Interview: Gus Kenworthy

From the interview archives.

American freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy has been competing at the professional level for a number of years now and has taken home the AFP World Championship title from 2011-2013 and followed those up with a silver-medal at the Olympics in Sochi in 2014. With the PyeongChang Olympics just around the corner, VULKAN caught up with Gus to talk about his athletic inspirations and aspirations, his rigorous training regime and who his favourite skiers are to watch right now.

Who is your biggest athletic inspiration of all time?

It’s kind of always changing. Growing up, it was TJ Schiller, another skier. I basically wanted to be just like him. There were a ton of other skiers I looked up to and wanted to emulate but he was always my number one.

What is one trick you’re working on perfecting right now?

There are a few that I’m working on. In our sport, part of judging criteria is within variation of your tricks so in each run, you have to incorporate tricks where you’re spinning in multiple directions (to the left, the right and switch (backwards) left and switch right), the variation in the degree of spins and the axes that you are rotating on, etc. For me, spinning to the left is natural for me, the first way I learned all my tricks and the way that I’m most comfortable. I think I’m someone who is quite comfortable spinning both ways, but bigger rotations (like 1260s and 1440s to the right) are still scary for me sometimes, so I’m working on those at the moment. 

What do you do to silence that little voice that says “You can’t” or “you’re going to fall” when you’re gearing up to try a new trick or routine?

Honestly, I don’t do anything to silence that voice, I just try not to put too much emphasis on it. It’s inevitable that you will fall and you will get hurt in this sport. There’s no point in trying to deny that fact. Having fear keeps you in check and forces you to make smart decisions, it also helps keep all of the risks as calculated as possible. In the end, it’s kind of a “hope for the best, but prepare for the worst” situation, but once you’ve accepted that, it actually provides some comfort.

How much convincing did it take to get you to do that nude ski shoot? How cold were you really?

Actually, it didn’t take any convincing! That willingness to take my clothes off probably speaks volumes about me in all the wrong ways! I’ve always admired the Body issue and have always wanted to be a part of it. I love the way it showcases different types of athletic bodies and I feel like it changes perceptions of what it means to be “fit.” The photographers they use are incredibly talented and the images that they capture are always beautiful to me. When I was asked to be a part of this year’s issue, I think I might have accepted it a little too eagerly, ha! I was fully excited until a few days before the shoot when it hit me that I would actually have to be naked in the snow for hours with over a dozen strangers looking at me. In the end, it was an amazing experience. The awkwardness of getting naked in front of people disappeared about 15 minutes into the shoot. I ended up getting really sick afterward, but looking back at the images we created made the experience worthwhile. I’m proud of myself for going through with it.

 What do you think is one thing society needs to stop focusing on when it comes to public figures?

There’s such an emphasis on perfection and it’s just unachievable. Nobody is perfect. Especially when you’re seeing their lives filtered through the calculated construct that is someone’s social media channels. That kind of expectation creates insecurities for everyone. People are flawed but that is what makes them unique – that’s what is beautiful. I feel like we need to work to accept each other’s differences. Society has very little patience for people in the public eye. Since the Olympics and coming out, I’ve had a lot more eyeballs on me than I ever would have imagined, especially growing up in a tiny town of 2,000 people. I’ve made mistakes since then and said or done things I shouldn’t have, but I’ve never done anything with malice. I’ve made innocent mistakes. Sometimes it seems like people are waiting for you to slip up. My online audience are the first to raise me up, support me and adulate me when I’m doing well, but the first to let me know when I’ve made a mistake. I think we all need to have a little patience for each other and realize that we’re all doing the best we can. For me, I know I am still a kid in a lot of ways, and I’m trying to figure this out for the first time. There’s no guidebook on how to come out, how to be a public figure, how to do any of this. I’m bound to make mistakes, but I’m trying to be the best version of myself possible, lead by example and learn from them.

What’s the hardest part about keeping up your fitness regime?

The hardest part about keeping up with my fitness regime is just trying to fit working out into my schedule. Routine is honestly what gets the best results when it comes to reaching your fitness goals and traveling all the time makes it hard for me to be on a proper routine. You have to be able to adapt to keep up with it. Sometimes I’m in a proper gym, sometimes it’s a hotel gym, sometimes there’s no gym at all and I’ll do a bodyweight workout in a hotel room, or sometimes I’ll go for a run instead. It’s about making the effort and committing to putting the time in.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Who was it from and why was it so noteworthy?

When I was a kid, I was cliff jumping with family at a reservoir near where I grew up. I was scared to jump and had been standing on the edge for a while. My brother Hugh told me “The longer you wait, the harder it gets.” That’s proven to be true in many aspects of my life, whether it’s trying a new trick, coming out of the closet, making a first move with a crush – the longer you wait, the more you build things up in your head and the scarier they become. Sometimes you have to be quick and take that leap.

What are you thinking when you’re on a podium accepting a medal?

It’s kind of a mixture of happiness and relief. So much time goes into getting that podium from training and then waiting for your run that day, doing that run, landing it, etc. Once it’s all said and done and you’ve skied well, it’s just a huge relief to get the medal or trophy. That moment on the podium is over in a flash, so I always try and savor it, look around, take in my surroundings and shake hands with the other guys on the box with me. A lot of the time, I think about my mum. She always tells me she’s proud of me regardless of whether I win or lose and I know that’s true, but when I win, I really feel like I’m making her proud, I’m proud of myself.

Who’s your favourite skier to watch right now?

There are a bunch of skiers that I love watching right now, but there is this one Norweigian kid, Christian Nummedal who I just found out about a year ago and he’s one of my favorites at the moment. I’m just really stoked on his style and the way he skis.

What’s your preferred country to ride in?

It’s always fun to travel, but Colorado is still my favorite place to ski. I love feeling at home in a terrain park, knowing how the jumps feel, being comfortable with the speed for them, knowing how the rails slide and  the best lines to take through the park. In my opinion, Colorado builds some of the best parks in the world so I love being home to ski them.

What medal or competition do you have your sights on in the future?

The Olympics are in February and that’s the big push right now. They only happen every 4 years and this one will likely be my last, so I’m focusing on making the team, getting there healthy and putting down a run I’m proud of. X-Games and the Dew Tour are also a huge deal to me. I’ve won Dew Tour a couple of times and podiumed there, and at the X-Games, I have two silver medals and three bronze ones but never the gold. That would be nice.

What’s your go-to music to pump you up before a big competition?

Actually, I don’t have one song or album that I always listen to, it’s ever changing. When I’m tired or nervous, I need music to pump me up. Sometimes I’m over-excited and already too hyper so I need music to chill me out. I don’t listen to anything while I actually compete because I find it distracting, but when I’m getting ready in the morning, I have to listen to music. Two seasons ago, I listened to Miley Cyrus’ cover of Summertime Sadness before a big event, won it and then took it as a good sign and continued listening to it for the whole season.

At what age do you think young athletes should start training seriously if they think they want to compete at the Olympic level one day?

I think that kids who are coming up in skiing need to put less emphasis on the sponsors, the future, money, Olympics and all that stuff. Of course, it’s really great to have those dreams and to have ambition, but you’d be surprised how quickly it can change from a passion to an occupation. I would encourage any young skier to just enjoy the sport and remember why they love it. I didn’t ever think of skiing as a viable career when I was a kid, I just loved to ski and it was something I did with my friends and my brothers, so I did it as much as I possibly could. I worked hard to get better just because I wanted to be the best in my peer group and wanted to do the tricks the pros did. As my career started to come together, I saw an opportunity and I worked my ass off to do everything possible to nurture it. It was never about any of that stuff before I started though.

What’s your favourite piece of Ralph Lauren clothing to wear right now?

It’s kind of basic but there’s a really cozy black-and-white striped Polo pullover hoodie that I wear all the time. It’s just really comfortable and it’s thin and breathable, so I can wear it even when it’s warm out.

What’s your off season training like?

It kind of depends, honestly. Usually everyone flocks down to the Southern Hemisphere to ski in New Zealand and Australia. There are some events down there and a World Cup that happens in NZ, so it provides a good opportunity for people to stay on snow and work on new tricks. I didn’t go this year, so I just spent time in the gym. In October, I’ll be in Switzerland for a few weeks training on a glacier there. 

Hardest food to stay away from when you’re on a strict diet?

Sweets. I could eat ice cream or cupcakes every day. I didn’t have a sweet tooth at all as a child but now it’s almost insatiable. 

What’s one sport you wish you were as good at as you are skiing?

Surfing. I think surfing is honestly just one of the coolest sports in the world and the places you get to go for it are incredible. Golfing would also be cool just because it’s so difficult, it’s a social game and you can do it until you’re like 100. Hah.

What kind of career would you gravitate towards if you weren’t involved in sports?

I want to get into acting and doing on-camera hosting after skiing. As a kid, I did theater and it’s always been a dream of mine to be in movies, so it would honestly be a dream come true. I also like just talking and engaging with people, doing interviews and being on camera so I think having the opportunity to host a show or host events would be amazing.

What shows are you utterly addicted to right now?

I love all of these documentary shows like Making a Murderer. I just started The Keepers last night and I’m hooked.

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