For many skiers, receiving an invitation to compete at X Games is a lifelong goal. Some arrive at the big stage and compete only once. Others compete for years on end. One man currently en route to “X Games veteran” status: Gus Kenworthy. Kenworthy is scheduled to make his third X Games appearance this week. At 21 years of age, and showing no signs of slowing down, we suspect we’ll see him on the X Games stage for years to come.
Setting Gus apart from the rest of the field is the fact that this year and last, he received invitations to compete in all three freeskiing disciplines showcased at X: slopestyle, superpipe and big air. Gus is the only competitor to be invited to all three events this season. We checked in with the Telluride, CO native to discuss the difficulties of juggling three disciplines under freeskiing’s biggest spotlight.
Q&A with Gus Kenworthy
While some competitors are able to focus all their time and energy training for one discipline, you’re invited to X Games to compete in three, again. Is there one discipline you’ve been focusing on this year, or is the best strategy for you to split time between all three?
Juggling three events is definitely exhausting and because there aren’t any other people competing in three events, the schedule isn’t necessarily catered toward me. A few of the practice sessions coincide with one another and I have a few grueling days where I qualify in one event and, if I make it, have to compete in the finals of another.
My strategy is going to be to focus on pipe and slope, and not think about big air much until the actual event is underway. As long as I know the speed for the jump I don’t think that training is going to be as crucial as it’s going to be in the other two. I’ve been skiing at Breckenridge a lot and I’ve got a good idea of the tricks that I want to do in my slope run, as well as what my pipe run is going to be. I’m hoping that having a game-plan heading into training and sticking to it will help me get everything dialed quickly rather than spending a bunch of time feeling out the course, and then making up a run.
Kenworthy competes in the first of two US Grand Prix stops for 2013. Copper Mountain, CO.
With your schedule as chock full as it is, do you manage to rest your body, or is it an all-out battle for you until the fat lady sings?
I’ve been worrying about how my body is going to hold up throughout the week. I took two days off leading up to the first practice session on Tuesday, and I’m hoping that the small break will allow me to power through the week. I don’t have a whole lot of time off once things get going, but if I can sneak in some physio, eat well and get good sleep I will be alright to power through.
Having competed in all three events before, were you able to take some lessons away that will affect your strategy this time around?
I’m a pretty hot-blooded person and I think that last year I kind of let my emotions get in my way. A culmination of my nerves, not making pipe finals and then of course the devastating loss of Sarah Burke really affected the way I skied. I am definitely skiing for Sarah this weekend, as well as my late friend Hoot Brown—but this time when I’m on the hill, I’m going to do my best to clear my head and try and focus on the task at hand. We’ll see how it goes.
Competing in three events at X Games will get you some serious time in the media spotlight. How do your sponsors work with you at a time like this? Is there an expectation from those sponsors that you’ll be available to collaborate on marketing initiatives, etc? Is there an added pressure for you as a result?
So far my sponsors have been pretty mellow and definitely understand how busy and stressed I’m going to be throughout the event. I think that if there’s any added pressure, it’s mostly put on by myself. Having three opportunities to win a medal makes me feel more responsible to do so, both for myself and for my sponsors. That being said, it’s completely out of my hands what scores I receive and where I end up, so I’m just hoping to land my runs as best I can, and then keep my fingers crossed that I end up where I want to be.
At Dew Tour in Breckenridge we saw you bust out some impressive stunts during the big air event, including the double cork 16 tail. Do you have anything special up your sleeve for X?
I’ve got high hopes for big air but a lot of it will depend on how big the jump is, what other people are doing on it and how I’m feeling the night of the event. Big air is the one event where the athletes always end up doing more than they expected themselves to do. Last year’s jump didn’t allow for any of the skiers to do triples, but I think this year’s jump is going to be much bigger, and after last year’s JOI and the various spring photoshoots, there’s a much higher probability that we’re going to see people putting them down. Thinking about it definitely fills me with a mixture of nervousness and excitement, I think that’s a good sign.
Any predictions about who we’ll see on the various podiums?
These days it really seems like it’s a bit up in the air and we’re constantly seeing new faces in the top three. The rails seem pretty gnarly in this slopestyle course, so I think that Wallisch has a really good chance to end up near the top again. Bobby obviously has deep trick-bag and knows how to handle the pressure, so I’d put him up there too. Other than that I’d say Russ [Henshaw], [James] Woodsy, [Nick] Goepper, [Alex] Bellemare… There are a lot of good guys. [laughs] For pipe I’m thinking that Noah Bowman is going to do well, he has a really unique run and I have a good feeling he’ll lay it down smoothly. [Mike] Riddle has been killing it this season, too, and despite coming back from an injury, Torin [Yater-Wallace] is obviously a serious contender. For big air, it’d be pretty hard to bet against Kai Mahler, I think he’s got a strong chance to land on the podium. If triples are going down, then Bobby and Russ are going to be ones to watch as well—not that they wouldn’t be otherwise.
*Jossi Wells is invited to big air, and is an alternate for both superpipe and slopestyle. If the cards fall the right way, we could see Jossi competing in all three X events this season, too.