Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
United States' Sage Kotsenburg takes a jump during the men's snowboard slopestyle qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg — you don’t know this bro

Park City resident

and Olympic champ Sage Kotsenburg soars above snowboarding stereotypes as he enjoys newfound fame.

First Published Jul 06 2014 10:24 am • Last Updated Jul 06 2014 02:18 pm

Park City • Having endorsed a "Totally Dope Refi Mortgage" offer on late-night television, Sage Kotsenburg is intently discussing his fascination with psychology.

His lunch order includes no mention of extra "spoicy" or any of the other signature phrases that helped him become a subject of fascination in the wake of his Olympic gold medal performance. The one-dimensional caricature of a snowboarder simply won’t fit the person who’s engaged in this conversation, using words such as "intrigued" and marveling about reactions to his success in Sochi.

At a glance

Savage Kotsenburg?

The Olympic snowboarding gold medalist’s given name is Sage Cullen Kotsenburg. His mother, Carol Ann, had chosen “Savage” — an Irish family name — for her third son, following Jeremy and Blaze. Her husband, Steve, argued that “Savage” sounded too harsh and abrasive, so she modified it to Sage.

He’s everywhere

A sampling of Sage Kotsenburg’s appearances in 2014:

Television » “Conan,” “Live With Kelly & Michael,” “TMZ,” “Today,” “The Tonight Show,” “Good Morning America,” “The Late Show With David Letterman” and “Ridiculousness.”

Print » GQ, Rolling Stone, USA Today.

Retail » Approximately 2 million Wheaties boxes.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

That’s Sage. "You can’t put him in a box," said his mother, Carol Ann.

Everybody tried to do so in February, framing Kotsenburg as this century’s Spicoli — the shaggy-haired Sean Penn character who defined the slacker culture in the 1980s movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." Kotsenburg played along, speaking the snowboarding language in interviews and effortlessly delivering his scripted lines on the New York media circuit.

So who is this guy? The answer seemingly is found on a snowboard, with bindings for each foot. Kotsenburg keeps one foot in a sport he’s genuinely passionate about and the other foot in a world that’s presenting all kinds of possibilities to him.

Goofy is the technical term for Kotsenburg’s stance on a snowboard. Calculating is a good description of him.

"He’s deeper than you think," his mother said, and she should know, having made him slow down his online studies — otherwise, he would have completed high school requirements at age 15. Prior to becoming a professional snowboarder, he read every book he could find about finance and money management.

Sure, Kotsenburg uses "sick" as his endorsement, summarizing the afternoon as he climbs into his truck after a Tribune photo shoot at Park City Mountain Resort. And he delivers some unintentionally offbeat, Spicoli-style observations such as, "The mind’s a crazy thing." But spending even five minutes with him is enough to defy any such labels.

"He’s one of the smartest humans I know," said Sam Taxwood, a longtime snowboarding friend. "He’s a really good businessman. He knows his next move, always."

Well, not always. Impulsively executing the twisting "1620 Japan" trick that earned him the victory in the Olympics’ first slopestyle competition on a course with jumps and rails in the mountains of Russia took considerable imagination and visualization skills. But then? "You never think about what happens after," Kotsenburg reflected on a sunny June afternoon during a brief stop in Park City, where he lives in a house with his brother and two other roommates.

story continues below
story continues below

What followed was more of a wild ride than anything he experienced on the snow. The convergence of Kotsenburg’s earning the first gold medal awarded in 2014, the snowboarding image and American viewers’ interest in the Games made him a sensation.

Kotsenburg was voted the Male Athlete of the Olympics in the Best of U.S. Awards and is among three Park City residents nominated for an ESPY award as Best Male Olympian, joining Alpine skier Ted Ligety and slopestyle skier Joss Christensen (the others are halfpipe skier David Wise and figure skater Charlie White).

"I think he’s on his way to being an icon," said his agent, Steve Ruff.

He’s already big in Washington. When the U.S. Olympians visited the White House, Kotsenburg was stunned when President Barack Obama recognized him and spoke of having watched his "chill" interviews, even before the snowboarder could introduce himself.

Yet family members and friends say he’s still Sage, the same, humble guy they’ve always known. "If he had changed," said his older brother, Blaze, "I would have put him in line."

Taxwood said, "He doesn’t act too cool for anyone."

He can act, though. His classic, deadpan delivery in the mortgage commercial on "Conan" produced lines such as "You heard me: No gnarly closing costs" and "That’s one sick interest rate." The next thing anyone knew, some of those phrases were being repeated at the Summit Sotheby’s International Realty office where his father, Steve, and brother work.

The family moved from Idaho to Park City when Sage was 4. Blaze stirred his brother’s interest in snowboarding, which became a family passion.

Sage once was afraid of jumps, before conquering that problem by going off a 100-foot jump at age 14. He maintains a fear of heights — "Chairlifts are really scary," he said — and never got over the psychological effects of a crash during halfpipe practice in Australia when he was 15 and landed on his face.

Yet he’s confident on the slopes, always inventing new tricks while refusing to conform to the judging system of the sport, which was trending toward robotic spins.

That’s why his gold medal was widely heralded as a triumph for pure snowboarding, with a genuine rider succeeding in emphasizing the "style" in "slopestyle."

Next Page >

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.