BY SCOTTIE BIBB I OCT. 2, 2013
|Nick Goepper poses during the NBC/U.S. Olympic Committee
promotional shoot on April 25, 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.
On the slopes since the age of 5, Nick Goepper has been following his dream of being a world-class skier.
But it wasn’t until a little more than two years ago when his passion for skiing merged with the possibility of competing in the Olympic Winter Games.
Ranked No. 1 in the world in slopestyle skiing — a sport that was added to the Winter Games program for 2014 — Goepper, now 19, has a very legitimate shot at winning an Olympic gold medal in Sochi.
Even Goepper is surprised to see himself in this position as a potential Olympian. Not only was he attracted to a sport that is new to the Winter Games, but also he is a skier who hails from the state of Indiana.
Growing up in the small farming community of Lawrenceburg, Ind., (population 5,042), Goepper lived just five minutes away from the Perfect North Slopes ski area, where he first learned to love skiing.
When he tells people where he is from, he laughs that he usually gets the “same sarcastic” response: “Oh, that’s the skiing mecca of the world.”
It’s a modest resort, by professional skiing standards. The largest hill has a vertical drop of a mere 300 feet. By comparison, the largest hill at Colorado’s Breckenridge ski area has a vertical drop of 3,398 feet.
This made no difference to Goepper, as 300 feet served him as well as 3,000 would have in his sport of slopestyle.
While most kids in his state would spend their time playing basketball, Goepper spent every day after school, as well as weekends, at the resort, putting in at least 100 runs a day.
“I could ski from 9:30 in the morning until 9:30 every night every single day of the year,” Goepper said. “I’d just ski the terrain park and get tons and tons of laps in.”
When he wasn’t putting in run after run at the local ski area, he was traveling with his dad all over the Midwest to skiing competitions.
“I traveled a lot during the winter time for competition,” he said. “We’d drive to North Carolina, Missouri, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio … pretty much anywhere we could to compete in tiny competitions.”
He seldom takes a break from training, saying he vastly prefers being active. His hobbies include rollerblading, skateboarding, surfing, swimming, biking and hiking. He never did take to basketball, the sport most known in his home state.
During a recent telephone interview with TeamUSA.org about his Olympic aspirations, he was kayaking on Hidden Valley Lake in southeastern Indiana, close to his family home.
“My spare time isn’t that different from what my training looks like,” Goepper said. “I hate sitting still, so I’m pretty much always moving.”
Goepper has fallen in love with slopestyle skiing, a sport in which the goal is to perform difficult tricks with the highest amplitude off of jumps.
As with the majority of skiers competing in local-area and regional competitions, Goepper is a self-taught competitor and didn’t have a coach.
He also didn’t have the funds to support his daily trips to the local ski areas or his participation in the ever-growing list of competitions.
|Nick Goepper competes in the men's slopestyle skiing competition
at the Winter X Games on March 20, 2013 in Tignes, France.
Goepper decided the answer was to attend a ski academy, preferably one on the East Coast, where he could continue his high school education, as well as get the resources and training he needed to take him to the next level of competition.
His father, a traveling salesman, had recently been laid off from his job and finances were tight for the family. In addition to paying for his skiing, Goepper’s family was also trying to support his three younger siblings. His two sisters are Level 10 gymnasts who train with Mary Lee Tracy, an Olympic gymnastics coach based in Cincinnati. To this day, Goepper will lean on Tracy for help on the trampoline and to help with the mental side of the sport.
Goepper concluded that if he was going to achieve his goal of becoming one of the best skiers in the world, he was going to have to help raise the funds to attend a ski academy himself.
“I took it into my own hands to raise the money to go to a ski academy,” Goepper said. “I printed out a biography sheet about me, my competitive history and why I was trying to raise money. I talked about my goals and aspirations and included some pictures of me skiing too.
“Then I went door-to-door in my neighborhood and asked if they had any odd jobs or anything that I could do to help raise money. I did all kinds of work: pulling weeds, mowing lawns, I even pressure-washed and sanded a guy’s back deck.”
In addition to the odd jobs, Goepper showed a bit of entrepreneurial spirit.
“I went to one of the warehouse stores and bought candy bars in bulk,” he recalled. “Then I sold the candy bars to my classmates for a dollar while we were on the bus or at school. I would always carry around a 36-pack of candy bars in my backpack. I think I made somewhere between $500 and $600 that semester!”
Despite his best efforts, he still fell far short of making the nearly $40,000 needed for a year’s tuition at a ski academy.
By chance, his luck changed in 2009 when, while attending an action sports camp in Ohio, Goepper caught the eye of Kerry Miller.
Miller, a veteran of the ski industry, and a self-proclaimed mentor and advocate for up-and-coming skiers, saw something special in Goepper and decided to take him under his wing.
Miller recommended that Goepper attend the Mt. Hood, Ore., action sports school, Windells Academy, for which he was given a full-ride athletic and academic scholarship. It was there that Goepper was introduced to Mike Hanley, then the president of the academy, and a legendary skiing coach.
Hanley was not only impressed by how well Goepper skied, but also the way the up-and-coming athlete handled himself in public.
“He was really quiet,” Hanley said. “I was blown away by how little he talked, which is rare for an athlete in this sport.”
Goepper, Hanley said, was more concerned about performing well than impressing others.
“He couldn’t have cared less about his image,” Hanley said. “He was doing it simply because he loved to do it. He was really, really good, and he always wanted more.”
Under Hanley’s tutelage, it wasn’t long before Goepper rose to the top of the slopestyle skiing world and began to be known as the athlete to beat.
In his rookie season (2010-11) Goepper qualified for the Dew Tour and the Winter X Games. He showed no signs of slowing down for the 2011-12 season and stood on the podium at every Dew Tour stop.
His 2012-13 season showed improvement, with Goepper taking home a medal from both Dew Tour stops, winning the Dew Tour Championship and capturing a silver medal in his debut at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo. He wrapped his 2012-13 season by taking home gold from the Winter X Games and is currently ranked No. 1 in the world.
The 2013-14 competitive season started in September in New Zealand, where he walked away with gold from the first world cup event of the season.
It wasn’t an easy feat, as he was suffering from what Hanley called “a scorching case of tonsillitis.”
“He couldn’t even talk the day of the competition for the world cup, and he still won,” Hanley said. “They (Goepper’s tonsils) flared up again the next week during the North Face Open, and he won again. I think as long as we keep him healthy, we’re not going to have to worry about anything.”
Goepper underwent surgery in mid-September to have his tonsils removed.
His coach said he believes there is little doubt that Goepper is the gold-medal favorite.
“I think something really strange would have to happen for Nick to not win gold in Sochi,” Hanley said. “His goal is to go on to multiple Olympics. He just doesn’t want to be a good skier; he wants to change the sport of skiing.”
Goepper will be among the first to say that his slopestyle skiing is more of a “culture” or a “lifestyle sport” and that some athletes got involved with the sport in part because they wanted to be rebels and escape the rigidity of rules. But now that the sport is part of the Olympic Winter Games, there are rules and Goepper, for one, is looking forward to competing in the Olympic world.
Even with the rules in this realm, Goepper said he is able to “express himself through skiing” and can still showcase the big tricks such as triple corks, innovative grips on the skis and switching left and right.
The possibility of being able to participate in the Olympic Winter Games is something Goepper welcomes. Goepper was in Mt. Hood, Ore., lounging on a couch back in 2011 when he saw a news release pop up on Facebook saying slopestyle was going to be a part of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
“I was not surprised, but I was insanely stoked,” Goepper said.
While the U.S. Olympic Team for slopestyle skiing won’t be determined until Jan. 18 after the Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix in Park City, Utah, Goepper believes he has a good shot at competing in Sochi.
“It would mean the world to me,” he said. “It would be everything that I’ve ever wanted and dreamed for. It would just be another piece of this awesome dream I’ve been living.”