Top- ranked slopestyle skier Kenworthy is his sport’s first openly gay athlete
aspen » It’s not that different, switching between the jumps of a slopestyle course and the steep walls of a halfpipe, says Gus Kenworthy, Colorado’s triple- threat freeskier who will compete in three events this week at Aspen’s X Games. “Once you have the feel for it, the tricks are the same,” the 24- year- old Olympian said Wednesday. “It’s about changing your perspective and adjusting to transitions.”
A decorated freeskier, Kenworthy announced a major transition last fall. He came out as gay, cementing his position as a freeskiing pioneer both on and off the snow.
After being insecure and “hiding for a super- long time,” Kenworthy hoped that coming out would lift a weight off his shoulders. It appears so, as he is skiing better than ever and embraces his new role as his sport’s first openly gay professional.
Revealing his true self has liberated theworld’s top- ranked slopestyle skier.
“It’s been a really great experience,” Kenworthy said from the base of Buttermilk Mountain. “It’s been nice to live authentically and not have to worry about it.”
Kenworthy, who won silver in Russia’s burly Olympic slopestyle course in 2014 but made bigger headlines when he rescued a litter of stray pups fromthe mountain village of Krasnaya Polyana, brought his new boyfriend, a New York actor, to Aspen for his firstever X Games.
“Iwas telling him today I don’t think I’ve ever been happier at X,” said Ken--
worthy, who grew up in Telluride but has just one medal ( bronze) in five trips to the Aspen X Games.
For the high- flying skier with four overall world titles since 2011, he is certainly soaring as he entersWinter X Games fray, skiing halfpipe finals Thursday, big air Saturday and slopestyle Sunday.
Kenworthywon the DewTour slopestyle contest in Breckenridge in December. He took the halfpipe title at last week’s Mammoth Grand Prix.
After major knee surgery last season, Kenworthy spent just eight days on snow before heading into the DewTour at Breckenridge in December, the first event of the freeskiing season.
He took his second consecutive Breckenridge slopestyle gold with double- cork spins in all directions and technical tricks on the rails. His 10- month recovery from knee surgery was a nonissue.
He didn’t push his return to snow, but he didn’t dally either.
“I waited 10 months, and then my first day back I was doing the tricks I was doing when I got hurt,” he said. “It didn’t really bother me. It feels great.”
His peace of mind will be tested this week in Aspen, where theworld’s top skiers and snowboarders are gathering for the 20th X Games. For the first time at X Games, there won’t be qualifying contests for riders in the halfpipe and slopestyle competitions — meaning there won’t be any chance to ease into the highest- profile event of the season.
Kenworthy counts the practice sessions — such as Wednesday night under the lights in the 22- foot Buttermilk halfpipe where hewas boosting higher than any other skiers on his final hit — as his training. He’s a slopestyle skier renowned for his smooth tricks, which include rotating twice ( double cork) while spinning as many as 3 ½ times ( a 1260) in all four directions, ( switch and forward, both left and right.)
Michael Spencer, Kenworthy’s longtime agent, said his friend “is looking at things a little differently.”
“That’s only natural,” Spencer said. “But there are also some newpressures he hasn’t experienced.”
Kenworthy said he gets a lot of notes and letters fromfans, especially peoplewho are struggling with their identity and revealing their sexual orientation.
He has more than just skiers watching him, said Debra Pollock, the head of the GLBT Community Center of Colorado.
“He’s providing inspiration and courage to youth who are in the same position and who don’t feel they can be theirwhole self,” said Pollock, who has invitedKenworthy to serve as grand marshal for the group’s massive Denver PrideFest parade in June. “When you can bring your whole self to work orwhatever your passion, you are going to go better and that’swhat’s happening to Gus. He’s definitely blown open a door.”
Kenworthy, who lives in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, welcomes his new role as an inspiration to people beyond the world of skiing.
“I definitely feel like there are more eyes on me … but I don’t think it has put more pressure onme, because I think those people are supportive of me thoroughly. So whether or not I do well, they don’t really care. I think that’s a good pressure anyway. It’s the pressure that helps you,” he said. “That’s very different from the pressure you put on yourself.”
He said he was nervous after making the announcement, worried about what it would do to sponsorship deals ( he hasn’t lost any) and his relationships with the other riders and judges.
Everyone has been “super supportive,” Kenworthy said of his fellowcompetitors, a testosterone- laden lot.
“I’ll hear someone say, ‘ Oh, man, that’s so gay’ and then be like, ‘ Oh, no. Itwasn’t.’ And I’ll say: ‘ It’s all good. Thanks for catching yourself,’ ” Kenworthy said. “At least they are trying.”
“He’s providing inspiration and courage to youthwho are in the same position andwho don’t feel they can be theirwhole self. … He’s definitely blown open a door. ” Debra Pollock, head of the GLBT Community Center of Colorado
Gus Kenworthy catches some air during a practice runWednesday night at ButtermilkMountain in preparation for the X Games.
Gus Kenworthy, answering a questionWednesday during a news conference, brought his new boyfriend to Aspen for the X Games. Brent Lewis, The Denver Post