TELLURIDE – The Winter X Games launch today in Aspen, marking the start of extreme sports’ preeminent winter event. More than 200 of freestyle skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling’s most daring athletes will converge on the courses at Buttermilk starting today, and among them will be none other than local freeskiing luminary Gus Kenworthy, from Telluride.
Kenworthy will be in the line-up alongside the world’s top 16 ski slopestyle competitors today, as the men’s ski slopestyle elimination and final events kick off the four-day competition schedule.
But today’s slopestyle competition won’t be the last we see of our hometown ski hero.
Kenworthy is qualified for all three skiing events, joining New Zealander Jossi Wells as one of only two male ski athletes qualified in all three freeskiing disciplines of Big Air, Slopestyle and Superpipe in for Winter X Games 2012.
It is, in the words of his mother, Pip Kenworthy, “a big deal” to be competing at X Games – freeskiing’s most highly touted competition. To have qualified in all three events could then, likely, be considered a colossal deal.
“We’re just as nervous as he is,” she said earlier this week from Telluride, just before she and Kenworthy’s father Peter and a group of left for Aspen to watch the competition.
Today’s contest follows a string of strong finishes from this Telluride-bred skier, who learned his first tricks in local terrain parks under the tutelage of Telluride Ski and Snowboard Club coaches. Earlier this month, Kenworthy snagged top honors at
The North Face Park and Pipe Open Series in Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada, clinching his share of the $10,000 winners’ cash purse in the process. A series of strong finishes has further bolstered Kenworthy’s already dominant reputation this season, and he currently sits at the top of the Association of Freeskiing Professionals’ leaders’ list for the 2011/12 ski season.
But as is the case with almost any professional athlete, Kenworthy’s recent rise to eminence has had its setbacks. Last winter, at his X Games debut, Kenworthy surprised the field by placing second in the slopestyle qualifying round, but crashed in the finals. That didn’t stop him from qualifying for the finals at the European X Games slopestyle event last winter in France, then clawing his way into the top ten at the first-ever FIS Slopestyle World Championships – establishing himself as one of the skiers at the forefront of the fast-evolving sport of slopestyle skiing. He was one of ten skiers nominated to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s first freeskiing slopestyle national team in November, joining such luminaries as Bobby Brown, Sammy Carlson, Alex Schlopy and Tom Wallisch on a team that is considered a favorite for the gold, with slopestyle included for the first time in the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014 (as is ski Superpipe).
Despite the hype surrounding the two sports’ coming debuts at the Olympics, the mood at this year’s Winter X Games will be somber, for the entire freeskiing community, still moutning the Jan. 19 death of women’s freeskiing trail blazer Sarah Burke, a four-time X Games gold medalist in the Superpipe and one of the sport’s most iconic women. Burke died from injuries sustained in a crash on a training run in Park City, Utah.
Pip Kenworthy said the tight-knit freeskiing community was “absolutely devastated” by Burke’s death.
“They all skied together; she was an incredible girl who will be sorely missed. It’s hard to pull yourself back up after something like that,” she said. “This year’s X Games will certainly be a tribute to her.”