Throughout it all, local freeskier Gus Kenworthy soulfully searched for his place in the X Games limelight. And while that perfect run eluded him, Kenworthy’s performances in three different disciplines established this Telluride-bred skier as one of the industry’s best, as he knocked on the podium door in two X Games events taking fourth place in ski slopestyle and fifth in big air.
The biggest highlight of this X Games sophomore’s experience was Thursday night’s ski slopestyle competition, he says, which was held under the lights at night for the first time ever. Another first was competitor Tom Wallisch’s record score of 96 points, establishing the field to be one of the toughest in recent memory. Kenworthy threw down a nearly flawless first run in Thursday’s slopestyle finals, his score of 89 putting him into the lead for a while. But fellow competitors Andreas Hatveit and Nick Goepper came knocking, while Wallisch’s run proved hard to beat.
Kenworthy went big in Saturday’s big air contest too, but again he fell just degrees behind 2010 big air champ (and good pal) Bobby Brown, who finished first ahead of 16-year-old Swiss rookie Kai Mahler in second, Kiwi Jossi Wells in third, and Sammy Carlson in fourth. He did not make it past the elimination round for the ski superpipe event on Friday.
Although he admits he was disappointed he wasn’t able to climb onto the podium this year, Kenworthy remained upbeat. He was one of only two male skiers to qualify for all three freeski events and the opportunity to compete in all three was certainly an honor, he said.
“I didn’t do as well as I would have like to, but it was still fun,” he said on Tuesday from Telluride, where he was home for a short respite before shouldering his skis and launching out once again into the hectic life of a pro skier. After a superpipe film shoot in Aspen with his sponsor Armada skis, Kenworthy will head back to his training grounds in Breckenridge for some training before leaving for his next Dew Tour competition in Utah. He’ll make a return trip to X Games Europe, then will be on the ski film tour with shoots in the Idaho backcountry with Smith Optics (Matchstick Productions will be there too,) after which he may then head to Alaska, Keystone, Steven’s Pass, and more for springtime film shoots.
Although he didn’t land a podium this year as hoped, Kenworthy’s dad, Peter, said the experience only makes his son a stronger competitor. “A fourth and a fifth at X Games is nothing to complain about,” Peter said. “I think it just fuels Gus’ desire to make it onto the podium in that event someday. He’s just a hair away… He’s just now hitting his peak, and he has plenty of time ahead of him.”
For Gus, freeskiing isn’t merely something he does; it is a part of who he is. While the stress of competing at such a high-level event would seem overwhelming, Kenworthy is characteristically nonchalant about the pressure of being in the sport’s spotlight.
“It’s an incredibly talented, deep field I’m competing against, but there’s this friendly camaraderie about it, with everyone rooting each other on. So while mentally it’s a little harder since [X Games] is the biggest event, as far as wrapping my head around skiing the course or competing against these guys, it’s pretty similar to other events,” Gus said.
This year’s event was different only in who was not, sadly, in attendance. As Kenworthy explains, the freeskiing community is extremely close, and the news of female freeskiing luminary Sarah Burke’s death only days before competitors started arriving in Aspen was difficult for everyone in this tight-knit family to swallow.
“It definitely made for a different atmosphere,” he said, “but it wasn’t a grievous occasion. It was more a celebration of her, and what she has done for the sport.”