What do Nolan Kasper and Mikaela Shiffrin have in common? Both ski racers grew up in the East — Shiffrin in New Hampshire, Kasper in Warren, Vt.. Both went to Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Both are slalom specialists. And now both are headed to the Olympics along with a host of other Vermonters. (See Who’s Made the Team?)
On January 14, in his first World Cup race since 2015, Nolan Kasper skied to 20th place in the men’s slalom in Wengen, Switzerland, earning himself enough World Cup points to qualify for the Olympic team. It was Kasper’s best finish since he placed 13th in slalom at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
After taking the 2016/17 season off to recover from knee surgery, Kasper had come back to ski racing tentatively this fall, racing in Nor Am and domestic races in the U.S. and Canada. Wengen was his first World Cup race in two years and it was what he needed to do well in to earn a chance to go to his third Olympics.
“Slalom is probably the most painful discipline in skiing because the smallest thing can take you out of a race. I had some good races and made a lot of good turns but I also had my fair share of bad luck. That’s slalom; it makes you feel like banging your head on the wall sometimes. But then you have a good race and then it’s probably the most fun discipline to ski. Your outlook completely changes,” the 2017 Dartmouth grad has said.
Kasper, 28, learned to ski at age three at Hidden Valley, New Jersey where his father was a ski instructor. By 2000, Kasper’s family realized they had a ski racer on their hands. They moved to Warren, Vt., and Sugarbush became the Kasper’s home hill. Nolan then went to Burke Mountain Academy, where he graduated in 2007.
Kasper saw his first NorAm race during the 2007 season and quickly upgraded his starting status to the World Cup level. He earned a bronze in slalom in the World Junior Championships in 2009 and earned a spot in the 2010 Olympics, where he placed 24th . The confidence and experience proved to be a catalyst, as Kasper exploded during the 2011 season to win the Europa Cup slalom title and take his first World Cup podium.
After missing nearly all of the 2013 season due to an ACL/MCL injury, the eastern slalom rocket was back for 2014. It took Kasper a few races to find his stride, but his timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was Kitzbuhel, the final race of the 2014 Olympic qualification period. He finished 18th and punched a ticket to Sochi, where he upgraded that result to 13th to be the top American slalom finisher at the Games.
A cartilage tear in his knee suffered in December 2014 sidelined Kasper for two full seasons. The last time Kasper was on a World Cup start list was January of 2015 when he raced in Schladming, Austria, at the world famous Night Race. Kasper did not qualify for a second run that night and underwent surgery on his knee shortly thereafter.
Two years later, in Wengen, he let the world know he was back.
Compiled with reporting from US Ski and Snowboard.