Up For The Challenge
BOA Athlete Sage Kotsenburg
2014 Olympic Gold Medalist, Slopestyle
2020 Rider of the Year, Snowboarder Magazine
Snowboarder and Olympic gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg is continually pushing the limits in new ways — and whether it’s backcountry riding, mountain biking, trail running, or fighting to combat climate change, he’s giving it his all.
Story by Amanda Wormann
Photography by Jeremy Thornburg Photography, Instagram: @jerm_worldwide
“So much of snowboarding is about pushing the limits – pushing the limits of snowboarding and pushing the limits of yourself. And you need to find out where your balance is with that. Are you comfortable with being uncomfortable?”
When Sage Kotsenburg threw down his run at Sochi, he was at the top of his game, and he struck gold. The Park City native is a well-loved snowboarder’s snowboarder. But after reaching the world’s greatest stage, the laid back, shaggy blond twenty-something became a household name as he claimed the first U.S. gold of the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the first-ever gold in slopestyle snowboarding.
Competing at that level comes down to one singular moment, and some even say that once you’re there, it all comes down to luck. But to get to that moment? It takes a lifetime. The constant training, preparation, and endless pursuit of craft pushes competitors further. More than anything, though, every athlete says it comes down to mindset – something that is hardwired a lifetime before the lights and cameras roll into town, and long after the podium.
"I came in with a different mindset than a lot of people. I was trying to do something creative and wasn’t really worrying about winning, but also, I'd be crazy to sit here and say I didn't want to win. I just wanted to do this run that I really wanted to put together, and in the end, the judges rewarded it that day, and it still seems like a dream to me."
Sage’s creativity and style are proof that mindset is about more than the competition. He does things his own way, which he showed the world when he bowed out of competitive snowboarding to focus on more of what makes him happy: backcountry riding.
"I've been at the top of slopestyle for so long. That just wasn't enough for me, and I didn't want to keep doing that. I wanted to find something where I was uncomfortable."
“I've been at the top of slopestyle for so long. That just wasn't enough for me, and I didn't want to keep doing that. I wanted to find something where I was uncomfortable.”
In the backcountry, pushing the limits comes naturally. The stakes are still high, though, and with it come many variables – unpredictable weather, avalanche danger, and the right film crew and riders. These factors come to play when assessing risk or reward, and if one thing is off, it can shift the entire day.
"It's a big team mindset out in the backcountry. You can't go out solo and expect to get the best footage in the world. You need a good filmer and photographer. You need other riders with you to stay motivated, so if you're struggling, you have the energy to go back up and get that trick.”
Finding the right balance pays off. Sage was named 2020 Rider of the Year by Snowboarder Magazine, a title undeniably fitting after watching his closing video part in Joy, where he landed a double backside twelve Japan at the iconic Chad’s Gap in Utah. Growing up in the Wasatch Mountains and watching snowboard legends like Travis Rice hit the same spot it’s fair to say that Sage has brought it all home – and he gives it his all, on and off the mountain.
As he inspires the next generation of riders to explore the backcountry, he’s equally passionate about protecting it. Sage is an active leader in Protect Our Winters (POW), an organization dedicated to preventing climate change.
“I want to ensure future kids can have the same conditions I had when I was growing up and to leave the world a better place than I left it.”
Once quarantine hit and the snow melted, Sage shifted his focus towards new ways of challenging himself. Between mountain biking and a new passion for running, he’s been busy doing what he does best, pushing himself to be uncomfortable – even going as far as running a marathon this summer.
"I always strive to humble myself and be motivated by new beginnings. It's the same mindset I use in snowboarding – to be mentally focused and physically strong so I can get to the place I need to be.”
“I always strive to humble myself and be motivated by new beginnings. It's the same mindset I use in snowboarding – to be mentally focused and physically strong so I can get to the place I need to be.”
So what’s next for Sage? He’s already got an eye towards winter. Earlier this year, he was throwing down at the Natural Selection test event in Jackson Hole, so we’re hoping he’ll be joining the world’s best backcountry riders on Travis Rice’s Natural Selection tour. Like most of us, who knows what the next couple of months will bring. But whatever it is, we know he’s up for the challenge.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen, whether it’s an injury or this pandemic. But if you go out every day and give it 110%, in the end, you’ll never regret not doing something.”