Last Friday, just as the X Games were getting underway, NICK GOEPPER ANNOUNCED THAT HE WAS STEPPING AWAY FROM A FULL-TIME COMPETITION CAREER. After medaling at six X Games, three Olympics and two World Championships, retirement is well earned for the best skier that Lawrenceburg, Indiana ever produced.
As a contest skier, Nick will be remembered as one of the most tenacious competitors of his generation, who battled his way to the slopestyle podium in three consecutive Olympics even as younger talents nipped at his heels. But what’s next for the guy that Donald Trump once called Mark Gaper?
Matt Masson: Hi Nick, you announced your retirement on the day of what would have been your 12th X Games appearance. was it a deliberate choice to announce it then?
Nick Goepper: Yeah, it was. X Games is really special to me, it really launched my career early on and it’s also very important to the core of freeskiing. I always placed more significance on the X Games than any other contest, and that was always my dream as a kid. It was actually a pretty tough weekend to watch X and see all the guys ski really well, especially the Americans, and I think the course would have really suited my type of skiing as well. I made my decision, and this is just me sticking by it.
Obviously, there were two pretty special big airs with perfect 50s in women’s and men’s. Did you ever want to compete in that as well as slope?
I always thought about it. Big Air has always been interesting throughout my career. I got one big air podium at the Frostgun Invitational in Val D’Isere back in 2015. It was an AFP Platinum Big Air. I got second at that, Vinny Gagnier won it and Elias Ambühl got third.
I always did a lot better at slopestyle early on and I liked it more because you can use utilize way more of your skills than just one. Also, my personality: I always have to be moving, I’m always busy and I have like ADD in a way. Slopestyle kind of had that element of my personality in it, whereas big air, kind of like a one-hit wonder, never really suited me as well. Early on I saw some of my friends get really hurt in big air, you know, trying a trick and not coming anywhere close to landing it. I always kind of reserved myself for slope and that’s why I never really treaded into big air.
X Games has a special place in Nick's heart.
Your contest career includes 3 Olympic medals and 6 X Games medals (four of them gold). You’ve already said why X Games were most important for you. but those Olympic medals must have been something special too.
The Olympics is next level. The cool thing with the Olympics is that it’s recognized generationally from Gen Z all the way through. The older folks I know thought that I did some reckless, rebellious sport or a “bad attitude action sport.” As soon as it came into the Olympics, it legitimized our sport in the eyes of the broader public. I didn’t necessarily need to be legitimized to everyone, but it was kind of cool to connect with my older friends and family and just a bit with the broader public, because the X Games, in a general way, is still pretty niche.
That whole time just brought me so far out of skiing. I actually had a really hard time coming back to skiing after that.
The American podium at Sochi 2014 must have been nuts. I spoke to Gus Kenworthy who said it was a crazy time, and loved that he shared it with you and Joss. What was the weirdest experience after that?
For me, the weirdest experience was just the media. That was the first time that I recognized how sensational the media needs to be in order to be profitable. Gus, for example, saved some puppies and was very public about his personal life. During the sweep time, I’m a competitive guy myself, so I shamelessly tried to get some of that media attention. I was 19 and I created this “Who wants to date Nick?” competition on Instagram. Myself, Joss and Gus were all over the news, and Gus was the leader of the media attention at this point. I just thought “The iron’s hot. What am I going to do?” There was a hashtag and if you wanted to win a date with me, you had to enter with a video or photo with #Iwanttodatenick. I was going to pick a winner over the next couple of weeks to come and visit me, and it was just funny. That whole time just brought me so far out of skiing. I actually had a really hard time coming back to skiing after that. I got pretty distracted and caught up in some of the media craziness.
Nick's last X Games gold medal came in 2021, eight years after his first one.
Well, you had medals in three games in a row. Surely one of the funniest moments must have been after your silver in south Korea in 2018. What went through your head when you went to the White House and Donald Trump got your name wrong?
He called me Mark! We (the US Winter Olympic Team) were on some bleachers behind the president and the vice president. They’re talking to the media, giving a presentation and bringing up medallists from the games: “Red Gerrard, congratulations.” He was just congratulating everyone, then he goes “Mark Gaper.” Part of me was like, “Hell yeah, he’s calling my name.” The other part was, “Oh god, he’s calling my name. Incorrectly!” I’ve got that video and it’ll live in infamy for the rest of my life. It was pretty funny.
Oops! Looks like the Donald had a bit of trouble with Nick’s name.
You announced your retirement from a “Full-time” contest career. does that mean you’ll still do the occasional competition?
Well, in two weeks I’m going to Red Bull Playstreets in Bad Gastein, Austria. I didn’t want to say I’m done forever, because I’ll still be involved in the industry. As far as chasing World Cup points and X Games and Olympics, that’s not on the table for me anymore. Smaller stuff though, I’ll probably hit every now and then.
So, what’s next? I know you said, “who knows?” but maybe some filming?
I’ve had an incredible 15 years of being a professional skier. Everything I’ve wanted to do, I’ve done. If I was going to create “The Nick Goepper Video Project” I probably would have done it by now. That’s a valuable part of my career that could be missing, if you look at it that way, because I’ve mainly been a contest guy. There are other things in life that I really want to explore right now.
I love skiing so much and it’s brought me so much joy and experience over the years, I kind of don’t want to have any pressure to do it anymore. I don’t want the pressure to go to a contest, make a segment or anything. I just want to do what I want to do.
I kind of have two modes: fast or off. If I’m not trying to be my absolute best or the absolute best in something, it’s hard for me to go at it halfway.
People tell me all the time “Yo, just chill, you’ve got sponsors bla, bla, bla…” I love my sponsors. I currently have Red Bull and Völkl. I wouldn’t want to ride for those guys and “just chill.” I want to basically die for them if I’m being supported significantly by them. I owe it to them and to myself. I don’t want to take money and product from someone, just to chill and not do anything. I want to ski for fun, and there are other things I want to do for fun. Like, I love riding my snowmobile, that’s kind of a new thing. I’m working on some other little business side projects back home.
I kind of have two modes: fast or off. If I’m not trying to be my absolute best or the absolute best in something, it’s hard for me to go at it halfway. That’s where I stand with competing, I could have taken my invite to X Games this year, or I could have taken my invite to Dew Tour or the World Cups. I have the spots. I could have gone, hung with the boys and had a good time. I’m not that prepared this year, so I would have gotten eighth or fifth or something. I don’t want to do that because that’s not fair to myself, my sponsors or the people watching to just see me kind of go half-assed. I would rather someone else have the opportunity, who wants it more than me right now.
After years grinding on the contest circuit, Nick's now ready to ski for fun.
you’ll keep going with Red Bull and Völkl?
I’m with them through the spring, and then we’ll see what happens after that. I don’t really have any burning desires right now as far as the future of my skiing career goes. If they want to continue or withdraw their support, I love them either way. They’ve been with me through my entire career.
I love my sponsors. I wouldn’t want to ride for those guys and “just chill.”
I am a very lucky and very happy guy. I’m just very grateful for everything that’s happened in the last 15 years. Skiing’s been really good to me and I’d like to give back, in some way, in the near future. I’m doing a little bit of commentary and I do my own event, a rail jam, on my home mountain every Christmas. Maybe I’ll grow that a bit. Nothing is set right now.
It’s incredible to see the progression in skiing in the mountains and backcountry over the last ten years, it’s been an absolute pleasure to be a part of it. I don’t have one regret.
You’ve had an incredible career in skiing, but you did have a go at rollerblading at the World Skate Games, in Argentina, at the end of 2022. Will you do more skate contests?
I don’t have any plans at this point. But you never know! Going to the world champs in Argentina was an epic experience.
Congratulations on an unforgettable contest career and good luck with whatever comes next. we’ll see you at Playstreets!