Teacher from Deutschland: Nicole Cosby’s unlikely journey to Steamboat Springs
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For many people, skiing is a simple hobby, reserved for mountain vacations cushioned by luxury hotels and après ski happy hours.
But for people like Nicole Crosby, skiing means much more than that.
“It’s a way of life,” she said.
More specifically, the sport has become her means of living. For the past five winters, Cosby has taught at Steamboat Resort’s Snowsports School, where she passes on a lifetime of skills to her clients.
Ski instructing is not a job she ever dreamed or planned of having. But a few unexpected curveballs have landed in her a place she loves, in a career that gives her time to spend with her two young daughters, Kat and Elisa.
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These years as a ski instructor have taught her a valuable lesson about life: “You have to take it one day at a time.”
Cosby grew up an only child in a small village in the hinterlands of Cologne, a 2,000-year-old city along the Rhine River in western Germany.
Skiing had always been a family tradition, a way to bring everyone together. Cosby lived near a small resort that she and her parents would visit on the weekends. On longer vacations, they headed to the Bavarian Alps that border Austria, whose jagged peaks offered more thrilling ski runs.
Cosby’s first taste of America came through her work as a nanny for a family in Washington, D.C. She had just graduated high school in Germany and wanted to take a gap year before deciding on a career path.
During the days, she drove two kids back and forth from their home in Virginia to soccer practice and karate lessons in Maryland. At night, she would sneak out of the house and go clubbing with other European expatriates she met.
For the first time in her life, Cosby felt that she was carving her own path through the world. With all of that newfound freedom, she didn’t waste much time sleeping.
“We wouldn’t get home until 4 a.m., then work started at 7,” she said.
After Cosby proved to herself that she could succeed on her own volition, she devoted the rest of her life to flexing that independence.
Her parents urged her to return to Germany and work in the hospitality industry there. A manager at a hotel where she had interned even offered her a more permanent job.
But Cosby had dreamed of getting a university degree, which would offer her more leadership opportunities down the road. She thought of the manager urging her to take the job. He had his own degree — a master’s, even.
She eventually wanted to progress to a position like his. Then she thought of her home country as a whole and how male-dominated the hotel business still was.
“I would have never been able to have that kind of career as a woman in Germany,” she said.
Remembering the freedom of her gap year, she applied to schools in the U.S.
“Europeans always say America is the land of opportunity,” Cosby said. “And it really is.”
She gained acceptance to the University of Denver and packed her bags.
It wasn’t easy to leave the village she had always called home. Cosby’s family had been a tight-knit bunch. Her parents worried about her move to an entirely different continent, but they understood why she needed to leave.
“It was hard for them to let me go so far away, but they have always been super supportive,” Cosby said.
College defined, as it does for many, the trajectory of the rest of Cosby’s life. It was there she met the man who would be her husband, Mike, during a fraternity party while Cosby was dancing on a tabletop.
She received her degree in hotel and restaurant management in 1998, which led to a job offer at the Sheraton in Steamboat. Cosby had been to Colorado mountain towns during her year as a nanny, but had never traveled to the northwestern corner of the state.
A leap of faith
Though she had never laid eyes on the Yampa Valley, something just felt right about the place. It was summer, after all, when wildflowers bloom and sun collects like a mist between the mountains.
“It was really just a leap of faith,” she said of her move to Steamboat.
Working in the hotel industry, especially in a ski town, turned out to be a grueling commitment. Come wintertime, Cosby would clock in 80-hour weeks. Her life, much to her chagrin, became all work and no play.
“I didn’t really have that much time to ski or really enjoy it,” she said.
When she got pregnant with her first daughter, Cosby realized that she was reaching an ultimatum. Her job would not allow her the time she wanted to spend with her future child, nor the blissful breaks to simply relax between the hotel shift and the mom shift.
As her belly swelled, Cosby decided to leave the hotel industry. Even then, she saw her duties through until nature demanded a resignation.
“I worked until the very last day of my due date,” she said. “Then I was like, ‘I’m done.’”
The years she spent as a full-time mom gave Cosby the chance to reflect on her values and priorities. She realized skiing, the sport that she loved as a child, had fallen by the wayside.
As fate would have it, she moved to a place where she could turn that long-lost passion into a job.
She became a youth coach for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, which landed her a part-time job at the Ski School in 2013.
Teaching lessons mixes the social aspect of the hospitality business with the laid-back culture that comes with helping people on vacation. Some of Cosby’s returning clients have gotten to know her family, and ask that they join in on the lesson.
“I’ve taken my daughter out of school so she could ski with us,” Cosby said.
Those more personal moments are her favorite part of the job.
She remembers a family that she instructed three winters ago, a mom with her two teenage kids. They had never skied before, but seemed to have a great time, despite their frequent falls.
On the way down from Christie Peak Express at the end of the day, the mom stopped Cosby in the middle of the run. She thanked her for the lesson, eyes suddenly swelling with tears. She explained that her husband had recently died, and this vacation was a way to make some happy family memories together.
“This is the first time I’ve seen my two teenagers smile in months,” she told Cosby.
That memory has stayed with Cosby, as cherished and vivid as photos of her own family, thousands of miles away.
It reminds her that she is making a difference, despite no longer clambering her way up the hotel job ladder. If anything, this feels more important.
“We don’t just teach skiing,” she said. “We really touch some people’s lives. We make their lives better.”
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