It’s Sunday afternoon in late July and Steven Nyman, three-time Olympian ski racer, is holding court. In a few days he’ll be flying to New Zealand for a month of training as he kick-starts his 14th World Cup season.
But first, a barbeque.
On this day, Nyman has invited a small group of young up-and-coming competitive skiers to his Deer Valley condo for a cookout. There’s a mix of freestylers, ski jumpers, and alpiners. His friend and business cohort, Johnny Alamo, describes the scene.
“It’s just amazing to watch how he carries himself,” says Alamo. “There’s a group of 20- to 22-year-olds all gathering around, listening to Steve. He’s cooking, he’s telling one story right after another, and he’s giving them advice on how to pack. Hell, he’s not only cooking for them, he’s cleaning the dishes too!” As it turns out, the 32-year-old Nyman has become somewhat of a father figure on the US Ski Team.
“There’s a humbleness in Steven. It’s not necessarily rare, but with a lot of athletes that have achieved his level of success, it goes to their head and they lose a sense of self and family values. Steven has maintained that very well; he’s someone that really has a kind spirit,” says Alamo.
Nyman fought back from a career setback after suffering one of the worst injuries in all of sports—a torn Achilles tendon. Now, he’s well-poised to continue leading by example, and show the younger racers what it takes to get to the podium. After a disappointing 27th place finish in the Olympic Downhill, Nyman went on to win both the Super G and Downhill races in Aspen last April.
There’s plenty cooking in Steven Nyman’s world right now. Here’s what we grilled him on the morning after the barbeque.
You’ve stood on the podium twice at Beaver Creek. How psyched are you that the 2015 World Cup Championship is being held in the US?
Oh yea, World Champs coming up! That’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. It’s pretty exciting. When I set goals as a kid, I was like, “I don’t want to be an Olympic champion. I want to be a World champion.” And now I have the opportunity to do it on my home soil. That’s so cool, I’m fired up for it!
The hashtag [#BelieveinSteven] is awesome, how did that come about, was it your idea?
My buddy came up with it—well actually him and his dad kind of fight over it. I don’t know who really came up with it, but I’m on Brian’s side [laugh].
My dad was like, “Are you sure you want to use that, people are thinking you’re trying to spread religion or something.”
And I was like, no, I’m just saying to my fans that support me, “believe in me” or whatever.
Did you think it would take off like it did?
Not entirely, I just kind of latched on and had some pins and t-shirts made up. It was at the launch of my World Cup campaign and my parents have a ski shop. They wanted to sell enough pins to fund my brother’s ticket to come see me in Torino, so they sold all kinds of shirts and tons of pins and ended up raising enough so that my brother was there to watch me race.
But then a few years later, I started seeing it with Steven Tyler, while he was a judge on American Idol. I was like, “Come on, Steven Tyler?”
I don’t think he’s on it anymore, but for a couple of years everyone was really using the hashtag, so I thought that was just kind of funny. I thought about changing it a few times, but all of the younger kids on the team are like “No man, it’s sweet.” So I just kept it.
So, you grew up in Sundance, what’s that like?
It was awesome. In the summer, we would care-take all the homes up there, maintain their yards. My dad ran the ski school, and then he had a landscaping business in the summer, and one of the yards we took care of was Robert Redford’s.
Of course he owns the resort, but he’s also a friend of my parents and he knows me. When we were kids, it was always fun skiing because we were like “Oh, Bob’s skiing today.”
And now when I go ski at Sundance, and if he’s there, he’s like “Oh, Steven’s skiing today” and I’m like, “Sweet, that’s kind of cool!
You call him Bob?
Yea, pretty much everyone on the mountain calls him Bob.
Did he ever critique your mowing?
No, but he did have a bed of flowers when you entered his pool house area. There was a big pool, a tennis court, and he used to have a baseball field in there. Anyway, we had to trim the flower bed so it said “Bobland.”
Tell us about your start in ski racing.
I remember I was at the World Juniors in 2002, and I was on the Park City ski team. I was wearing these 90s stretch pants and a downhill suit that had tons of holes in it. I cut the suit with a scissors so I only had the top half on. That, and a backward hat, and goggles, and I ended up winning the slalom. It was a dramatic rise from there. Six days later I raced my first World Cup slalom.
So what scares a downhiller? What’s one of the scariest moments of your life?
There are so many scary moments, and they’re just brief moments, but one was definitely during my first year on the World Cup as a speed skier. It was the first race in Kitzbuehel, and it was my first season racing the downhill.
I stepped at the gate at Kitzbuehel and I was just like “I do not want to do this right now.”
And I was kind of running up and down out of the start gate, and I kept thinking “I really don’t want to go down this course.” But there’s a story of someone on the US Ski Team back in the day that aborted at the start gate. He just looked down and said, “I can’t do it, I quit.”
I was like, “Well I don’t want to be that guy” so that’s why I went. I didn’t want to be known as the guy that pushed back out of the gate at Kitzbuehel.
You obviously overcame that pretty quickly.
I actually never felt comfortable there until two years ago. I had my first legit, really fun run there, and I was like, “Wow, that’s what it’s like to experience flow on Kitzbuehel.” I let it go, and everything jived, it was so fun! It was super cool to experience it like that.
So you’ve enjoyed yourself as a single man for 13 years on the World Cup. You must have to have a ton of stories. What percentage of those can you share with the public?
Haha, yea, that’s what I’m kind of going through in my head right now…I could embarrass some guys on the World Cup right now, I suppose [laugh].
Have you heard of rodeling? It’s basically sledding in Europe. They are these nice wooden sleds. They’re probably eight inches to a foot off the ground, and they fly—they’re so fast! Anyway, you usually hike up to these mountain homes, and you have dinner or whatever, and then rip back down, and sometimes you get a little tipsy. We have a whole list of injuries that happened while rodeling.
Last year, there wasn’t a lot of snow in the Northern Alps, and the younger team cruised down. We got a call later that one of the coaches separated her shoulder, one guy busted his nose in, and another guy beamed his head because they flew off the track—which was just a sheet of ice—into the dirt and woods and rocks.
There’s just a bunch of funny experiences like that, which you kind of have to laugh at. You’re kind of like, “That sucks, but it’s also kind of funny.” We knew it was coming, but what do you expect when you get a bunch of downhillers together? We’re just a bunch of guys that need a little adrenaline once in a while.
So, going on your 14th season, does that make you the “old guy”?
I’m not the oldest, so that makes me feel pretty good. Bode and Marco are still older than me [laugh], but I am one of the old guys around. I think it was 2010 when I realized that I’m the old guy now—I’m not the young guy anymore, and all these kids are looking up to me.
Anyways, there are a lot of extra rooms in my home, so I randomly host a lot of the young guys. I like to do it because they’re asked to come out here and train, and work, and provide for themselves too. It’s a tough job, so I’d rather see these guys focus more on their skiing, so now I’m kind of the landlord-slash-father figure to a bunch of 18 to 24 year old kids…that’s kind of funny.
And you even cook for them?
Definitely, we chef it up; I try to show them how to eat right. They come here, they don’t know many people, so of course they’re going out and occasionally staying out too late or whatever. But they don’t get enough rest; they don’t eat well enough to balance their workout.
All the guys work hard, but the key to it is to work hard, rest hard, and eat hearty. You have to do everything at the same level, and if not, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. I try to teach that to the young kids. There are times when you got to let loose and relax, but you also have to stay pretty disciplined because we’re hammering. We’re here to win ski races—that’s what we’re here for. We’re not here to just have fun and cruise around.
But it’s not just me trying to teach them how to be successful, they help teach me. They definitely keep me on my toes. They’re coming at it eyes wide open. They are full of energy and vibrant, and that’s what makes me go “Yeah, that’s so cool!”
Thanks so much Steven! Safe travels to New Zealand, and tear it up this season. We’re believin’!