Former AVSC coach Nichole Mason wins two major awards from US ski team
The news was so surprising and overwhelming that Nichole Mason forgot what Ellen Adams told her she had won. Adams, the club development manager for U.S. Ski and Snowboard, had to reiterate the news later via text.
“Right when she said that I just blacked out and started crying. So she told me and I told her I was crying, and she said, ‘I’m crying, too!’ It was the cutest moment. It was really special,” Mason said of that initial phone call. “Coming from her was a really cool thing. I had to text her later because I didn’t remember what she had told me.”
Mason, who spent five years as a snowboard coach with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, had been recognized by U.S. Ski and Snowboard in the biggest way. On top of recently being named its 2020 Snowboarding International Coach of the Year, she was named the 2020 U.S. Ski and Snowboard Coach of the Year, an award that goes to the top coach across all of its disciplines.
She is only the second female to be named the overall coach of the year by U.S. Ski and Snowboard since the award’s inception in 1998. Freestyle coach Liz McIntyre won the award in 2004. Current AVSC alpine director and former U.S. ski team coach Johno McBride is the only two-time winner of the award (2003, 2005), having worked closely with American ski racing great Bode Miller.
“Nichole is such a passionate and talented coach who has had a huge impact at every level she has coached,” said Jeremy Forster, U.S. snowboard and freeski director. “She is an amazing ambassador for the sport and athletes as well as a great representative for the Aspen Ski and Snowboard Club, and the high level program they have developed.”
Mason recently completed her second season as the U.S. snowboard slopestyle rookie team coach, where she is in charge of developing the country’s top young male and female slopestyle and big air snowboard athletes. She made a name for herself in Aspen, where she helped develop current pro team member Chris Corning into a bona fide star.
Following the 2016-17 season with AVSC, Mason was named the 2017 USSA Snowboarding Domestic Coach of the Year and the 2017 Development Coach of the Year, which typically goes to the top club coach in the country. A year later, Mason would accept her current role with the national team.
“It’s a lot. You are on the road constantly. But there is a reason I signed up for it,” Mason said. “I love to instill that love and passion in the kids, and really U.S. Ski and Snowboard is kind of the pinnacle for that. Just being able to even work at that level is an honor and honestly the last two seasons have kind of been a blur.”
Among her breakthrough athletes this past season was California’s Dusty Henricksen. The 17-year-old who trains out of Mammoth won slopestyle gold at the Youth Olympic Games before winning the Mammoth Grand Prix not even two weeks later in what was only his second career World Cup start. He also finished second at the Burton U.S. Open in Vail after he landed the first-ever backside quad cork 1800 in a slopestyle competition.
“I owe my season to her,” Henricksen said of Mason. “She is rad for sure. I like the way she coaches. Her style, she just kind of watches you snowboard and if you’re in your own vibe she doesn’t really try and talk too much or get in your head. If you need some help, she’s always there.”
Henricksen’s success has led to him being promoted to the U.S. pro team for the upcoming season. For Mason, it’s bittersweet as it means they met their goals but also means she’ll no longer work directly with Henricksen going forward. Among the athletes she still has on her rookie team for the 2020-21 season is former AVSC athlete Jake Canter, who has competed in knuckle huck at X Games the past two years.
“That’s also part of the job, is moving those athletes up to the pro team and knowing that book isn’t necessarily done, it’s just started a new chapter,” Mason said. “Just to be part of their journey and to see them hitting their own personal benchmarks along the way is kind of why we do what we do. For Dusty, he put so much hard work into training over the summer and was just so dedicated to the program and really went above and beyond and it paid off for him.”
Not only has Mason become one of the country’s top coaches, but she’s helping lead the way forward for women in the snowsports world. She’s been at the forefront of all-girls’ camps and all-women’s coaching clinics, and it was through this she met Adams. Adams leads a task force on gender equity in coaching and took Mason and two other women with her to Norway this past fall for a women in leadership symposium put on by the Norwegian Ski Federation.
“As far as coaches go at the grassroots level, at the club levels like in Aspen, the average is 24% of all coaches are women. And as you rise up through from the development to the elite level, that drops dramatically,” Adams said. “Nichole is one of the very few women coaching at the elite level. We are committed as an organization to bringing more balance to that.”
Mason, who currently lives with her brother in Arvada when she is not traveling, plans to remain in her role as rookie team coach heading into the next two seasons, which include the 2021 world championships and the 2022 Winter Olympics, barring any scheduling changes or cancellations related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Her trips back to Aspen are few and far between these days, but the impact the town and the local club had on her career is always at the forefront.
“It came as a surprise. It was very unexpected,” Mason said of her recent awards. She especially wanted to thank AVSC, notably former snowboard program director Miah Wheeler, for bringing her on board in the first place. “I just feel like these awards most definitely are dedicated back to that club and I wouldn’t be where I am today without what they did for me.”
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