U.S. Ski Team member Nolan Kasper calls Sugarbush home.
It was a warm morning in mid-April when I first met Nolan Kasper. I was waiting at the base of a lift tower on Mt. Ellen’s Inverness trail where Kasper, a newly sponsored athlete of Sugarbush, was making his first official appearance at the mountain. It wasn’t just about putting on clinics and signing autographs, though he did those things. An athlete as focused and dedicated as Kasper had to get a training session in beforehand.
As I sat at the tower, soaking in the sun, I thought to myself how beautiful a day it would be, with the temperature reaching into the fifties. Looking down the hill, I saw Nolan come up over the rise on the upper Poma lift. Upon shouting an introduction and stating how perfect the day was, I got the reply, “Hopefully we can get this course firmed up to ski!” It was then I realized: slalom skiers don’t want warm and sunny conditions—they need the snow firm. Shows how much I knew.
A large chunk of his training session was spent trying to get the snow firmed up. Coaches from the nearby Green Mountain Valley School, the local ski academy, worked on salting the course before his runs. When he took to the course, the first thing I noticed was how smooth and powerful a skier he was. He’s known for attacking a hill rather than being passive, and I could understand why he wanted the course firm. The problem of soft snow conditions garnered a lot of attention at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, where Kasper finished as the top U.S. slalom skier at thirteenth place overall (ahead of well-known American favorite Ted Ligety). It was the second straight Olympics in which he finished as the top American in that event; in Vancouver he finished twenty-fourth overall.
Incredible finishes like that, while competing against the best in the world, make it hard to remember that Kasper is only twenty-five-years old. When not busy competing or training, he can be found in one of the many classrooms at Dartmouth College pursuing a bachelor’s degree in economics. Because of his skiing career, his academic path has been a long one. He estimates a graduation date of 2021 if he continues enrolling in one quarter each year.
He says he tries not to think about life after competitive skiing, and at this point he doesn’t have a dream job outside of that. And maybe he won’t need to. Though most people spend more time laying out money in skiing than making it, Kasper’s been lucky enough—and competitive enough—to enjoy the other side.
It was independence at a young age that helped foster that spirit. “I want to go fast” was how Nolan explained his credo. As a kid he found that thirst quenched by the thrill of skiing. After visiting from New Jersey to ski every winter in Vermont, in 2000 his family moved to the Mad River Valley, where Kasper spent time skiing Sugarbush, among other mountains. His brother currently attends the Green Mountain Valley School, though Nolan himself competed against them during his high school days at Burke Mountain.
It hasn’t always been fun and games, and it hasn’t always been easy. Kasper has already endured two hip surgeries and a knee surgery. “It was boring coming back at first, having to fight the adrenaline,” he says. “But you have to wait. You can’t go too hard or too fast too soon.”
In between training, competition, and schoolwork, Kasper will return to Sugarbush several times over the next year. He’ll likely be giving clinics and signing autographs, but before that, I’m guessing we’ll see him packing down the slope, and testing the texture of the snow, in preparation for a morning training session that demonstrates just how fast an Olympic slalom skier can move.