Wells and Kenworthy prepare to compete in all three disciplines at Winter X Games 16

Comments by Henrik Lampert/

ESPN recently announced its updated athlete roster for the upcoming Winter X Games 16 in Aspen, CO. Of all the athletes who are slated to compete, two in particular stand out from the rest: Jossi Wells and Gus Kenwowrthy. Why? Because they're both competing in all three disciplines: slopestyle, big air and superpipe.

Earning a single X Games invitation is difficult enough. An invitation to compete in all three disciplines solidifies an athlete's spot as one of the most well-rounded skiers in the world. We reached out to Wells and Kenworthy to see how they're preparing for X, and to inquire how they manage the demands of juggling three different events in a sport that is becoming more discipline-focused year after year.

GUS KENWORTHY

FS: Where does X Games rank for you on the event roster in terms of importance?

GK: X Games is not only the most important event to me, I would say that it's the pinnacle event in our sport. Because the number of invited riders is so limited, the skiers in each discipline are the best of the best and it really adds a dramatic feel to the whole competition. The size of the crowds in Aspen are unrivaled at any other ski event and when you combine that with prime-time television opportunities, a massive cash purse and a venue and course that are meticulously put together, it truly stands out as the premier freeskiing event.

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Kenworthy en route to a 4th place finish at the Dew Tour in Breck. Photo by Shay Williams.

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You competed in slope last year. How does it feel to be invited to all three X disciplines this time around?

I am ecstatic to be invited to all three disciplines! It's been a long-time dream to be able to ski at every freeskiing event in the X Games and I was literally on cloud nine when I got my last two invites.  Last year was my first time competing at X and I felt pretty confident heading into semis and ended up qualifying 2nd. In finals a combination of the change in light and speed and my nerves got the better of me and I wasn't able to put down a full run. This year I feel a lot more solid and I think that having slopestyle at night will eliminate a lot of the factors that can plague it during the day. Plus I'm stoked to have pipe and big air to help keep me distracted. I think it will be a much better year for the Gus-man.

You say that pipe and big air will help "distract you." Can you elaborate? Whereas many athletes have only one discipline to focus on, you have three to worry about. How do you find a balance in your approach, training regimen, etc?

I feel like competing in all three events will be both a blessing and a curse. While it will definitely keep me occupied and keep my mind from getting too hung up on each event, it is also going to be exhausting going back and forth from one to the next with training, qualifying and hopefully finals. I'm just hoping that I'm still in good form by the end of the weekend. 

Explain a bit about what you've been doing in terms of preparation for X.

I came back to Telluride for the holidays and I've just been hanging out here for a little while since. It was great to get some rest and to see old friends but now it's time to gear up and make sure I'm ready for the upcoming events. I'm driving up to Breckenridge tomorrow and I'm planning on skiing there for the next week and getting a few new tricks dialed in for slopestyle before the Killington Dew Tour. Hopefully I can spend a bit of time in the pipe there too because I leave on the 13th for Whistler for a pipe comp, the North Face PPOS, and then I go straight to Killington afterward.

I think I might get one day to ski between Killington and Aspen but I think that I'll probably just end up resting before X. It's definitely a pretty busy schedule and doesn't really allow that much time to train, but I feel pretty confident and I've already got some runs figured out in my head so hopefully when I get to Aspen I can start piecing everything together and it will all will work out.

You touched on this earlier, but for the first time ever the slopestyle will be held under the lights. What are your thoughts on the change, and what sort of challenges and/or opportunities will this present?

As I said, I definitely think that hosting the slopestyle event under the lights is going to present a lot more opportunities than anything else. For the first time in X Games history slopestyle will take place during a prime-time television slot and allow us to showcase our sport to a much broader audience. It will also eliminate shadows on the landings and speed changes on the course. Plus, I think that it is going to be a lot of fun for the riders. Big airs and rail jams usually take place at night under the lights so I'm really excited to see how they'll combine the two and light up an entire run in Aspen.

Who do you see as the biggest threat in each discipline right now?

For slopestyle I would say that Bobby Brown has one of the deepest trick bags out of anybody in the game and because he had a hard time in Breckenridge at the first Dew Tour I think he's going to be hungrier than ever come X Games. Apart from him I think that [Tom] Wallisch is obviously a huge contender for the win. His landings, his rail prowess and the technicality of his jumps are going to make him someone to watch out for, for sure. In the halfpipe Kevin Rolland's results from the past couple seasons make it hard to vote on anyone else but I am going to have to give it to Justin Dorey. He's had like six WXG appearances in Aspen and he's never been able to make it onto the podium and I feel like this year is his year to win it. He goes huge, he spins both ways like a madman and he grabs every hit in his run. I would love to see Bone take it home this year.

As far as big air it's kind of anybody's game. It's a jam format which makes it a lot of fun and a pleasure to watch but it also opens up the door for anybody to slip in and grab the win. I think that there's a good chance we will see some never before done tricks and if the jump is big enough probably even some triple corks. The fall big air events make me lean toward Elias [Ambühl] or Kai Mahler and I definitely think they both have the potential to get onto the podium.

JOSSI WELLS

FS: Where does X Games rank for you on the event roster in terms of importance?

JW: X Games is for sure the most important event of the season. It has a huge hype and competing there is unlike any other contest. The atmosphere is amazing.

You've been in this scenario before, but now you're bouncing back from injury. How does it feel to be back on your game, and to be invited to all three X disciplines once again?

Feels good to be invited back for all three. This will be my 3rd year competing in all three disciplines. It's definitely a really busy schedule, but I've experienced it before so I know what to expect. I thrive off that pressure and chaos. I love being busy.

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Jossi tests the jumps during prelims at the Dew Tour at Breck. Photo by Shay Williams.

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How do you go about finding a balance in your training? Juggling three events is certainly a handful.

My entire career I have focused on all disciplines, so it's become natural over the years to learn how to break my time up between them. For me, I see a lot of similarities that cross over, different aspects that I like about each one. I try and use that as an advantage and bring in all those aspects to my skiing.

What have you been doing recently to prepare for X?

I have been skiing here in Keystone and Breckenridge pretty much every day that it's been good enough weather. I'm quite over all the holidayers and their lift lines though [laughs].

The slopestyle will be held under the lights this year for the first time ever. What are your thoughts on the change, and what sort of challenges and/or opportunities will this present?

Having slopestyle under the lights will be amazing. Skiing at night is always such a cool atmosphere and I think the crowd really enjoys it, too. It will make it more of a quote unquote show. Also, it's going to be really good for us riders, because we will actually be able to see the landings of the jumps. Finals are always late afternoon in the shade, and it's always been super tough to spot your landings. With the lights, it's going to be much better for us.

Who do you see as the biggest threat in each discipline right now?

I hate calling out who are the biggest threats. Everyone nowadays is skiing so well that it seems unfair to just name one. In saying that, I'll give you a rough top 3 for each. Slope: Sammy Carlson, Bobby Brown and Tom Wallisch are all riding super well right now. Pipe: Kevin Rolland, Simon Dumont and Justin Dorey. Big Air: Elias Ambühl, Bobby Brown and Kai Mahler. I would love to see Henrik Harlaut murder it, too. I'm a huge fan of Henrik's jumping and his focus on style.

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