AVSC’s Nichole Mason named USSA snowboard coach of the year
When she found out, Nichole Mason admitted she shed a few tears. But as surprising as it was to her, Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club snowboard program director Miah Wheeler called it a “clear choice.”
“She fully deserves all of that. … I never doubted it,” Wheeler said. “AVSC gives us the bandwidth and the ability to operate in a way we think is very healthy and productive. … We’ve known we have a great program all along, it’s just nice to have that national acknowledgment.”
The recognition came earlier this week when Mason, a Team 2 snowboard coach with AVSC, received two major awards from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association. She was named the 2017 USSA Snowboarding Domestic Coach of the Year as well as the 2017 USSA Development Coach of the Year. The latter is considered one of USSA’s Gold Awards and represents one of the single highest honors given by the organization.
“It’s definitely a big honor to know people are recognizing what I’m doing. I was honestly just surprised. I cried a little bit,” Mason said Wednesday while sitting in the AVSC clubhouse. “In years past I’ve been the one voting for other people and seeing their success and being so happy for them — sort of watching what they did in order to achieve that sort of success.”
Mason, 27, coaches many of the AVSC’s upper-level athletes, such as Chris Corning, who had somewhat of a breakthrough season as part of the U.S.’s pro slopestyle team. Born in California and raised in Summit County, Mason’s 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. It was there she met Wheeler, who then was the U.S. National Paralympic snowboard head coach. When Wheeler returned to his roots in Aspen, where he had long ran a successful snowboard program for the AVSC previously, he brought Mason along with him.
“I feel like I’ve definitely grown more in the three years I’ve been with this club than I have since I started instructing and coaching when I was 19,” Mason said. “If you are a good person and you can show those morals and make a comfortable environment for the athletes, whether it be boy or girl, then they are going to be able to put their best foot forward and be successful no matter what they choose.”
Mason said a lot of her development as a coach stems from the opportunities the AVSC has provided. From training in Mammoth to attending World Cup events to camps in New Zealand, Mason is well traveled. Her season highlight came when she was invited to coach earlier this winter at the FIS Junior Worlds in Laax, Switzerland.
It was “kind of full circle” for Mason, who competed at Junior Worlds in Italy when she was 15. Among the athletes at Junior Worlds this year was Vermont native and AVSC snowboarder Kirsten Webster, 16, who met Mason a few years ago and decided to move to the Roaring Fork Valley to train under her.
“She’s got a great personality and is very funny. She’s one of a kind,” Webster said of Mason. “She deserves it so much. She works so hard and she’s a true role model to women’s snowboarding. A bunch of the girls, the high-level athletes, totally look up to her.”
While Mason has career goals similar to anyone in her position, such as one day coaching for the U.S. team, being a mentor for young, female athletes has come to the forefront of her desires.
She sees room for growth in women’s snowboarding, and if anything hopes her recent awards can help make her somewhat of a guiding light for the up-and-coming female riders.
“I really didn’t embrace it until this year, but I have been developing a pretty strong following of females in the sport,” Mason said. “Sometimes the girls have a tendency to maybe get pushed off to the side and are not given the right attention. I really do want to make a little bit of a change as far as that goes and really help those female athletes feel a little bit more empowered and have a better support system.”
Mason will receive her two awards May 11 at the USSA Congress in Park City, Utah.
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