PARK CITY, Utah — Nick Goepper knows how to perform at big competitions. The 24-year-old freeskier has two Olympic medals to prove it. And now he has his second world championship medal.
On a blustery day at the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships, Goepper won his second bronze medal in slopestyle skiing — to match the one he earned in 2013.
“I’m very thrilled with how today went,” he said. “Conditions were variable, and there was a lot of emotion going around today at the top in regards to the weather. But we managed to get the event off and put down some runs, and I’m happy to come away with a bronze.”
British veteran James Woods, 27, won with a score of 86.68 on his second of three runs. Birk Ruud from Norway also had a good second run, scoring 85.40 to pull ahead of Goepper, who had scored 84.46 on his first run. Goepper’s 85.18 on his final run wasn’t quite enough to move up into gold- or silver-medal position, but he maintained the bronze.
In an upset, neither reigning Olympic gold medalist Oystein Braaten from Norway nor American Alex Hall, the reigning X Games gold medalist, qualified for the final.
Weather has been a factor for several days at world championships. Heavy snow and wind forced organizers to cancel the big air snowboarding competition on Tuesday evening and postponed slopestyle skiing practice and qualifying. Conditions improved throughout the day, but the wind and snow continued to be a factor in the slopestyle skiing final.
“You’re coming into the jump, you don’t know if you’re going to get a headwind, a tailwind, land on the knuckle or go halfway down the landing,” said defending world champion McRae Williams, who struggled in the final and ended up seventh. “Instead of focusing on the trick you’re doing, you’re looking around trying to figure out where you are in the air. But it is what it is.”
Weather aside, the men’s slopestyle skiing competition was a story of young against old, veterans versus newcomers. Ruud just turned 19 on Monday, and it was his first medal in a major competition in slopestyle.
“I didn’t know where Birk was last year,” joked Woods. “I do now!”
Then there was American Mac Forehand, who came in fourth with an 83.30. A 17-year-old high school junior at Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, Forehand did not even expect to qualify for world championships this year. He won the junior world title in slopestyle skiing last year, then earned his first world cup podium this past November.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said, still sounding awed after the competition ended. “I didn’t think I’d be getting here this year. I was just happy to be in the world cups and being here means a lot.”
Even crazier, he broke a ski before the slopestyle finals. For his first run, he borrowed a pair of skis from the French coach while his mom ran to his lodging in Park City and grabbed another pair of his skis. She delivered them to the top of the course before Forehand’s second run.
“Shout out to all moms out there and my mom of course,” Forehand said.
When asked what he thinks of Forehand, Goepper confessed with a smile, “He scares me.”
“It’s funny, I’m on the other side of the fence now, and now I know how all the older guys felt when I was on my way up when I was his age,” he added. “It’s not a very exciting feeling, but I’m like ah, someone’s competing for my job!”
Even with younger competition nipping at his tails, Goepper plans to continue competing in freeskiing. He has his eye on the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. And in the short term, he wants to re-establish his team and smooth out his life again. His private coach recently moved on, and Goepper had struggled with consistent results this year. In the big air competition on Saturday, he finished last (10th).
At worlds, Goepper approached the windy, snowy slopestyle course like a seasoned competitor, and he credited maturity and experience with helping him win his second world championship medal.
“You saw a couple of guys on the podium today who have been doing this a while, Woodsie and myself,” he said. “We have a lot of experience under our belts, and we just knew how to gauge the day and the weather and knew what runs to perform that would give us a lot of speed, which is what we all needed very much today.”
Further sign of his maturity, he recently moved to Salt Lake City where he purchased a house and got engaged in May 2018.
U.S. men have won medals in slopestyle skiing in every world championships since 2011, when the event made its worlds debut. Goepper kept the streak alive Wednesday.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.