This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Perched alongside the longest fjord in the country, in the shadow of the always-frosted mountaintops in northern Iceland is the town of Akureyri. It's a hidden gem. It's also where, if you happen to hear the slapping of a snowboard against a concrete wall or staircase railing, you might find an Olympic gold medalist still pushing his own envelope.
Park City's Sage Kotsenburg has returned to this place twice in the past year. Once to locate the features in downtown Akureyri worth trying to kiss his board against, the other to fall waist-deep into the pristine powder the peaks above have to offer.
"All the backdrops are straight out of a movie or something," he says.
It is there where Kotsenburg is still writing his own script.
The 2018 Olympic Games in South Korea are 14 months away, and he remains the reigning gold medalist in snowboard slopestyle. The qualifying event is in February. And, yet, Kotsenburg remains up in the air about his participation as he places his focus on filming his snowboarding pieces around the world. If filming is still at the forefront in a few months, he says he'll keep taking that path.
"But I know myself, too," Kotsenburg said, "I know I always go, 'Well, maybe it's time to break out the big tricks again and start competing.' I'm definitely on the fence, but right now, I'm definitely more focused on filming."
At the moment, Kotsenburg is, well, only focused on the moment.
Book a tour of all the backdrops the HBO hit series "Game of Thrones" has utilized while filming in Iceland, and Akureyri is one of the main stops. The vibe there, explained Kotsenburg, is worth clicking out a binding for a second: "You try not to take it for granted."
Kotsenburg, a 23-year-old Park City native, sure doesn't.
One of the stars of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Kotsenburg became an overnight sensation for simply being himself. He's still the same loose, jovial 20-something who dropped a score of 93.50 score in the Sochi snowboard slopetyle competition event nearly three years ago, winning the gold in stunning fashion.
He's the same guy who flipped the script on late-night hosts David Letterman and Conan O'Brien, making the most inscrutable of comedians break character. Before he could legally buy a drink, he was on a Wheaties box, mid-air, grabbing hold of his board with both hands.
But ask Kotsenburg how life has changed since the gold medal was placed around his neck, and he'll tell you. The media appearances, the interviews, the bumping shoulders with Hollywood elite was fun for a while, but its appeal began to fade for him as time went on.
It became a little too mainstream for Kotsenburg. A little too Hollywood. The turning point? He got invited to attend the 2014 Academy Awards in Southern California a few weeks after winning his gold in Russia.
"I declined it and went to Switzerland to go ride powder," Kotsenburg said with an accompanying chuckle.
As the spotlight faded much to his delight Kotsenburg felt the urge to make snowboarding therapeutic again. To not only work on new tricks, but to travel, to make films, to explore untapped regions of the world to remind himself why he does what he does. Since winning the gold, he estimates he has traveled to as many as 15 countries worldwide. If it isn't backcountry powder in Japan or Italy, it's hitting the streets in Scandinavia. He even rode some street rails in Sarajevo two years ago.
Now that winter has arrived, Kotsenburg is doing more than riding. He's studying weather patterns all over the world on a daily basis. Where the snow might dump the most could end up being the next destination on his boarding pass. He enjoys staying "in tune" with the patterns and "just watching Mother Nature do her thing."
The appeal of backcountry snowboarding is the core of his creativity. By building jumps yourself, by placing rails in specific areas in an urban setting or even on the mountain, he learns more about his own riding, Kotsenburg explains. He grew up competing in big-air competitions, in slopestyle events and not shying away from trying the next trick. Backcountry demands more inventiveness, he said.
"You can hike where no one else has ever ridden, jump off a cliff, find a ravine to jump over and build some 100-foot gaps," he said. "It's almost like you're playing a video game."
But for all the globetrotting, for all the freelancing he does while strapped in, Kotsenburg understands that specific questions remain on the horizon.
Will that desire to defend his gold bubble closer to the surface as the dates on the calendar thin?
"If I suddenly get an urge to compete, then I'll make sure I'm at the top of my game before I do it," he said. "I don't want to show up to anything and not be ready, because that'll just get me bummed out. I'll definitely make sure I'm ready to compete when I do. We'll see when the time comes."
The Sage Kotsenburg file
Age » 23
Sport » Snowboard
Hometown » Park City
Career highlights » 2014 Olympic gold medalist (slopestyle), U.S. Grand Prix champion (2013-14), three-time Winter X Games medalist (two silvers, one bronze)