It’s been just over a month since he won a bronze medal for freestyle skiing at the Sochi Winter Olympics, and just over a week since his 20th birthday, and for this small-town Indiana native, the drive is stronger than ever before.
“As much a blessing as it was to get on the podium at the Olympics, it was also very frustrating because I wanted to win,” said Goepper. “I think everything happens for a reason and I think it gives me a new challenge and a new motivation to learn new tricks. At the same time I’m trying to not be too narrow-minded and keep having fun.”
The competitive stakes began to increase for this young Olympian in a very small window of time. Within only four years he achieved his first podium finish, at the Dew Tour in Killington in 2011 at the age of 16, and found himself winning gold two years later at the Aspen Winter X Games, a feat he would repeat in 2014.
But it was the trip to Sochi where Goepper found the greatest thrill of his competitive career, proving he was one of the top three freestyle slopestyle skiers on the planet.
Dropping in on that stage felt natural, like the many Dew Tours and X Games he’s been to, then he finished his run. “It felt like a normal slope until that moment when you land,” said Goepper. “When you land your best round and land that last jump, that last trick, you ski out and there’s the massive grandstand at the end, and there’s my family and friends cheering for me and waving American flags. I didn’t realize how big a deal the Olympics were until I got there.”
Goepper began skiing at the age of 5 when his mother signed him up for skiing lessons, called “skidoodles,” at a small, nearby mountain called Perfect North Slopes, in Lawrenceburg, IN. At first it felt like a chore to him, and he didn’t enjoy it at all, but somewhere between the ages of 7 and 8 he had an epiphany. He began to go faster and try to break away from his group to ride lifts. As he was beginning to learn that skiing was not just about flat-lining down a hill, he began to see the older skiers at the park grinding and flipping off of rails, and he simply wanted to be a part of a more exciting style of skiing.
“There was this crew of older skiers at the hill, and they called themselves Freezing Point 32, and they had their own tour bus,” said Goepper. “They went around the US and did contests and lived in this bus and made their own videos, and that really inspired me.”
Goepper himself began to road trip with his father around the age of 12, across the Midwest from Michigan and Wisconsin, to North Carolina, competing in small rail jams and big-air competitions. It was a constant flow of trying new things in new places. At 13, he ventured to Mount Snow for the first time and credits it as his first “big mountain experience.”
“Carinthia was the first mountain that I came to out East, and the first big terrain I had skied on,” said Goepper. “It gave me the first out-of-the-Midwest, worldly experience.”
It was also Goepper’s first time mixing with a wide assortment of older, semi-professional riders, and another inspiring building block in his career. “It puts into perspective how it is for the kids who meet me now,” said Goepper. “I was in that same position seven years ago.”
The third-place Dew Tour finish at Killington finally spring-boarded Goepper into a more competitive career, and gave him momentum; he had proven to himself that he was no longer a “small fish in a big pond,” but a real competitor.
Competition is what fuels Goepper now. Winning gold at the X games twice also brought about the realization that once you’re at the top of the game, the tough part is to stay there, and Goepper will be the first to tell you when he feels he did a million things wrong on one trick attempt. The goal right now is to stay focused and stay on top.
Within seven years Goepper has gone from his first “big mountain experience” to interviews on David Letterman and a podium in Sochi, and while he looks exhausted, and the celebration continues to die down little by little, he is, in fact, loving every minute of it.
“I think about the last few years and how they’ve flown by and I really want to make the most out of this opportunity,” said Goepper. “It’s crazy the amount of experience I’ve gotten this year alone. I’m living the dream and loving it.”