Longtime X Games star Gus Kenworthy confirms retirement after Olympics

Former Telluride resident will compete in his final X Games Aspen halfpipe skiing contest on Sunday

Gus Kenworthy hits the first jump during his final run in the men’s ski slopestyle qualifying event at X Games Aspen on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, at Buttermilk Ski Area.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

One of the most beloved and outspoken X Games athletes in history is ready to cross the finish line. Gus Kenworthy, who grew up partially in Telluride, confirmed that this week’s contest at Buttermilk Ski Area and next month’s Winter Olympics in China will be the last of his storied career.

The multi-disciplined skier spoke Tuesday as part of a pre-X Games Aspen press conference with reporters via Zoom.

“Yeah, these are going to be the last two competitions of my career. I am very excited for them,” Kenworthy said. “I don’t have any gold, and it’s always, always, always been my dream to win X Games gold, so that is very much what I’m going to be fighting for this weekend and also in Beijing.”

The 30-year-old Kenworthy is headed to his third Olympic Games, but his first representing Great Britain, his mother’s native land. He won silver in slopestyle skiing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and took 12th in the same event at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. He’ll likely compete in the halfpipe next month in China.

Kenworthy also has five X Games medals to his name, including two silver. He won both at X Games Aspen in 2016, one each in slopestyle and halfpipe. His bronze medals all came overseas: Tignes 2013 in slopestyle, and Oslo 2016 in both big air and halfpipe. As he brought up, he’s never won that coveted gold medal at X Games.

His finish this winter looked in doubt even a few weeks ago. Kenworthy said he suffered a concussion back in October and spent time working with UCLA doctors — he now lives in Los Angeles — on treatment. He then got the delta variant of COVID-19 and had to miss a couple of contests this winter, his only World Cup appearance being the Copper Mountain Grand Prix in December, of which he finished last in qualifying.

“There was a moment that I was nervous that even having my Olympic spot I might not be able to do it, because at that moment I really couldn’t ski,” Kenworthy said. “I’ve been in Copper for the last like 10 days training and I have done all of the tricks that I need to do in my run now. I haven’t put it all together, but I’m feeling pretty good. I’m feeling more confident. I don’t know if I feel 100%, but I feel 90% and if there is ever a time to give it my all, it’s right now.”

Kenworthy will compete in Sunday night’s men’s halfpipe skiing contest (6:30 p.m.) alongside Aspen local Alex Ferreira, a two-time X Games Aspen champion and the reigning Olympic silver medalist, and the rest of a strong U.S. contingent that includes Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, Winter Park’s Birk Irving and Nevada’s David Wise. New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, who won X Games gold last winter, is also expected to compete.

Gus Kenworthy competes in the 2018 U.S. Grand Prix and Olympic qualifier slopestyle event at Snowmass Ski Area.
Anna Stonehouse/Aspen Times archive

Entering the week, there were no plans for Kenworthy to compete in either slopestyle or big air.

Kenworthy, who is openly gay, was also planning to take part in aspects of Aspen Gay Ski Week over the coming days before dropping into the Buttermilk superpipe for one final contest here in Aspen on Sunday.

While there are a handful of big names — notably Shaun White, Chloe Kim and Eileen Gu — who have decided to sit out X Games this week out of injury and COVID-19 concerns ahead of the Olympics, Kenworthy said that wasn’t an option he had on the table.

“It was never a question. This is my last season doing this. X Games is just as important to me as the Olympics,” Kenworthy said. “I do think for a lot of athletes that chose not to come this year, it was a really hard decision. I don’t think any of those decisions came lightly and I don’t think any of those people didn’t want to do X Games or didn’t care about X Games. I think they did, but for whatever different reason, they didn’t want to risk it, whether it be injury or COVID or whatever. I think that was a calculation a lot of people had to make and I know it was a really, really tough decision for a lot of people to make. But it was no question for me.”