Skiing sensation Gu returns to X Games two years after it launched her skyward
The Aspen Times
Pinpointing exactly when Eileen Gu rose to superstardom isn’t too tricky. It came two years ago in her X Games Aspen debut, when the then 17-year-old made history by winning three medals — including two gold — in the span of about 24 hours at Buttermilk.
“That X Games definitely was a turning point for me,” she said Monday from Aspen in a special media session hosted by one of her sponsors, IWC, which makes high-end watches. “I was terrified. All these people are my idols. I’ve been watching them forever. All of a sudden, I’m invited to the biggest event with all of my idols. So, definitely a part of me didn’t yet feel like I belonged, and I think after that showing, it built a lot of confidence, and it made me feel that, OK, I do belong in this industry, and I can do big things here, and I deserve to be here.”
In the two years since, the freeskier from San Francisco has proven over and over that she not only belongs, but is also now the present and future of the sport. In her Winter Olympic debut this past February in China, she also went three for three in medals, including gold in both big air and halfpipe.
Gu, who continues to represent her mother’s homeland of China in competition, sat out X Games Aspen 2022 to focus on the Olympics, as did a handful of others. But, it’s hardly her first time in Aspen since, as the town has become a popular destination for the now 19-year-old sensation, who has worked with Aspen Skiing Co. and even the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club on various occasions.
“I love Aspen. I think it’s such a unique place because it’s really got everything. It’s small, but it doesn’t feel restrictive. You have everything you need,” she said. “Overall, I have a lot of appreciation for all the things that happen here. It’s a creative hub, and it has some incredible people.”
Support Local Journalism
Gu also competed at Buttermilk during the 2021 world championships, which Aspen stepped in to host rather last second that March during the pandemic. She was equally as dominant then, winning three more medals — and, yes, two more gold — at worlds less than two months after her X Games debut.
And, based off her season so far, there is no reason to believe her return to X Games this week will go any differently. She has only competed twice this season — skipping the Copper Grand Prix — but did win both halfpipe competitions this past weekend in Calgary. They were her ninth and 10th career World Cup wins in only 17 starts.
“It was not easy. I didn’t want to say this at the time, but now I can say it in retrospect because I didn’t want to jinx anything. I’m very superstitious,” Gu said of competing in Calgary, her first competitions since the Olympics more than 11 months prior. “Being away reminded me how much I really love the sport and how I actively choose it every day, and I am not at risk of burnout because I wish I could ski more.”
She isn’t a one-trick pony when it comes to skiing — she regularly competes in halfpipe, slopestyle, and big air. Nor is she singularly focused on the sport. She has become one of the world’s most sought after fashion models — her magazine covers have included Vogue and Outside, among others — and she is currently a first-year student at Stanford, dabbling in academic studies from quantum physics to international relations, at least for the moment.
“School is so fun. I’m a huge nerd, and I’ve made no secret of that in years past. But, I guess coming back into a purely academic environment truly is a luxury for me,” said Gu, who has not been a full-time student since graduating a year early from high school before taking a gap year.
“I’ve never been one to compromise my academic life for skiing. Just really diving head first into my first year at Stanford was something that mattered a lot to me. So, I’m not taking any time off. I’m not taking any easy classes.”
While skiing and academics remain her primary focus between modeling gigs, Gu also takes her role as a mentor just as seriously. She continues to do everything she can to support young skiers, especially girls, including here in Aspen when she skied with the AVSC kids on Monday. Despite being only a teenager herself, she has quickly become the golden standard for what freeskiers could be.
“What I’ve learned is I’m lucky and grateful and privileged to have the platform that I do, and I hope to use the voice it gives me for positive, public change,” she said. “On the other hand, I definitely do want to preserve a piece of skiing just for myself. Selfishly, just to be able to do flips because they are fun not because they are trying to solve some global issue. At the end of the day, it’s just fun.”
X Games officially kicks off Friday at Buttermilk, where general spectating is free to the public. Gu’s first competition will be 5:30 p.m. on Friday in women’s ski big air. She also plans to compete in Saturday’s 5 p.m. women’s halfpipe skiing competition — which includes Basalt’s own Hanna Faulhaber — and women’s slopestyle skiing at 11 a.m. on Sunday.