Mikael Kingsbury was at peace with losing, just this once.
It was late last month at the World Cup event in Tazawako, Japan, and the 26-year-old from Montreal had already managed another ridiculous season. He had won four of five World Cup events to that point, plus another two gold medals at the World Championships — some kind of encore to his dominant season that included Olympic gold at Pyeongchang 2018, the one that secured his legacy.
And so Kingsbury, the most relentlessly consistent skier in the sport, decided in Japan that he was going to be just a little reckless. He was going to try a cork 1440 — essentially a backflip with four full rotations in the air — in his final run. It had never before been landed in competition. He hadn’t practised it regularly since trying it a few times while training in July.
“It was the first time in many years that I was kind of out of my comfort zone,” Kingsbury says in an interview. “I kind of felt like a little kid out there trying it, it had been such a long time since I had tried something very new. I was ready to crash,” he says. “I just wanted to be the guy that tried it.”
He landed it, of course, because that’s what Kingsbury does. He nailed the trick, won the event, his fifth moguls title on the way to his eighth season-long moguls crown and eighth overall freestyle title on the World Cup circuit, both of which broke his own records. When you are already the most accomplished freestyle skier in history, sometimes you have to invent new goals.
When it is suggested to Kingsbury that a late decision to introduce a new trick in competition seems wildly unlike him, he says, “The thing is, I did a few in July,” as though completing the 1440 a few times several months earlier was some kind of normal preparation. But, he says, the jump in Japan was similar to the one he had trained on in the summer, and the snow conditions were about the same, and he had already been all kinds of dominant on the World Cup circuit. It was time.
“Even though I hadn’t done it once in the winter season, I kind of felt like the moment was perfect,” Kingsbury says. “You have to trust your instincts, and I knew I could land it. I just had to do it once in practice and then I was like, OK, I’m ready to go.”
The recklessness might even be growing on him. In his next event in Japan, the not-often-run dual moguls, he decided in the final — in the starting gate of the final, no less — that he would try the cork 1440 again. He landed it, and won another gold. “It’s pretty cool that it worked out two days in a row,” he says. Only Kingsbury could do something unprecedented on a moguls run one day and make it feel routine by the next.
It was that kind of season, in a career full of them. Kingsbury would finish with five golds and a silver in World Cup in seven singles races, and win both duals competitions, to go with the two golds at the World Championships. It was the one time he didn’t finish on the podium, a fifth-place at Lake Placid in January, that underscored the absurdity of his consistency. In that race, Kingsbury says, he lost a little bit of concentration on an easy part of the course, started thinking ahead to the jump and misjudged the bumps on the way. It is the kind of thing that happens in moguls all the time. It just almost never happens to him. “It was a reminder that I need to ski every bump if I want to keep winning,” he says.
Kingsbury says that this season was a little easier after the pressure of the Olympic year, and that he could have kept a lighter schedule, but he wanted to get back to training and competing, which he sees as the only way to ensure he stays on top of his sport. Without an Olympics looming over the season, this year “was more toward reaching my full potential,” he says, which must be a fairly daunting statement for every other moguls skier.
And, having completed the cork 1440, Kingsbury says next year will be about fine-tuning it, getting more comfortable with the trick so he can land it off different jumps and in a variety of conditions. Right now, he says, everything has to be perfect for him to land it. He wants to “get it more in my back pocket,” he says. Four full rotations, he imagines, is about the outer limit of what can be done on a moguls run, unless they change the specifications of the jumps or the rules to allow, say, double flips. Kingsbury sees himself getting comfortable with it next year and continuing to work on it until he defends his Olympic title at Beijing 2022. The 1440 might seem wild and unexpected today, but by the time he gets to those Games, Kingsbury will be back to being an inevitable moguls machine.
So, five rotations for 2026? Kingsbury chuckles a little. “We’ll see,” he says. “Right now, I think (the 1440) is the future of where moguls skiing is going.”
It is no surprise that it is Mikael Kingsbury leading it there.