With wins in two of the three Dew Tour competitions, a Winter X Games Aspen gold medal and the overall Dew Cup title, Tom Wallisch has been the dominating force on this season's slopestyle circuit. But don't overlook 17-year-old Nick Goepper, who has been equally impressive in the No. 2 slot. Goepper won silver as a Winter X Aspen rookie this year and podiumed at all three Dew Tours, including a long-awaited victory at the Snowbasin season finale -- the only time anyone's beaten Wallisch this winter.
Goepper, a Lawrenceburg, Ind., native who grew up sliding plastic rails to Astroturf in his back yard, has based himself out of Summit County, Colo., this winter, living with mentor Kerry Miller and three fellow Windell's Academy students. Whereas he was just happy to get invited to Winter X Games Tignes last year, he's one of the favorites to win gold in France on March 15 -- the day after his 18th birthday. We sat down recently for a fireside chat on a crowded and blustery day at Breckenridge.
What changed for you this year?
Just how I focused and used my time to train before the season with Windell's. I'd never really worked out, but this year I spent tons of time in the gym at Mt. Hood. I think that's helped my body significantly and my stamina. I was doing a lot of plyometrics -- not really raw weights, more agility stuff. I'd do movements that I do when I ski, like jumping onto a box from the side to simulate jumping onto a rail. I also spent at least two hours a day on the trampoline, getting my air awareness dialed in.
What role has your confidence played?
I took third in the New Zealand Winter Games last August, and after that, I went into every contest setting a bar for myself of nothing less than third place. Then I got second at the Breck Dew Tour and my goal changed from finishing on the podium to winning. I think I have the ability to win any contest I enter. As long as I stay healthy and keep having fun with my skiing, there's no regressing.
Can you take us inside the rivalry between you and Tom Wallisch this year?
It's been 20 percent frustrating and 80 percent genuine fun. I love Wallisch, he's a great guy, and at every contest we'd kind of bicker back and forth, just poke at each other at the bottom of the course. When he got me on the last run at Breck and again at X Games, it was like, "Dangit Wallisch. Again? Really?" At Snowbasin, when he saw his [second-place] score at the end of his last run, he was like [feigning growly monster voice], "Goepperrrrrr!" He just said, "Oh, I gave it to ya this time, I gotta let you have one."
What percentage of your time have you spent perfecting tricks you've already landed, compared to learning new tricks?
I'd say 60 percent of the time I'm trying to learn new stuff, and 40 percent of the time I'm doing stuff that I know I can land. This year I've probably learned more new tricks in a season than I ever have. It's been like, learn a trick a week before the contest, then do it in the competition. Which is kind of stressful, but it's been working out for me.
What tricks have you learned?
I've learned switch left double 10s, switch right double 12s, right double 14s, switch left double 12s, left double 12s, left double 10s.
How about rails?
I've just tried to be smoother on rails, rather than super technical. The technical aspect is there, but I've more just been trying to clean them up, and kind of emulate Wallisch. He has such a smooth style on rails.
What was your Winter X Games experience like? You finally got there, and then all of a sudden you won qualifiers and were in the lead until the last run of finals.
It was like living in a fantasy. When I qualified first, my confidence was boosted, like, "I could potentially, you know, maybe win this." After the event, I got 500 new Twitter followers and my Facebook was blowing up so hard it was crazy. I couldn't even handle it. I had to exit out of it.
It's almost a lock that you'll be on the U.S. Freeskiing Team next year. Are you starting to view things on a two-year plan with the Olympics in mind?
Yeah, the Olympic qualifying events start this summer in New Zealand. I think the best route is to form a plan of your own and then maybe take it as it comes. Things change at every contest in terms of what people are doing, new tricks, stuff like that. I think it'll be an interesting road until 2014.
Do you still feel like a small-town Indiana kid?
Oh yeah. I try to embrace that and stay humble and grounded as much as I can. I still feel like it's a day skiing at Perfect North when I'm skiing at Breckenridge, as far as the mindset and how much fun it is. People are just starting to recognize me, which is cool sometimes.