Fifteen-year-old Vail, Colorado, native Nick Kirwood truly encompasses what it is to be a jack-of-all-trades skier. Kirwood is part of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) and found himself in top spots throughout the season in multiple disciplines.
This spring, Kirwood represented the United States as a U16 in the 2019 Whistler Cup in Whistler, Canada, where he finished just outside the top ten in the super-G, eighth in the giant slalom, and ended the series on a high with a third place in slalom.
“It was my last race of the season and I knew that I really didn’t have that much pressure,” He says about his slalom race. “I just had to focus on what I’ve learned this year.”
Although he won’t admit it himself, Kirwood was likely well on his way to a gold medal in the slalom before an untimely mistake led to his third-place finish.
“You never know what’s going to happen but he would have won the slalom,” says head U.S. Whistler Cup coach Jeff Pickering. “He fell in his second run and was still only 1.5 out.”
Kirwood is no stranger to competition or pressure. Both of his older siblings ski race and he definitely feels a need to live up to the example they set for him. His mother, Brenda Buglione-Kirwood, a former U.S. Ski Team member herself and founder of Snow Motion, explains that everyone in the family is a ski racer. Her husband, Jeff, also went to the Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont and then to Dartmouth College to ski.
“Skiing is a family sport,” she says, adding that ski racing was natural for all three of her kids. “We all loved it.”
SSCV is a program known for producing some of the nation’s most elite racers and Kirwood admits that the environment has its own unique set of challenges. “Everyone is pushing you to get better,” he says. Kirwood also explains that there are many top-level talents from across the nation who come to Vail for its racing program and set high expectations and goals for younger racers like himself.
Buglione-Kirwood notes that the volume and level of training her children experience has increased since her racing career. SSCV is serious about the number of days on snow, counting every training day, she says. “I don’t ever remember doing that,” she adds. SSCV was able to take advantage of late season snow this year by training into June at Loveland Ski Area. Nick’s mom says that such late season training has also been a big change from her days in gates.
Besides his ski racing, Nick also juggles basketball and soccer, sometimes even doing two sports in one day. Nick may have a busy life as a multi-sport athlete but Buglione-Kirwood comments that her son is good at finding balance in his athletic pursuits. “He has the ability to say ‘no’,” she says.
Kirwood says that it is challenging to balance all three sports, and that he’s the only one from his school still doing all three. “You get really tired,” he says.
Earlier in February, Kirwood qualified to race internationally in Europe after a second and fifth-place finish in the GS races at the U16 National Performance Series races in Burke, Vermont. However, Kirwood was previously signed up to participate in a 9th grade service trip to Costa Rica and decided not to race internationally, acknowledging that he would have more opportunities in the future to race abroad.
“He sees the big picture,” his mom added, emphasizing his ability to organize and follow a busy athletic schedule.
Kirwood’s previous training excursions include summer skiing in Norway and Chile, while also traveling to venues like Burke Mountain and Whistler during the winter season. He says traveling to new venues is special because of the opportunity to meet new people and ski with fresh racers who push him competitively. With the numerous summer skiing options available these days, ski racing had become more of a a year-round sport than ever before, directly contributing to the increased volume of training Nick has compared to his mom when she was a racer.
Despite such a high volume of skiing, Nick is disciplined and careful to not overtrain, especially given the other sports he is still passionate about continuing.
Other successes in Kirwood’s 2018-2019 season came in January where Nick found himself on the podium at the Sync U16 super-G races in Breckenridge, Colorado, where he finished in second place. Nick kept his foot on the gas pedal and set himself up for strong finishes throughout the remainder of the season, highlighted by a first and fourth place in the two GS races at the Sync U16 GS Qualifiers in February at Winter Park. Later in March, Kirwood had a fourth-place finish in the super-G race as part of the Rocky/Central U16 Regional Championships, which were also held at Winter Park. Kirwood also finished with a strong fourth place in the alpine combined at the Regional Championships.
Kirwood’s other season achievements were a 12th place finish in the super-G at the Whistler Cup despite a costly mistake on the flats. His final race was the slalom at Whistler Cup, capping off an impressive season with his first international medal in third.
One of Kirwood’s goals for the upcoming winter is to qualify for the prestigious OPA Cup in Switzerland, hoping to take home another medal or two against the fastest U16s in the world. He also is thinking of continuing racing through college, or even onto the U.S. Ski Team like his mom if his results continue their impressive trend in the coming years.
“We’ll just see what happens,” Kirwood says. “If I’m really skiing good, I’m definitely going to take the opportunity to be on the U.S. Ski Team. I just have to work hard, I guess.”
Editor’s note: This is the first piece in a revived series titled “On the Way Up.” A mainstay of Ski Racing’s old print days, “On the Way Up” will be a regular column written by Ski Racing Media’s editorial interns that will look to highlight some of the top youth racers in North America as they prepare for the next steps of their ski racing careers.