Telluride, Colorado, with its steeps, backcountry access, and lack of a halfpipe, is better known for breeding mountaineers than park skiers. But for 22-year-old Gus Kenworthy, who snagged the third spot on the men's Olympic slopestyle ski team for the USA—and was just a few points away from a spot on the halfpipe team, too—growing up in that southern Colorado hub of big-mountain skiing has made him creative, unafraid, and ready to step up to Sochi.
Kenworthy is, by the numbers, the most well-rounded freeskier on the planet. He's won the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) world title for the past three years in a row, which is as long as they've been giving out the honor. He's scored the most cumulative points at AFP events because he's consistently at the top of both the halfpipe and slopestyle rankings, which is rare. At that high of a level, most athletes specialize and focus on one discipline because the tricks have become so technical. On the men's side, aside from Kenworthy, only teammates Lyman Currier and Devin Logan are double threats (though none of them will compete in multiple disciplines in Sochi).
Kenworthy says he started competing in both pipe and slope as a kid because he always had to travel for competitions. "Growing up in Telluride, we never had big jumps, but we always had a ton of rails," he says. "I only started skiing pipe when I came to events, because slope events would fill up really quickly, but they'd offer a package for pipe and slope, so I'd just sign up for that and I'd be like, 'I paid for it, I might as well do it.'"
That attitude has served him well, and he's carried it through his skiing career. He's spent the last few seasons competing and skiing year round, which has helped him stay on top. He's also been relatively injury free, aside from a broken collarbone. He's competitive, diverse, and innovative. In the summer of 2012, he did the first-ever double flip off of a rail. He says that he skis slopestyle more than pipe, but that he thinks the training and the tricks carry over. He doesn't think that he's had to sacrifice one discipline for another, and he's found time to compete in X Games Big Air events too. He says that his biggest career disappointment so far is that he's never won X Games gold.
Kenworthy is a stylish enough skier that he's been tapped for ski movies, too, which can be rare for competition skiers. He's had segments in Matchstick Productions’ "Superheroes of Stoke," "Attack of La Niña," and "The Way I See It."
In Sochi, Kenworthy will have to battle his best friend, Bobby Brown, for slopestyle gold. He was hoping to qualify for both teams, and almost did, but now that he's focusing solely on slope, he's likely to be even more of a threat. "The Olympics have been a lifelong dream even before it was involved in our sport, and ever since it has been I've wanted to go. It just feels really, really good," he says.
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