Cloaking his sexuality made Hig’s journey far from easy
Hig Roberts has garnered 31 starts in the World Cup between 2015–2019. He has won two giant slalom national titles while competing on the United States Ski Team. However, Roberts journey was far from easy as it was plagued with traumatic injury, family death, and mental health issues stemming from cloaking his sexuality. Born March 15th, 1991, and raised in competitive Steamboat Springs, Colorado, he has now out and proud.
I understand you were born in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and started skiing extremely young at two years old. Do you come from a family that was very active in the sport?
Hig Roberts: My start on skis was before I could even remember, right around the time I began walking (laughs). My mom is a Coloradoan and she grew up skiing recreationally, not competitively, and my father was a hockey player. My grandfather on my mother’s side was also an Olympic hockey player, however, we did not have a family connection to skiing in the sense that it gave birth to my career. I have an older brother, twin sister and younger brother; we all ended up getting involved in the sport as competitive skiers from childhood through college. It was more or less an environment factor as our hometown is known as Ski Town USA.
Talk about being immersed in the sport in an almost unavoidable way!
HR: Steamboat Springs has sent more competitors to the Winter Olympics than any other city or town in the USA. With that said, nearly all of it is in completely different sports than what I performed, such as ski jumping, Nordic skiing, snowboarding, and mobile skiing. The sport of Alpine Skiing which I practiced was not a large sport in my hometown at all.
At nine, you competed in your first large tournament where you broke your femur which is regarded as the longest and strongest bone in the body. What was it like to undergo such a risky surgery at such a young age?
HR: It was a freak accident; I was hit by another skier and experienced a very traumatic fracture of my femur. It was one of those situations where I was too young to understand how bad it could have been along with the consequences. In retrospect, during rehab I learned that accident could have resulted in the end of skiing as well as taken me out of sports forever. In hindsight, it was poetic justice, because even at that age I was immensely competitive, sports was my life and the accident automatically placed me in an underdog position—a position I felt I have been in from that point all the way up to my retirement. It taught me that I had to work extremely hard to accomplish my dreams and survive in this sport.
Ultimately, you’ve gone on to achieve 31 starts in the World Cup, compete for the US Ski Team and win two National Titles. What was your journey like dominating Alpine Skiing worldwide?
HR: From the beginning I was going to be an underdog. I was a very small kid, I was underdeveloped for my age, and I had to develop different unique forms of skiing to compensate for that. My path was very untraditional for your common US National Team skier: I decided to attend Middlebury College, get my degree and ski for one of the better Division 1 programs in the country. During this time, I was putting in extra work to raise money on my own, travel on my own and continue competing across the world in hopes of achieving that Olympic dream despite it feeling far-fetched. After a successful collegiate career, I was afforded that opportunity.
I entered this transition period where something I genuinely loved became a career, which took time to adjust to, because I was now racing for my country, for sponsors and different equipment brands I was representing.
You recently mentioned in the press that you began questioning your sexuality at age twelve. Did achieving this international success make you either more comfortable or more apprehensive in coming out publicly?
HR: I knew from a young age I was gay and different from the other boys on my team. I rationalized my sexuality precociously well from a young age reassuring myself internally while at the same time using it to propel me forward. I was already different in all the other ways I mentioned so I was confident I would figure this out too. However, once I began achieving mainstream success, I became less confident in coming out. While there is no certain person who makes you feel any suffocating pressure, the overall atmosphere of the sport coupled with lack of visibility from athletes before me made me feel obligated to blend in. I was already an outsider entering the team having gone down the collegiate route and knocking the door down myself.
Within the Olympic realm Alpine Skiing, of all the ski sports, requires an immense level of strength which I began building a reputation for. Masculinity is highly celebrated within this sport and takes on a larger-than-life role in Europe where we perform most of the year to audiences of 50,000 plus. Many more people know who I am in Europe than anywhere in the US and I began to lose the confidence I had at a young age of believing it would be okay to be who I am within this space. This internal conflict was heightened after my brother’s death.
Did your brother’s death delay you coming out, and moreover, affect you in other ways whether personally or professionally?
HR: My brother’s death was a huge blow to me and my family. It even led to a short stint where I retired for a couple of months. Nevertheless, I got back on my feet because my little brother, of all people, was most supportive of this dream I had. I wanted to fight for my family and give them something to live for.
I wish it had not gone that way however it led to some of the best years of my career because I started skiing for something bigger than myself. Still, I had to conceal my grief off the hill because as much as you rely on muscle memory, ski racing is 99% a mental game because your brain needs to be in the right space to perform properly.
It was after my brother’s death that it became much more difficult for me to understand my sexuality between denial, fear, anxiety and depression. Instead of enjoying my accomplishments, I merely felt relieved after each win because I did not understand how I could achieve such success when my mental health was in such a bad space. That is a big reason why I am willing to tell my story; we could be missing out on some great athletes simply because they are concerned their sexuality will limit them within this field.
You achieved 31 starts in the World Cup circa 2015 – 2019. Yet in 2019 you retired to work in finance. What prompted you to make such a dramatic move?
HR: I was an economics major at Middlebury College. The transition into finance came naturally in the sense that I had done internships and consulting within private equity as well as investment banking during my college years. I had a really great opportunity to move into the field and took it. I like the challenge and competitiveness of that world. I was also ready to start using my brain and what I invested in during college. I recently resigned from that position because my passion lies in the sports space.
Having dominated Alpine Skiing coupled with just coming out, are you looking to transition back into the sports industry in any capacity?
HR: Now more than ever, my story and who I am as a person can be of great value within sports business whether it be representing athletes, sports franchises, public relations, or broadcasting. I would like to get involved with the Olympics, Olympic committee, and working with Olympic athletes. I am in the process of moving to Los Angeles and I look forward to staying in the sports industry, just in a different arena.
Out of everything you have achieved thus far, what is your greatest accomplishment?
HR: The unique journey that I experienced, being so different than my national and international competitors in a multitude of ways; and achieving all that I have as an underdog. My relentlessness to make it work is something that I am incredibly proud of. I continue to surprise myself in the best way—it is an amazing feeling to set a goal that seems unattainable and in the end shock yourself by accomplishing it. That has been a theme throughout my entire career.