Gold medals are always a big deal, but perhaps they have a bit more shine when they’re the first in the field. We caught up with Sage Kotsenburg, Olympic Slopestyle Gold Medalist in snowboarding, at Copper Mountain Resort where he were hitting the snow (in July!) at the Woodward at Copper Summer Camp.
A snowboarder since an early age, Sage Kostenburg made his mark on the competitive scene when he won the Dew Cup in 2010 and took a silver medal in XGames Europe. For the next four years, he continued appearing on podiums around the world.
The 2014 Olympic qualification process saw him gaining his first major event win at the Sprint U. S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain. The Park City local was on his way to Sochi. During the first run of finals, Sage landed a 1620 Holy Crail, clinching the gold medal, the first U.S. Olympic gold medal of the games and the first-ever snowboarding slopestyle gold medal in Olympic history.
When did you start snowboarding?
I started snowboarding when I was five. I got into it from my brother. We moved to Park City from Idaho when I was three, and I started skiing when I was four. I think we skied for a year, then my brother was like, “I hate skiing. Oh mom, I just broke my legs because my legs crossed.” He made some excuse about how he hated skiing and needed to snowboard. So he got a snowboard and I was like, “I’m not skiing, skiing is whack!” If my older brother wasn’t skiing, then I wasn’t skiing. So then we ended up both getting into snowboarding.
Tell me about your first experiences.
I had a terrible first couple of lessons. I was so bad at it. I almost got my instructor fired because I was so bad.
I got stuck in the trees. I fell off of the trail into the powder, into these trees, and the coach just rode right by–I don’t know how he didn’t see me. It was terrible, really, I was stuck in like three feet of powder; I couldn’t get my bindings off because I didn’t know how. It was my fourth time riding.
So I pull my feet out of my boots and I’m walking around on this trail, in my socks. These guys are like, “What happened?” and I was like, “I fell.” I was crying, I was alone. I didn’t know where I was and I’m like, “I lost my board, it’s up there in the trees, I fell off, my coach left me! HE LEFT ME.” I was so upset. I was 5 or 6 years old. I was so bummed out on everything. I cried my eyes out and when I finally got to the bottom I was like, “You ditched me!”
And that was one of my first times snowboarding. It was terrible, one the worst experiences.
Did you ever see that coach again?
I saw him when I was 16 and I won the Dew Cup. I saw him in Park City and I said, “Dude, do you remember our first lesson? Yeah, that was the worst day of my life! You ditched me!”
It made me stronger, you know, it made me more aware of my surroundings. He totally helped me.
Was there a point where you wanted to go back to skiing?
No. I literally did everything my brother did. I would say that I wanted milk for breakfast and he would say I want orange juice and I would say that I wanted orange juice, too. He wanted bacon, I wanted bacon. Literally, everything that Blaise did, I wanted to do and he snowboarded and I said, there’s no way I’m not snowboarding. I tried everything he did. Snowboarding is the coolest thing ever.
Is it the same way now? Or is there a twist now and he’s saying, “I want to do what Sage is doing?”
No, it’s pretty much always remained that same way, with the camaraderie. Just like other siblings, we were competitive with each other. If we were up against each other, we would be like, “I’m going to beat you,” but if one of us beat the other, we were stoked for each other. We have a mutual respect.
I learned everything from him, which was cool and was why I called my brother 15 minutes before my run at the Olympics. I had so much trust in him and I told him, “I’m going to do this trick” and he was down. Then I talked to my coach and he was like, “Are you going to do it?” and I said, “Of course I’m going to do it.” I have so much trust in my brother.
Tell me about the Olympics.
It was by far the craziest, awesomest (most awesome?), experience in my life. You show up there and there’s just this feeling—you don’t know unless you go. I remember landing there and seeing the Olympic rings, and I’m like, “Where am I?”
You feel like you’re going to some Hunger Games thing, and you’re just there, and you’re competing for your country. You’re competing for the U.S. and you have so much pride behind you and everyone’s behind you, rooting for you, whether you’re in biathlon, a snowboarder, a skier—it doesn’t matter. It’s just so cool.
I know there was some controversy about the course. How did you feel about it?
I ended up liking the course. A lot of people didn’t. I loved the course. The days of the semi-finals and the finals, I felt really comfortable. Winning that day, it was just unreal. It’s something that you want to happen and when it does, it still hasn’t set in—it took forever to actually hit me.
And now? Has the experience faded any?
No. It’s one that I will never forget. I can recite to you everything that happened from the day that I landed in Sochi until like, April. I remember everything. It’s just there, in my mind. I wrote stuff down. It’s an experience that I’ll always want to remember; it’s pretty cool.
To risk sounding like a cliché, what are you doing now?
I’m just getting ready for next winter. I had my down time—unfortunately, I still have it. I want winter, I want winter!
I’m renting a place in SO Cal with another professional snowboarder and we’re surfing, skateboarding, hanging out with friends and enjoying the next month and a half before we’re snowboarding again. It seems like a long time, but it goes by so fast.
Honestly, I can’t wait until winter to just get it going again. I miss it so much. I had my break, I need to get back. I love snowboarding. I think about it all summer. I have a month where I don’t miss it, but then I’m like, I’m losing my mind, I need to go snowboarding.
Where are you going to ride first?
When it’s actually winter, it’ll probably be Park City’s opening. If Colorado or Mammoth gets snow early on, we’ll go there, make a road trip out of it. But Park City will be one of my first days on the snow. I’m freaking out right now.
It’s time for a couple of rapid-fire questions. Don’t think, just answer:
Favorite Mountain: Park City
Favorite Music to Ride to: Bob Dylan
Favorite person that you’ve ridden with: Halldór Helgason and Ethan Morgan combined
Favorite Snowboard Movie: Lame
Breakfast Before Hitting the Slopes: I eat my Wheaties! I always forget to eat breakfast… I’m so frothed to get up there.
Favorite snowboarding competition: The Arctic Challenge
What You Do For Fun (other than riding): Surf, golf, skate
Guilty Pleasure: Video Games. My favorite is Clash of Clans right now.
What’s the Weirdest Thing You’ve Seen From a Chairlift? A guy riding naked, for sure. I don’t remember where it was, but it was spring time.