Kotsenburg chose a road less traveled and blazed a new trail in professional snowboarding. As a top competitor, he not only won Olympic gold but several X Games medals in the early 2010s. He then caused an upset by walking away from competitions and focusing on critically acclaimed video parts, including his gold medal-winning X Games Real Snow 2021 segment. Decorated as ‘Rider of the Year’ at the 2020 Snowboarder Magazine Awards, Kotsenburg continues to evolve and push the boundaries of the sport.
Kotsenburg grew up in a family of snow sports enthusiasts. He started snowboarding In Park City at age 5 alongside his older brother, Blaze. In conversation, Kotsenburg also remembers watching UNLEASHED podcast host Danny Kass compete in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games – where Kass won snowboard halfpipe silver – when he was 8 years old. “My whole family was there! It was so rad,” said Kotsenburg on the show.
As a young prodigy, Kotsenburg earned a major milestone at age 16 by winning the overall slopestyle title in the 2009-10 Winter Dew Tour. Kotsenburg’s big moment arrived at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, when slopestyle snowboarding was contested for the first time as an official discipline – with him as the gold medal winner.
“I went into it that day trying to ride my best but also thinking, how would I like the world to perceive snowboarding? At the time I thought this isn’t figure skating! This isn't bobsledding! Snowboarding should be fun, and everyone should be able to do it,” said Kotsenburg, who won gold after a never-been-done trick in the final.
After the event, Kotsenburg’s fame skyrocketed, starting with an appearance on the Good Morning America TV show and all the main late-night shows. “It was crazy! I was in New York and my PR agent kept getting calls. I was living the dream. I did all the shows,” said Kotsenburg, who also appeared on a cereal box and met President Barack Obama at the White House in 2014.
But although he was winning at the top of the field, Kotsenburg viewed a professional future outside of the competitive arena. “I was really intrigued by riding backcountry. Just really exploring that realm of snowboarding. I always had this plan that, after the Olympics, I would just go do that.”
In a move that shocked the snowboard world, Kotsenburg walked away from competitions and began filming video segments in the backcountry. “I told all of my sponsors and was fully expecting to get dropped… and everyone’s been super supportive. Monster’s been there for me the entire time,” said Kotsenburg, who also said that specializing on one style of riding is key in face of the sport’s progression. “Snowboarding is at a level now where you really need to focus on what’s in front of you – and that only!”
Since then, the pioneer has proven his focus in several award-winning videos that raise the bar with never-been-done tricks at legendary spots in the wild, including Chad’s Gap in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. Although he’s no longer competing in stadium events, major awards kept coming in. Recent honors include Slush Magazine’s Men’s Rider of the Year for the ‘Halcyon’ video and the 2021 gold medal in the X Games Real Snow video competition.
Speaking on his approach to filming for X Games Real Snow with filmer/editor Jeremy Thornburg for six long weeks in Wyoming, Kotsenburg said: “It was a grind, but we came out with the win! I told my filmer that we’re not going into Real Snow unless we come out winning!”