Gus Kenworthy has had one hell of a year. On top of becoming a father of two (dogs) and competing all over the map in three disciplines—Kenworthy added an Olympic silver medal and yet another AFP Overall World Champion crown to his extensive trophy collection. Most recently, the Telluride native inked a deal with Monster Energy. Shay Williams, Monster Marketing Manager and former FREESKIER editor sat down with Kenworthy to welcome him to the crew and discuss various elements of his prestigious career. Check out the conversation below.
Photos provided by Shay Williams.
It’s the weekend. A warm and balmy day in Denver, CO. Gus Kenworthy and I stop for lunch at the Beast & Bottle restaurant in Denver’s Uptown district. The Olympic silver medalist and defending AFP World Champion looks rested and relaxed.
How has your summer been? You’ve been home for awhile, right?
Yeah, summer has been good. It’s definitely more time off snow than I’ve had in past years. I went up to Whistler for a Sony shoot and have been to a few weddings, which was fun. But otherwise, I’ve been hanging in Denver, taking care of the dogs.
Do you like having a break?
I think I’ve always been someone who’s been prone to skiing a lot because I love it. Anybody that knows me knows that I’m really keen to go ski. I just love skiing. But it’s been nice to have a break, for sure. Last summer, the longest I was off snow was two weeks. I was in Whistler the whole summer, then had a little bit of a break, then I was in NZ for a while; I went down there twice. Then I did the city big airs and everything. So really, I skied the entire year. It’s been a nice change of pace to not worry about it.
Do you think that a lot of the guys aren’t skiing as much this summer because they are burnt out?
I think people are definitely burnt out, especially after this year. It was so much packed into such a short period of time. Especially if you’re from the US. We had so many qualifying events that were so tight in the scheduling that it was a lot going on in a short period of time. It was really stressful. And if you did go to the Olympics, it was just a lot. A lot of travel, a lot of events. It was a lot to handle mentally. I think once it was over a lot of people felt like they had a weight off their shoulders. For me, I still skied, but not quite as much as I normally would. And once summer rolled around, I felt like I had worked hard all year and kind of been stressed because of it, so it was nice to really clear my mind and do nothing.
Some people took a serious break after the Olympics, but it seems like you wanted to keep skiing.
I think I always have and I didn’t want to treat this year differently because of the Olympics. I still wanted to do the other events that I would have done regardless. I love those events. I just tried to fill my season out the same way I always have. It worked out for me. But I didn’t want to think because I got second in Russia that it warranted me doing nothing. I did ski less than normal, but still was on snow more than some other people.
Kenworthy dialing it in.
I grew up in Telluride, CO. When I moved out of my parent’s place, I moved to Breckenridge with Bobby [Brown] and Kolby [Ward] and just never really left Colorado. I’ve traveled a lot but Colorado has been my home base. I knew I didn’t want to live in Breckenridge year ’round and Telluride is too far away. I wanted to be somewhere that things were happening and that was easy to travel from. Honestly, I have my friends in Denver, too. Bobby lives here, his girlfriend Nikki lives here. My Nike team manager Jake [Largess] lives here. My brother and his wife live here. It still felt close to home.
Is it important to stay grounded and be close to your family and friends?
It’s been hard to stay in touch with everyone I grew up with. As everyone knows when you go to different schools, work and move, it’s hard to stay in touch. But it’s always been important to me, so I’m trying to stay connected with old friends and my family. I don’t talk to them everyday, but it’s nice to be able to jet back to Telluride to see them.
You grew up in Telluride. How’d you get into park and pipe?
I got into park when I was 11. That was the first year they [Telluride] started to build a park. I had been doing moguls up until that point. Both of my brothers were getting into the park scene, too. They had bought a couple of DVDs, 13 and Supershow. Those were the first two ski moves we had and we watched them all of the time. They would try and be like the guys in the movies and I would try and be like them. They would go out and I’d just follow them around and one up them any way that I could. I just decided that I really liked doing that a lot more than moguls. Eventually, my parents agreed that I could stop skiing moguls. I think I started skiing halfpipe when I was 15—I used to try to register for the US Open. Anyone back then would remember that registration filled up in like three minutes or something. I used to sit at my computer and try to register. Slopestyle would always fill up first, so the first year I went I was only able to register with a slope and pipe package. My parents said, “Well we’re paying for you, so we want you to try and do both events.” That was my first time skiing pipe. The next year I went to the Aspen Open. I was at school and asked my Dad if he’d register me and he registered for both events thinking I wanted to do both.
So you kind of fell into halfpipe.
Yeah. The next year I went back to the Aspen Open. The first event there was halfpipe and I ended up winning which was kind of random. I just learned some tricks in practice and put a run together. I wasn’t expecting it. There were a guys like Walter Wood and Byron Wells who I was surprised to do well against. Slopestyle was a couple of days later. I ended up winning that, too. Because of the two wins, it got me a little bit of attention, so I just decided that I was always going to do both. I had never really put any work into it and it was paying off, so I figured I’d keep doing it.
Is that the year you made the collarbone edit?
That was the next year, I think. Yeah, that sucked. I broke my collarbone on the last feature of the Dew Tour course in qualifying. It was the best run I’d ever landed all the way through the jumps and I fell on the last rail. I have a really hard time staying off my skis when I’m hurt, so made a little edit. But it actually sucked because I didn’t do well enough to get invited to the other Dew Tour stop, and I didn’t have an X Games spot or anything. If I hadn’t broken my collarbone, I think things would have been different.
Things seemed to have worked out.
Everything works out in some way or another.
Because the pressure is off this year, will you try and focus on pipe a little more?
I don’t really know. I haven’t thought about it. Pipe scares me, man. Last year I focused on it because I really wanted to go to the Olympics for both events. Our criteria was two podiums out of the five qualifying events. I was the fourth out of the four of us that did it, based on the way the points worked out. But the fourth spot is the coaches’ discretion and they gave it to Torin [Yater-Wallace]. That really sucked for me. I felt like I risked my health doing both events at all of the stops. If I knew that I could have just focused on slope and not risked it, I maybe would have been a little more rested—but it worked out fine. But, I ran that risk and I felt so confident, but then I had that taken away from me. That was frustrating. I think I was so frustrated at X Games that I had considered pulling out of pipe, but I wanted to give a f-you to the guys on the team for not putting me there. I set the amplitude bar for the night at like 22 feet on an alley pop double. I didn’t fully put the run together, I fell on the last hit, but it was fun. It was scary. I don’t think I’m going to change my pipe run for the next little while. I want to land that run and get the consistent amplitude, but I don’t think I’ll change what I’m doing. [Laughs]. My approach to pipe is to never ski it.
Do you think that you have to kind of have to be scared of pipe?
I think some people are balls to the wall. Joffrey [Pollet-Villard], Wing Tai Barrymore—they aren’t reckless, but they go fast and really big. They aren’t scared. That’s not me. That was my approach at X last year because I felt like I had something to prove. But I don’t go big, it scares me. I don’t want to deck out and hurt myself. Those guys have the same concerns, but their whole focus is on pipe—their entire career is around pipe. They don’t have as much room to be scared. But I don’t want to get hurt because I’m doing slope and big air. For me, pipe is the least of my priorities, but I’m trying to get over that.
How do you feel when the schedules are compressed, but you have to focus on three events?
X Games is stressful. The schedule is hard. One event’s training is happening during another’s qualifying, so I don’t get as much time. But I’ve come to realize that halfpipes don’t change that much and my pipe run definitely doesn’t change that much. So, I think I can get away with less pipe training. I do a few straight airs, see how the pipe is different from the last one. Do my warm up tricks and I’m kind of good to go. Slope takes a little more time. You have to pick your line, choose your rail tricks. I don’t know, it’s all stressful and it takes a toll. I’m so beat after X Games every year—and this year after X Games I drove to Denver and flew to Russia. [Laughs].
You’re the only one who does all three now, since Jossi [Wells] wasn’t in pipe last year.
He’ll be back in it next year I’d think, after the Olympics. There aren’t that many guys though. Jossi used to do it and will do them all if he gets invited. But it’s hard to compete in all three. Lyman [Currier] is good at both—and [Aaron] Blunck is starting to do some slopestyle, but I don’t think they’ll have invites to both. I’m not trying to toot my own horn, but it’s hard. It’s stressful.
In the history of X Games there aren’t many people that have medaled in both.
I know, God, I want to medal in both so badly.
It’s pretty rare.
It’s awesome that people have done it, but doing it now is totally different. I’m not taking away from anyone, but it was a different time. I think it’s so difficult now.
Are you going to do Freestyle.CH, the possible Air and Style in LA and other events like that?
For sure. I always compete. I love doing contests. Counting the different disciplines, I did 43 contests in one season or something. I went to every one that I could physically make it to. I don’t think I’m going do that again necessarily, but I’ll compete a lot. [Laughs] Dew Tour, X Games, any Grand Prix events. I didn’t know about that Air and Style thing, but if I got invited, I’d definitely do that. Dumont Cup, WSI and I’ll be going to the Euro Open.
Are you excited to watch anyone ski this year?
Sammy Carlson. I’m looking forward to [him]. I loved watching Sammy ski when I was younger. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with a full year in the backcountry. His Real Ski part from last year was insane and that was only a couple months at the beginning of the year. Tom [Wallisch] is one of my favorite people to watch ski, so I’m looking forward to that. Bobby for sure. He didn’t do X this year because he was hurt and had an unfortunate go at the Olympics. But, he’s so good he’ll kill it. Also stoked to watch Maggie Voisin. She was crushing and got hurt in practice the Olympics, but she had potential to win, or at least podium. I’m stoked to watch her kill it. Other people are just loose cannons. I never know what Henrik Harlaut is going to do but I’ll be stoked to watch it.
Are you excited to see what kind of headwear Henrik brings to the contests?
Dude. He’s a riot.
Maybe not this year, but anything in the works for your own media?
I do a lot of stuff with my friends Robin [MacDonald] and George [Knowles]. Both are super good filmers and editors. They have great ideas. Robin has a bunch of ideas for shoots that haven’t really been done in skiing yet. Things that are close to my heart and with sponsors I have now, maybe we can do some of them. I don’t want to give away anything but they are cool shoots. Maybe a couple minutes long, but they are cool. I really like filming.