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Feb7WedThere's a reason slopestyle skier Nick Goepper wears a cross on his goggles. February 7, 2018 by Jayne Thurber-Smith
Late-night talk-show host David Letterman interviewed fellow Indianan Nick Goepper in January 2014, just before Nick flew to Russia to compete at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Letterman commented on the unlikelihood of a professional skier coming out of southern Indiana, with its scarcity of snow and mountains. Nick, now 23 years old and skiing all over the world, is living proof that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
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Going for the Goal
Nick’s hometown of Lawrenceburg was near the Perfect North Slopes ski resort, and Nick started skiing at the age of five. It was only a 300-foot mountain, with just three months of skiing a year on manmade snow, but it was good enough to learn how to do a few tricks.
“I was 11 when I went out one day with a couple of my friends,” he told Letterman. “It was the day I was going to try my first backflip. It was one of the most nerve-wracking days of my life. I did my backflip and landed it, and that was the moment when I realized, ‘Hey, I’m OK at this! And I want to pursue this as a career.’ ”
Nick didn’t take the nine months without snow sitting down. On his YouTube channel, you can watch him as a young boy industriously hosing down a makeshift ramp-and-rail setup, with boards on the ground covered with netting, to actually ski over and practise his tricks in the off-season. It also shows him at a training park a few hours away in Ohio: dirt biking over moguls, doing flips off of a skateboard into a foam pit, skiing down a ramp fully clothed to perform multiple twists and turns before landing in a huge swimming pool.
“I would often practise jumps I had seen online on the trampoline and transfer that to the slopes,” Nick says. “Bouncing on the trampoline is still one of my favourite things to do. It has helped me immensely, working on different moves. It’s good for tricks when you are comfortable being upside down.”
When he outgrew Perfect North Slopes, Nick was determined to take his talents to the next level. As a young teenager, he did various odd jobs—from babysitting to landscaping to selling candy on the school bus—to raise money toward that goal.
“I hustled a lot as a kid,” he laughs. “I didn’t make tons of money but my effort and determination showed my parents and friends that I was passionate about skiing and I was going to achieve my goals. I was able to win an athletic scholarship to Windells Academy in Oregon.”
Bringing Home Bronze
As important as skiing has always been to Nick, being a part of their local church was also important to him and his family. He often wears a cross on his ski goggles, and credits his faith in God for helping him deal with anxiety and depression.
“Growing up, we were very involved in the church,” he says, “and praying is a priority for me. Before I drop in for a run, I say a short prayer under my breath. That lets me know I am a part of something bigger than myself. Especially if it’s a big event or the conditions are bad, praying gives me a confidence boost.”
As Nick’s portfolio of tricks grew, the freestyle sport that would become his specialty, slopestyle skiing, was also growing in popularity. It originated with the Winter X Games as an event in which athletes ski down a course, mastering a variety of obstacles including rails and jumps. Nick had medalled in slopestyle at the Winter X Games a few times before the sport made its debut at the 2014 Winter Olympics, and he was honoured to bring home the bronze medal from that competition.
“Being the competitor I am, my initial reaction was, ‘Shoot, I wish I had stepped it up on my second run,’ ” he remembers. “Of course I wanted the top spot! But as the adrenaline wore off I came to terms with it. I really was stoked to be on that podium at the Olympics, with my family there watching as the flags rose.”
On to Korea
Last June, Nick took a break from skiing to assist in Rwanda with Kids Play International. It gave him a true appreciation for the opportunities and lifestyle he has access to every day.
“That was a great experience and I am super thankful for them having me along,” he says. “The local Rwandans were so happy that we were there. It was amazing to see the different ways of life in a developing country. That trip put things into perspective for me, showing me that happiness and fulfilment is a relative thing. The people there weren’t driving fancy cars or sitting on plush furniture, but still seemed like they felt they were fortunate.”
This month, Nick will be in PyeongChang, South Korea, to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“It’s fun travelling with the other American Olympians even though we are all trying for the top spot,” he comments. “We are a tight group, but of course it can get competitive. At the end of the day, we are experiencing the same things and are good friends. More and more, I’m about embracing the journey instead of focusing on the end result.”
Any practical tips for the young Olympic hopefuls to come?
“Work your butt off!” he advises from his experience. “You might only get one chance and you don’t want to look back saying, ‘I wish I had tried harder.’ ”