Angus Graham Rising Star Award Recipient Nick Nagey Strives to Connect Through Curiosity

This is the final story in a four-part series on the 3C’s, Top of the Course, and Angus Graham Rising Star Award recipients. Check out the first three stories in the series on 3 C’s Award Recipient Michael O’Neill, Level III Top of the Course Award Recipient Cortney Bayuk, and Level II Top of the Course Award Recipient Liz Lozinger.

Upon meeting Angus Graham Rising Star Award recipient Nick Nagey, an Alpine Level II instructor, with Children’s Specialist 1 and Freestyle Specialist 1 certificates, it’s easy to see why he’s a relationship builder. His desire to learn more about those he meets lays the groundwork for creating a level of comfort.

Curiosity as a Bridge to Comfort

Nagey’s eagerness to connect goes a long way in helping students feel welcome. At the beginning of each lesson, his goal is to uncover something he can be genuinely curious about with his students, which is easy for him because he’s a people person. “I really crave connection and connecting my personal experience to theirs,” he explained.

Nagey uses what he’s learned to connect with students by applying analogies during lessons. For example, if one of his students enjoys wakeboarding, he might connect their experience on water to their experience on snow: “We’re going to start progressing our edges very much like you’re cutting into the wake,” he might say. Or if a student plays tennis, he’ll focus on upper body and lower body separation.

All this is done through the lens of empathy, which allows Nagey to be more available to his students. “The nicest compliment I ever received from someone – and I didn’t know I was doing it – is meeting people wherever they are, and that just seems to happen naturally,” he said.

The reason for this, he added, is that he approaches every relationship the same way, which is important in helping students navigate a lesson. To Nagey, it’s simple physics.

Connection with Co-workers

The importance of connection carries over to Nagey’s relationships with his co-workers at Aspen Snowmass Ski School and Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club (AVSC), a nonprofit that provides opportunities for youth in the greater Roaring Fork Valley to excel as athletes and as people through winter sports. Nagey, who works out of Buttermilk, credits the former’s autonomous culture as a significant factor as to why staff work well together.

“Everyone is your co-worker, including your boss, and the organization does a really good job of having that culture be pervasive,” he said. “You’re always thinking about how you can help each other.”

Rather than competing against one another, Nagey maintained that everyone in the locker room enjoys sharing teaching tactics or fun stories about their students.

“In my experience, one of my favorite parts of this job is that there’s almost no adversarial experience in the course of my day versus my previous job,” Nagey conveyed in comparing his work as an instructor to his work as an attorney.

Sundays at Buttermilk

One of the programs Nagey takes great pride in shaping is the Sunday AVSC program at Buttermilk. The sessions are primarily composed of Latino students who are skiing for the first time. Most of the children’s parents only speak Spanish and aren’t familiar with skiing and the mountain environment.

According to Rick Stevens, who has worked with Aspen Skiing Company for more than 45 years, it can be unnerving for these parents to turn their children over to a group of strangers and watch their children ride up the chairlift and out of view.

“Nick’s bilingual skills and his caring personality calmed the parents,” Stevens wrote in his nomination letter for Nagey. “The transformation over the season from a group with real concerns to a group of parents celebrating their children’s success was amazing.”

Beyond allaying the concerns of a group of parents, Nagey said he really enjoyed connecting with individual students from a community that simply wants the same opportunities for their children.

“What stands out to me the most is how completely Identical the situation is – you have parents who are showing up to do something for their kids,” he said. “Yes, there’s differences in the economics, and there might be some differences in expectations, but for the most part I’d say 90 percent are parents who want their kids to be literate in the ways of the valley, which is snowsports.”

What Nagey’s most proud of, however, is coordinating a team of instructors to help get 90 never-ever skiers to enjoy a day on the hill.

“We had our instructors do team teaching . . . They all got together, stationed themselves up the hill – some of them took off their skis – and just got kids laps,” he said. “My favorite part of the season was that we got 90 kids off that hill the first day, and that was awesome.”

The Best Kind of Professional

Since returning to instructing four years ago, Nagey has embraced his love of teaching and been committed to his craft, a lesson he learned long ago. While he was attending college, he worked at a wine store and became frustrated with where he was at that point in his life.

At the time, he realized that you never have to feel stuck, and you should always strive to make the most of any opportunity. “That job taught me that no matter where you are, push as hard as you can, learn as much as you can, and you have no idea where it’s going to lead,” he said. It’s something Nagey aspires to do every day.

This dedication has been observed by many at Aspen Snowmass, including Alex Kendrick, the private lesson program manager at Buttermilk. Kendrick recalls a conversation with Nagey during the latter’s first season back in Colorado. Kendrick remembered that as Nagey embarked on this new chapter in his life, Nagey already had a clear goal in mind: He wanted to create a strong network of pros who aligned with his beliefs and level of integrity.

Kendrick added that Nagey also wanted to develop as a skier and understand how to be the best professional, whether that entailed asking a lot of questions, seeking different perspectives, or finding the best mentors.

Kendrick believes that Nagey gives everything he has – in teaching, in building relationships, and in creating the best culture – at Buttermilk. “Having worked with and been friends with Angus, this is who Angus was as well: a lifelong learner who strove to make himself and all around him better,” Kendrick said.

“I don’t know if I’m really good at living like Angus,” Nagey expressed. “But I’m learning that some of the best parts of my personality are things that in my previous job, I couldn’t highlight.”

Their loss is our gain.


The Angus Graham Rising Star Award recognizes standout members who show promise charting a career path within the snowsports industry. The award is named for Angus Graham, a beloved instructor, trainer, and mentor at Aspen Snowmass, who died in a car accident in Oregon on Aug. 25, 2017. An inspirational skier and teacher, he was a candidate at the 2016 Team Selection. Read more about National Academy Awards & Recognition Night, held April 17, in Big Sky, Montana.