Back for seconds, Nichole Mason returns to AVSC to lead snowboard program
Mason previously coached the U.S. national team rookies
Before joining the U.S. national team’s coaching staff, Nichole Mason honed her skills working with Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC) athletes. While with AVSC, she was named the USSA snowboard coach of the year, an honor that allowed her to eventually experience the top of the coaching profession.
Six years later, she is back where her career really got started.
“I definitely missed it when I was gone,” she said. “It’s a hard place to leave, that’s for sure. I was pretty stoked when I got the phone call and the opportunity to come back. I jumped on it pretty quick.”
She was recently named the new snowboard program director for AVSC, beginning her new role Oct. 15. Despite being relatively young still, she returns to the Roaring Fork Valley with a world of experience and an impressive roster of elite athletes she’d had the privilege of coaching.
There are lessons she’s learned along the way that she hopes to pass on to the next generation of AVSC riders.
“I’m really thankful that I have worked here before and that I’m comfortable with the facilities, the surroundings, kind of know my way around, so I was really able to step in and get right to work,” Mason said. “I’m really hoping to bring some of that back to the program and really help these kids see and understand they are a lot more capable of things than they think they are.”
Born in California and raised in Summit County, her career started at 19 when she was an instructor at Loveland Ski Area. She also spent five seasons working with Team Summit and then worked with Adaptive Action Sports at Copper Mountain.
Along the way, she met former AVSC snowboard program director Miah Wheeler — now the club’s development director — who eventually brought her to Aspen. Wheeler was again at the forefront of getting Mason to return for her second stint.
“I’m really stoked to be back. This is where it all started, really. At least, the bigger part of my career,” Mason said. “AVSC, I feel, has a very special place in my heart. It’s obviously where my career really took off and really started and gave me those opportunities to be able to explore some of the higher level coaching I was really craving. So, for me to be able to come back full circle and give back to the community here in the valley, there are honestly no words to describe that feeling.”
In 2018, after about five years with AVSC, she was hired by U.S. Ski and Snowboard to be the national rookie team coach for both men and women in both slopestyle and big air snowboard disciplines. In 2020, she became the first female recipient of the International Coach of the Year award and was the second female coach ever to be recognized as Overall Coach of the Year.
She was the sole coach working with the rookie team, meaning she had to carry the heavy burden of developing the younger athletes and graduating them onto the pro team. She had the choice to coach at the Beijing Olympics, but was among many to turn down the opportunity because of the pandemic.
Still, Mason feels she learned a lot from her time with the U.S. snowboard team that will benefit AVSC riders.
“What goes along with that job is a lot of performance-based statistics,” she said. “They are looking for medals, and they are looking for that next up-and-comer who is going to be able to carve their way up to the pro team and make their own spot. It is a lot of pressure.”
Among the riders she has helped groom over the years is Colorado’s Chris Corning, an X Games and Olympic standout who trained with Mason in both Summit County and in Aspen. She also coached California’s Dusty Henricksen, who was a breakout star at X Games Aspen 2021 as a rookie.
In the roughly three years since leaving the national team, she has run her own snowboard coaching business but was excited to join AVSC for the stability it will bring to her life off the slopes.
“It almost feels like a seamless transition because I’m essentially doing the same thing, but I don’t have to stress about maybe not eating one week when it’s slow,” she said of her new job. “What I’m looking forward to is really helping to grow the program and start to give other coaches the same opportunities that were given to me.”
In her first month on the job, she has mostly been building out her coaching staff and learning the club’s operational procedures, on top of learning as many names as she can. The athletes have been hard at work with dryland training in the wait for snow to fall and area resorts to open.
Among the goals she has is to help find the next Gretchen Bleiler — a four-time X Games champ and 2006 Olympic silver medalist in the halfpipe who learned to ride in Aspen — among the area’s youth. Mason would like to see the snowboard program again reach the same level of success as the current AVSC freeski program, which has produced national team members on a regular basis in recent years, including two-time Olympic medalist Alex Ferreira.
“I’m looking at building from the ground up,” she said. “We have a really nice pool of younger athletes, really between the ages of 8 to 13, which is a beautiful developmental age. So, it’s about putting our focus and energy into this young group of kids and helping them down that path of becoming overall rippers and instilling confidence.”
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