072: Nicola Thost/Game Changer

“I paid a high price. Was it worth it? There’s no answer, because I cannot change it back. And I don’t want to change it back”.

I’m really proud to have snowboarder Nicola Thost on the show for episode 072. As snowboarding’s first female half pipe gold medalist, Nicola stands as one of the key figures in freestyle snowboarding history. More importantly, she is hands down the most influential female rider of her generation, somebody who grabbed competitive snowboarding by the scruff of the neck and dragged it kicking and screaming into the future. In doing so, she changed our perceptions of what is possible and, during a competitive purple patch unrivalled until Kelly Clark came along, pushed the progression of snowboarding at a vital time.

The winning moment, 1998

It is a legacy that meant Nicola was one of the first names on the list when I wrote down my initial wishlist of guests back in 2017. I had another motive, too. Snowboarding has always been notoriously bad at looking after its legends, and in some small way I wanted to help ensure that Nicola was given due credit for what she bequeathed to the sport.

Competing on the FWT, 2015. Picture: David Carlier.

The result is a conversation that pays due homage to Nicola’s considerable achievements, and also takes on an unexpected poignancy as she explains the personal price she paid along the way. We discuss how, despite her unparalleled achievements, she still felt pressure to prove herself. And how no matter what she did, or how many competitions she won, it was never enough in the eyes of a sport and culture that was at war with itself over the entire Olympic question.

Nicola’s Sprungbrett platform has reached thousands of young snowboarders.

As you might be gathering, there are a lot of themes to unpick in this one, despite its short running order. I feel privileged that Nicola has allowed me to update her story, and I hope I’ve done it justice.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Nicola on how it felt to be described as being ' good for a girl'.

Connect with Nicola Thost

Show Notes

  • Blowing the interview out for a powder day.
  • Being brought up in an area not close to mountains.
  • Learning to ski first aged 3, then falling in love with snowboarding aged 14.
  • The small snowboarding community that meant you were instant comrades.
  • Why snowboarding was not love at first sight for Nicola.
  • Being a sports-all-rounder during her teens.
  • Days of snowboarding with her whole family.
  • Hard times starting with hard boots.
  • Competition served as a meeting point and centre of the snowboarding culture.
  • Life before the smartphone.
  • Her love for freestyle since day one.
  • “I always hated any sport that measured time or numbers”.
  • Never a fan of competition riding when she first started.
  • “If you don’t want to win, you can’t win”.
  • The 90’s ‘compliment’ of “riding like a guy”.
  • The loneliness of touring and riding with just men.
  • Her first moments of developing opportunities as a professional.
  • The high price of success.
  • Terje Haakonsen’s Olympic boycott and how it affected Nicola.
  • The loneliness of success.
  • Winning the US Open.
  • Maintaining the image as a progressive snowboarder vs winning medals.
  • Supporting younger riders to be true to yourself.
  • Salt Lake 2002.
  • The limited mainstream media coverage of snowboarding pre-internet boom.
  • Owning your voice through the internet.
  • Ending the freestyle career from injuries.
  • The beginning of her ‘event organising chapter’.
  • Launching her Sprungbrett (Springboard) series 10 years ago.
  • Creating the Path platform.
  • Mentoring through nature.
  • How living in the mountains gives Nicola space to “feel more, hear more, and experience new areas”.
  • “Snowboarding and me: we really fell in love over and over again in different ways”.
  • No right or wrong way to how you live your life with snowboarding.
  • How competing on the Freeride World Tour helped reinstate her love for snowboarding.
  • Winning the Xtreme Verbier 2015.
  • Retiring from her snowboarding career as an athlete.

People Mentioned

Places Mentioned

  • Munich
  • Westendorf, Tyrol
  • Pforzheim
  • Nagano, Japan
  • Salt Lake City

Companies/Brands/Organisations Mentioned

  • ISPO Munich
  • FIS
  • ISD
  • Winter Olympics
  • US Open
  • X Games
  • Freeride World Tour
  • Visit California
  • Hertz