team, and scored sponsorships with Atomic and Nike. He’s filmed with Matchstick and Poor Boyz. This season, in between competitions and shoots, he’ll train with the U.S. national squad in Breckenridge and Mammoth, California, for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where he’ll compete in both the slopestyle and half-pipe events, making him the only American male participating in both disciplines. Judging from his recent successes, Kenworthy is a favorite to bring home some serious hardware from Sochi.

Here, Kenworthy talks about new tricks and competing in the 2014 Olympics, and demystifies the life of a young, pro skier—it’s not all fancy cars and film premieres.

What do you like about park and pipe riding?
I like the freedom to do what you want to do. There are so many different axes that you can spin on as well as direction of spins and variations of grabs. There’s always something different you can try and it never gets old. The possibilities are endless.

What’s your favorite event—big air, slopestyle, or pipe?
Big air is kind of turning into my new favorite event. The formats are fun and with snowmobiles or elevators at the city big airs, you are able to hit the jump a ton in a short period of time. The crowd is always excited and you end up pushing yourself way harder than you expected and doing something crazy.

What’s this new trick you’ve been putting down recently?
It’s a double cork 1620 “blunt” grab, which just means that you’re grabbing your ski on the very tip of the tail. Other people have done double cork 16s before but they’ve always done it with mute grabs. Because the trick is such a big rotation, your body naturally wants you to let go of the grab and wrap up to get the spin around. The hardest part was just forcing myself to hold my ski the entire way through the rotation even though it’s a little awkward feeling.

What’s the hardest part of learning a new trick?
The hardest part about learning new tricks at this point is trying to do so safely. For the most part, there are no easy or safe tricks left. Many of the top guys, including myself, have been working on multiple variations of triple corks for the past couple of seasons. The major concerns with tricks like that is that in order to do one successfully you need a massive jump, which is essentially more dangerous. The chance of messing up and falling significantly increases when you’re flipping through the air three times while spinning and trying to grab your skis. Furthermore, many of these tricks have never been done before, so you’re visualizing it in your head and even though you understand how it’ll work, having never seen it done before, it’s hard to know for sure how it will play out.

Who is your biggest competition or rival?
It’s hard to say. In slopestyle, there are so many guys that kill it that it’s really anybody’s game at most events. Tom Wallisch is a pretty hard person to beat, as is Russ Henshaw and Bobby Brown. In pipe, I’d say my biggest opposition is myself. I don’t ever train half-pipe except for the short training sessions during events and, because of that, I have a really hard time consistently putting my runs down smoothly. I think if I got over my fears of pipe and was able to land my runs more frequently, then I would have a good chance at doing well in pipe, too.

What it was like when you first heard you’d made the U.S. Freeskiing team, the first one ever?
It was pretty exciting. I was actually driving from Telluride to Durango when I got the call. I was so giddy that I had to pull over and let it soak in for a second.

What are you most excited about with regards to competing in the Olympics?
The prospect of doing what I do with millions of people watching and potentially winning a medal for my country.

How do you feel about slopestyle and half-pipe being inducted into the 2014 Olympics?
I think that the inclusion of slopestyle and half-pipe is going to be a big step for our sport in a lot of ways, but it’s also concerning in other ways. For half-pipe there’s less to worry about—the pipe is always 22 feet tall and although the length varies to some degree, it’s always pretty much the same. One of the most exciting and unique parts of slopestyle is that every course is unique. You don’t really know what to expect when you show up at an event and it’s always fun trying to put a run together. I’m nervous that slopestyle will become regulated, that they will announce the course layout in advance, and countries will have athletes training on a replica set up all the way up to the event. That’s not what our sport is about and I just don’t want freeskiing to lose its integrity by becoming part of the Olympics.

What’s your favorite mountain and/or favorite place to ski?
My favorite mountain is probably Whistler. It’s the biggest resort in North America and the amount of skiable terrain is insane. They always get a ton of snow, their park and pipe are really fun, and the après ski is some of the best I’ve experienced.

Where’s the best park and pipe in the world?
I would probably say Breckenridge has the best park out of any resort. They build the best jumps, they have fun rails, and the pipe is well kept, too.

If you had an unlimited budget and time, what would your dream ski day be?
I know that most skiers would probably say heli-skiing or neck deep powder but I think I would choose a bunch of crazy park features set up for just me and my friends. Snowmobiles would be lapping us and the landings would be soft from the sun.

Who influenced your skiing growing up? How about now?
Growing up, TJ Schiller was my absolute idol. I bought the clothes he wore, tried the tricks he did, the whole nine yards. Now Tom Wallisch is one of my favorite skiers. I love his style and the runs he puts together at contests. I also admire his ability to put together such amazing film segments every year.

Describe a typical day in your life. Is it all big pimpin’?
It’s pretty mellow—it usually consists of waking up, showering, maybe eating something small, skiing all day, eating a lot, and going to bed. Going to the movies is one of my favorite things to do. I’d say I do that like three or four times a week.

What’s been the biggest change in your life over the last few years?
Everything has just gotten a little more hectic and the traveling has picked up a ton. It’s pretty crazy how much I’m traveling now and as much as I love it, it was also nice a few seasons ago only going to a few events and then getting to lap parks and have fun with my friends.

What’s been your biggest accomplishment so far and which meant the most to you?
It’s kind of hard to say, but last year’s World Skiing Invitational was the final event of the season and pretty much the culmination of every contest up until that point. They had an AFP awards dinner the last night of the event and I was able to walk away with the overall world title, which I fought hard to win all year. But I also won the big air event at WSI and the extra points allowed me to walk away with the AFP big air world champion title as well, which was a surprise and really exciting.

What are your goals for skiing?
I’ve definitely accomplished some of the goals I’ve made for myself but there are still a lot of others that I’m working toward. I want to win X Games medals in all of the different disciplines, win an Olympic medal in Sochi, and defend my title as the AFP overall world champion for many more years to come.

What’s on tap for this winter?
I’m planning on competing a ton, doing all the major events as well as making sure that I meet the required FIS points. I will also do some of the other not so big events and try to defend my AFP title. I’m also working on a solo film project at the moment. I’m still trying to work out all of the kinks. As of now the plan is to film as much as possible this season and do every different aspect of skiing that I can, i.e. urban, backcountry, park jumps, pipe, etc.

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