Homegrown Olympian: Training with Nick Baumgartner

Published: Mar. 5, 2020 at 12:15 AM EST
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Upper Michigan is a snow-lovers playground. But for an Iron County Man, it's become an Olympic training ground.

His name is Nick Baumgartner. 2018 was his third Olympic games. He is an Iron River native who competes in the extreme sport of 'snowboard cross' on the U.S. team.

"The average age [on the team] I'd say, is about mid-20's," says Nick. "We've got a bunch of kids that are right around 20, 30 is a pretty popular age ... we've only got one in the late 30s but ..." (laughs and points to self).

Nick is 38 years old. And even though age is just a number, some of the competitors Baumgartner races against are younger than the number of years he's been on the U.S. Snowboard Team.

"But who's counting..." (Baumgartner laughs). "Snowboarding is a young man's sport. But with 'boardercross', the experience tends to be such a big thing, that in a sport that's unpredictable, if you can predict a little bit of it, it really gives you a benefit. And that's what allowed me to stay competitive at 38, in a younger man's sport."

And when he's not traveling the world on the competitive circuit, Baumgartner is back in Iron River, where there are only a few solid months per year of snow. But it's enough for Nick to build his custom training track, right on his own property.

"... well I came home to about a foot and a half to two feet of snow," says, Baumgartner. "The plow had plowed me in completely, and I had put signs up so no one would plow, because I didn't want someone to do something nice for me, cause I had a plan for the snow."

That plan involved blowing and shoveling and shaping the snow so he could ride practice runs around his home. The track took 25 hours of work to build plus constant maintenance. And after traveling to Canada in January ...

"... I came back and it was about another 10-to-15 hours uncovering it and getting it ready to train on again," says Baumgartner. "So, people think I'm crazy, but it's what it takes. I don't have the same luxuries as someone who lives in the big mountains ... in Switzerland, in Colorado. So I have to do what I can, with what I have."

It's a true Upper Michigan mentality, which Nick says, gives him the upper hand.

"I like the edge that I get from being back here because everything that I've gotten ... no one handed it to me. It makes me tougher. There'a lot more honor in earning it than getting it handed to you and I think that's what's given me the longevity ... because I'm always putting in the extra work, whether it be building a track, or just train so that I'm on the level they are when I get back on snow."

Most of Baumgartner's competitors started snowboarding before they started Kindergarten. But things were different for him. At West Iron County High School, he was known as the 2000 Wrestling State Champion (189 lbs.), a state champion hurdler and an All-State football player.

"I was a competitor in every sport in high school. And then I had a big love for football, thought I was going to go to the NFL.."

Nick started college at Northern Michigan University but took a semester to evaluate future career options.

"And that's when I found snowboard cross, and it was the perfect mix of my two favorite sports -- football, and snowboarding and they put it together. And then it was a no-brainer. The first time I did it I said, I will do that as a career, and two years later I was in the X Games."

And he won -- gold and silver medals in the 2011 and 2012 Winter X Games. But his success is no accident. Baumgartner says, it comes from a constant dedication to training.

"So back here, when I'm back home training in between events, I usually get up in the morning, I do a quick cardio workout. I spend about an hour inside the house, just so that I get it done. I've found, if you do it in the morning, you don't have all day to come up with an excuse about why you shouldn't do it. Then I go outside and I run 10 laps around my track. And then I eat lunch, get ready, go to Ski Brule, run about 30 to 40 laps on the chair lift. And then on certain days, where there's workouts that the [U.S. Olympic] team has for us, I'll go to the high school and use their weight room, and get my workouts in."

If all goes well and Nick makes the Olympic team again, he will be 40 years old when competing. On Thursday night, tune into your TV6 Late News for part two of this series. Nick Baumgartner gives TV6's Sophie Erber a lesson at an Upper Michigan ski hill, teaching her the basics of snowboarding. Baumgartner will also share more about his Olympic experiences.