US skier is successful as a transgender on and off the slopes


On July 20, 2021, then 17-year-old Jay Riccomini announced on social media that he was a gay transgender man

For freestyle skier Jay Riccomini, one of the most priceless moments of his life occurred this year in Switzerland, when he was honored for his third place on the podium at a major global competition.

It was a groundbreaking performance – and the announcer used his correct pronouns.

“I just thought, 'It took us a while to get there. But we did it,'” he said.

On July 20, 2021, Riccomini, then 17, announced on social media that he was a gay transgender man who would use the pronouns “he” and “him” from then on. “I want the world to know who I am and who I'm meant to be so I can live it openly,” he wrote.

At 20 years old, he is the absolute world champion: In January, he took third place in a slopestyle World Cup. In this event, skiers race down a mountainside full of rails, bumps and jumps. Last season, he also took third place in two other competitions, which earned him third place in the overall slopestyle rankings. He was recently called up to the US professional freeski team. And he is considered an Olympic candidate for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan-Cortina.

As part of his gender transition, Riccomini underwent breast surgery over a year ago to achieve a more masculine appearance. However, he has decided to hold off taking testosterone until the end of his career to comply with regulations. He still competes in women's events and will continue to do so if he makes the U.S. team roster for the Olympics.

Riccomini says he has received nothing but support from the freestyle skiing world since announcing he is transgender.

“I thought I was going to have to give up my hopes and dreams,” he said. “People definitely exceeded my expectations.”

However, he also admits that the path to Jay Riccomini was neither easy nor straightforward.

“It's not a straight line. It's a damn roller coaster ride,” he recently told the Associated Press in one of his first interviews with a national news network.

Silence, secrecy and depression

From a young age, before he even realized what it was, Riccomini suffered from gender dysphoria, which means that a person's gender identity does not match the sex assigned at birth. But he kept it a secret.

The mountains offered him refuge and escape. He grew up in Port Matilda, Pennsylvania, and spent many winter weekends with his brother at Tussey Mountain, which had a terrain park with lots of jumps and rails.

His family also made several trips to Copper Mountain, Colorado, where coaches at Woodward, a training facility for children interested in action sports, recognized his talent.

But not being able to share his secret weighed heavily on him and eventually led to a depression so severe that not even the mountains could save him. Even his parents didn't know how deep his problems went.

“I just wanted Jay to be happy, and Jay was unhappy for so many years,” said his mother Andrea. “The fact that he was unhappy for so long was the worst thing for me.”

His lowest point came at 17, when Riccomini attended a winter sports school in Park City, Utah. He missed classes. His grades suffered. And perhaps the most disturbing sign that something was wrong was that he was often absent from the terrain park, one of his favorite places.

“When people saw that I was not there, they asked, 'Where are you?'” Riccomini said. “I was depressed. I didn't eat anything. It wasn't good.”

Even when he had a memorable moment – finishing 18th in his World Cup debut in Aspen in March 2021 – he couldn't really celebrate. It was under his old name. Every time someone addressed him as “she,” it made him nervous.

“I just felt like I was going to throw up,” he said.


He decided to do something.

First, he told a close friend he was trans. Then he changed his pronouns in his Instagram bio to “they/them” and told more teammates and friends. Not long after, while skiing, he came up with a new name.

“I thought, 'Should I call myself Jake or Jack or Ace?'” he said. “I thought, 'Jay – Jay is perfect.' It's very simple” – and it happened to recall his father's middle name, J.

Teammate Colby Stevenson started calling him “Jay-Bird.”

“I like that,” said Riccomini. “I really like that.”

After his name was confirmed, Riccomini went public on Instagram, writing that he was tired of “constantly feeling trapped in his own body.”

The news freed him and turned his fear into hope and happiness.

“Seeing him happy,” his mother said, “is priceless.”


At a World Cup event in February 2023, the International Ski Federation will use Jay Riccomini's new name in its results for the first time.

“It is our duty to do everything in our power to ensure he feels included and respected in our competitions,” the association's integrity director, Sarah Fussek, said in a written statement to AP. “As the institution that represents snow sports around the world for all, we have a moral obligation to do so.”

US Ski & Snowboard has also expressed its support.

“His dedication to the sport has earned him a number of podium finishes at a young age,” Sophie Goldschmidt, president and CEO of the USSS, said in a statement. “We know he will continue his success on the world stage in the years to come.”


Riccomini's mission now is to open doors for other transgender athletes and inspire them in the same way that others have motivated him.

“This young athlete has fought and earned the right to be seen with his results,” said Rook Campbell, a transgender athlete and professor of advertising, sport, globalization and media at the University of Southern California. “Visibility is powerful.”

As difficult as his own journey has been, Riccomini knows it is even more difficult for transgender women. After swimmer Lia Thomas became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship, World Aquatics effectively banned transgender women from competing in women's events. World Athletics, the governing body for track and field, has done the same.

Transgender girls are also banned from participating in girls' high school sports in many Republican-controlled states. Some lawmakers argue that they have an unfair power advantage over cisgender girls. Representatives on both sides point to limited research to support their views.

Thomas is someone Riccomini looks up to—he even wrote an essay about their experiences in civics class.

“I can't even imagine the impact this has had on her mental health,” Riccomini said. “She's just incredible.”

Campbell said it is sometimes easier for transgender men to speak out and gain acceptance than transgender women. He said he thinks it is “great to use that privilege.”

“I just wish it were more comprehensive,” he said.

As happy as he is, Riccomini is aware that his gender transition will not be fully complete until he can take testosterone, which he knows will alleviate his gender identity. But for now, being publicly recognized as Jay is enough.

“When people call me 'he,' I get this warm feeling in my stomach,” he said. “This overwhelming wave of happiness runs through my body because I know that everyone now sees me for who I am.”

Pat Graham, Associated Press