Developing Skiers, Leaders and Champions
Luke Brown | Friday Nov. 1st, 2019
Nick Michaud is bringing passion, energy, and thoughtfulness to the lives and athletic careers of those he coaches in Bozeman, around the country, and across the world.
After recently retiring from his own professional nordic skiing career, Michaud (pronounced “Me-show”) has stepped into coaching nordic skiers and biathletes as the the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center Assistant Coach and the U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Development Team Coach (USPN). At Crosscut, Michaud trains local post-collegiate professionals and youth skiers and biathletes competing at the local, national, and international levels. With USPN, Michaud provides high-level coaching and resources to athletes with some sort of impairment or injury who are training to represent the United States at the Paralympics. Michaud views coaching adaptive athletes not as a greater challenge but merely as a different one. “Every athlete [para or not] has imbalances, is unique, and needs the same kind of education and support.” And this support is something Michaud passionately provides.
Michaud has a heart for working with others, a critical mind for analyzing movement and creating novel approaches to coaching, and a love of fun and adventure. While these attributes were without a doubt influenced by years as a professional skier, they may have also been a product of his down-to-earth and active upbringing in Fort Kent, Maine. An avid ball-sports player from a young age, it was not until his father and older brother let him tag along on a crust ski adventure that he fell in love with the feeling of using his own strength to glide across the snowy earth. Michaud remembers those days fondly and often rekindles those memories to remind himself why he does what he does. In true northern Maine fashion he recalls, “We’d hop on nordic skis in the sunny spring and fly on the morning crust, from potato field to potato field for hours.” Soon enough, Michaud was competing as a junior for the Maine Winter Sports Center in both nordic skiing and biathlon. He found enough success and passion for the sport that he went on to ski for Bates College. There he worked closely with his coach, Becky Woods. His time with Woods had a strong impact on Michaud. He says, “Our work together was never just about the skiing--something that inspires my coaching.” Indeed, Michaud credits his relationships with many of his coaches throughout his own skiing career for encouraging him toward his current coaching career.
It was after college that Michaud found a home in the Bozeman community. Moving here in 2015, he started working with the Bridger Ski Foundation to pursue his goal of racing in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. He chased this goal with focus, attention to detail, hard work, and abandon. And while he missed this goal by the slimmest of margins, he credits Bozeman for helping him toward the great successes he did have and for opening the door to coaching opportunities. “The mix of arduous training with the unreal landscapes and options for adventure made the work feel more natural than ever before in my life. I felt lucky I had the opportunity to work outside in Bozeman--it’s a phenomenal community for an endurance athlete. I’m grateful that project has led me to this opportunity to continue working outside in Bozeman,” Michaud says.
Toward the end of his professional skiing career, after an off-season marked with injuries, Michaud realized that his passion for community and his desire to help others work toward and achieve their goals were calling him to work on a new challenge. He says, “I started realizing it was time to make a transition when my curiosity about skiing was shifting from ‘am I doing everything to be the fastest skier I can be?’ to ‘is everybody getting the best support they can get to reach their potential?’” And that is when Eileen Carey, the Director of USPN, got in touch. In a serendipitous sort of way, Carey actually had coached Michaud while he was still an athlete in northern Maine. She had seen Nick’s critical mind focused on analyzing and learning the best technique and training strategies, his aptitude for enjoying the training process, and his willingness to learn. And so she invited him to join the USPN coaching staff.
“[A]s he was winding down his ski career, I thought coaching might be something he would be interested in and skilled at. He brings the same curiosity, and fun and thoughtful approach to coaching as he brought to his career as an athlete. I think this is a balance that is valuable to coaching any level of athlete, from a novice seven-year-old to a Paralympic champion,” Carey said.
Now, through a partnership between USPN and Crosscut Mountain Sports Center, Michaud is coaching both local youth and high level post-collegiate athletes and Paralympians. It is a perfect coaching job for a new coach who has the aptitude to learn and the eagerness to make a difference.
While still being relatively new to coaching, Michaud has earned the respect and admiration of his athletes. In the American sports culture in which success is often valued above all else, Michaud understands that ultimately sport is an avenue toward personal growth and that the person is more important than any results. He says,”I want to be the kind of coach that treats athletes like humans before athletes.” Indeed, many of his athletes credit his genuine nature and ability to think beyond sport as an important part of his positive impact.
But perhaps it is not just how Michaud thinks beyond results but also how he thinks about getting there that is impacting his athletes. Felicia Gesior, one of Crosscut’s professional skiers, shares that Michaud “pushes you to think critically about why and how you are choosing to train/ski.” In Michaud’s thinking, to achieve the greatest success and impact in both competitive racing and coaching, the why and the how need to be answered. While continuing to cultivate curiosity for new approaches toward skiing, he confidently answers the why and how; he declares, “Successful athletes set big goals, understand how to break these goals down into a methodological process, commit to and love the process, and bring others with them. I believe this kind of approach leads to a really productive society and that great coaches use sport to develop great leaders. The results on paper come as a product of this approach.”
A depiction of Michaud’s coaching style, personality, and impact would not be complete without mentioning his capacity for joy, humor, and fun. Seemingly all of his athletes and fellow coaches mentioned this when asked about how he impacts the people around him. They spoke of his “enthusiasm”, “exuberance”, “excitement”, and “energy.” His laugh is one for the ages, his excitement at his athletes’ successes is inspiring, and while his humor may at times make your mother cringe, it often takes the pressure off of performing in high stress situations. Indeed, his own passion for skiing and the joy he finds in coaching infects his athletes by positively influencing their own mindsets.
Nick Michaud’s transition from professional skiing to coaching saw him moving away from doing what was necessary to ski fast toward a focus on helping others on their own journeys. But his own athletic experiences as well as his active upbringing and all the relationships he made along the way have been necessary to get him to where he is today. As Michaud helps Bozeman athletes work toward growth, it is a growth propelled by his humor, insight, intellect, and pursuit of excellence. “I’ve been working with a lot of athletes who aren’t afraid of setting big goals and sharing big laughs and that makes the work really dynamic. At the end of the day, we’re all lucky when we get to slide around on snow, regardless of where you come from or what your story is,” Michuad says.
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