Eileen Gu is busier than most people her age. After all, the 19-year-old professional skier is not only a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but also a highly sought-after model. On top of that, she’s a full-time student at Stanford, living the good ole college life attending classes and hanging out with friends—that is, when she isn’t traveling the world for sports competitions or fashion shoots. Basically, she has a lot going on.
So naturally, when given the chance to chat with the freestyle ski star—who partnered with IWC Schaffhausen to host a children’s training day ahead of the X Games in Aspen, Colorado—over Zoom, I said yes. (I mean, you’re curious how she does it too, right?) Together, we chatted about her experiences as an Olympian, her goal to inspire the next generation of skiers, and managing her workload as a teenager.
You made the controversial decision to compete for China at the Beijing Olympics. What was that experience like for you?
I was really happy to compete in China at the Olympics, and afterward, see the impact that those games (and hopefully my performance) had on sports culture in China and worldwide—especially in terms of action sports and young girls. Going into the Olympics, I always said my goal was to inspire young girls to take up the sport of skiing and use it to break through their boundaries, or inspire them in any aspect of their life. [I want to encourage them] to try something new for themselves, be unafraid of pushing themselves to their limits, and see how great and powerful they can be. Looking back at the Olympics, I absolutely hit that goal. There are hundreds of millions of people in the snow in China and worldwide now enjoying the sport I love so much. I can say with 100 percent confidence I did what I’m meant to do. There’s nothing anyone can say that can take that away from me, because there was an immensely positive impact after the games; that was really important to me.
As a young professional skier, what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?
I think the hardest part about skiing is really understanding yourself. Pressure exacerbates whatever’s already in your head. If you go into a contest thinking, “I can’t do this, I’m so scared, I’m going to lose,” the more pressure you have, the more real those thoughts are going to become. The opposite is also true. If you go in feeling as though you are confident in your ability and have done the training necessary, then that will manifest for you. Being able to control what you think, compartmentalize those negative thoughts, and train effectively—that’s a big thing for me right now. I have three events, and I’m the only person competing in all three of them, as an added challenge. Plus, [I’m] the only full-time student, so [that’s] double the challenge. Among all of those external factors, it’s just about how strong your sense of self is, how confident you are in your mental game, and how can you perform on the day.
With that in mind, is there any advice you’d like to share with young girls (and boys) who aspire to follow in your footsteps?
The biggest thing is being unafraid to try. A lot of people, myself included, have had a lot of experiences where we feel judged; we’re scared to fall because we think it’ll be embarrassing, or we’re not welcome. Or, that people who look like us or come from backgrounds like us aren’t reflected in our industries. All of those are incredibly isolating, and they can be devastating to someone’s self-esteem if they’re young—even if they’re old, too! The most important lesson is to be unafraid to try, to find people who are supportive, and to surround yourself with positivity. On top of that, find your passion and trust yourself more than those judging you externally. If you love something and you really want to do it, the only voice that matters is yours. Just remember that and stay true to yourself, as cliché as that sounds.
Let’s move on to fashion. How do you bring your sense of style to the slopes?
I think skiing and fashion definitely play off one another in my life. In skiing specifically, I help design what is on my skis; I have my signature on it and other elements I pitch. Last year, it was the Chinese proverb, “A Dragon Amongst People,” in the shape of a dragon. This year I have a phoenix, with “Eternal Flame” etched onto the edge of the sidewall. It’s a play on the Olympic flame. There are a lot of personal style elements I’ve put into my gear that mean a lot to me. I think skiing and fashion feed into each other in that they’re both so personal and expressive, so the play of both is something that’s so fun for me.
As someone who spends so much time in cold weather, what are your biggest winter skin care tips?
Wear sunscreen! It’s the biggest thing. I apply sunscreen twice a day unless I’m really focused on training; you can know I had a good week because you can see a little goggle tan. On top of that, always have your moisturizer. I have a very simple skin care routine; I just do a moisturizer and a serum and that’s it, but everybody has to play to their own strengths and know what their skin needs. Also, eat your fruits and vegetables and drink water, because that makes a huge difference.
There’s no doubt you have a very busy schedule. How do you manage to maintain a healthy balance and mindset through it all?
It’s a whirlwind, but in the best way possible. The fact that I do so many different things is what keeps it interesting. If I spent all the time I spend doing stuff in one aspect of my life, I would have already burnt out. What keeps me from getting bored is the juxtaposition of those different aspects of my life at the same time. It’s difficult to grow tired of one thing when you’re only doing it for an hour, and so when I’m at school, I’m excited to be there; I’m with my friends and in the classrooms, physically present. When I’m gone, I’m not thinking about school, because all of a sudden I’m upside down and don’t need to be learning my physics from a textbook; I’m living it in real life. Fashion is expressive, fun, and creative. I’m meeting all of these incredible people and have the opportunity to express myself and my values in a way I don’t get to in other aspects of my life. All of these fantastic elements in my life fit together in this unique puzzle, and that is what keeps things interesting, not despite one another, but because of it.
What are you studying in school right now?
I haven’t declared my major yet—you don’t have to declare your major until the end of your second year and I’m one and a half quarters in right now. But last quarter, I took a quantum physics class, a poly-sci class, and some core requirement classes. I had 17 units last quarter, with 20 being the maximum. This quarter, I take 18 units with some philosophy classes, a writing intensive, and a traditional Chinese medicine class; we’ll see if that was a smart idea…I am also competing in a bunch of different contests.
What’s next for you?
I just came off two World Cup wins, so that was really big for me. It was my first contest back after the Olympics, and I was over 11 months out of the competition scene, so being back was definitely a confidence boost and reminded me how much I love competing. I [just had] the X Games, and I’m thinking about World Championships and World Cups down the line. At the end of the day, it’s just me against myself. I’m trying to do the best I can on the day; that’s all I can ask.