"When I was dropping in to do my first backflip, it was the scariest thing I'd ever done," says Nick Goepper, who was only 11 years old when he pointed his skis toward a kicker on Perfect North Slopes, the 800-foot peak near his Lawrenceburg, Indiana home, and let it rip. "The more time you experience that – not fearlessness, but calculated risk – the more you get used to it."
Nowadays, the 19-year-old Dew Tour champion, X-Games winner, and Sochi Bronze Medalist, is a slopestyle evangelist. When he returns to Indiana, he'll be back in the terrain park bouncing off jumps and teaching (not much) younger versions of himself how to get air. Goepper is happy that America swept the podium in slopestyle not just because he was on it, but because he wants that success to "spark interest and inspire people to go out there and have fun." Still, he's keenly aware of his sport's dangers and quick to remind anyone looking to follow in his bootsteps that having fun in a terrain park – like winning on an international stage – is all about preparation.
Here are his tips:
Get Your Legs Ready
After practice, Goepper typically takes an ice bath and climbs onto his stationary bike. He says that having strong quads is crucial if you want to maintain momentum during the moment of impact. "It's all legs and core," he says. "You've got to be able to twist hard then stick it."
Find a Trampoline
Olympic commentators made a big deal out of the practice setup Goepper built built from astroturf in his back yard, but he says that having a trampoline was just as cruicial as having features to practice on daily. repeating and refining jumps. His basic theory was that his body "knew how to do the trick" if his mind would let him. Practicing twists and turns on the tramp allowed him to stay relaxed and experiment without injuring himself.
Start on the Rails
Goepper recommends that skiers looking to give slopestyle a shot head to the nearest terrain park and scrupulously avoid the jumps. "Hit the rails first," he says. "And make sure you've got some beat up skis you can bash against them." He says that only skiers who feel comfortable hitting a small rail and jumping off both backwards and forwards should move on to the jumps.
Start Small With a 360
Amateur aerialists should avoid big air until they get comfortable on "stepover" jumps, where the landing is on the same level as the launch point. "It's not like you just go out and huck a double cork," says Goepper. "You have to crawl before you walk. Start with a 360 then shoot for a 560 then a 720. Start with one backflip and don't try for two until it's easy."
Move on to a Backflip
It took the young champ two years to go from single backflips to doubles and another year for him to go off axis. "Hitting a jump is not like making a three pointer in basketball," the Hoosier points out. "In order to do what we do, you have to overcome fear. You have to stare it in the face." That's part of the fun for Goepper and pretty much the whole game when it comes to backflips, which require skiers stop themselves from instinctually fighting momentum.