In a new film, “Dropping,” Freeride World Tour athlete Kevin Nichols shows the reality of living and skiing with epilepsy.
Colorado-raised skier Kevin Nichols was just three years old when he was first diagnosed with epilepsy, a neurological disorder that can lead to seizures or loss of awareness. He would fall down a lot as a toddler—which seemed normal for a kid his age—but eventually his parents realized it wasn’t normal. They took him to a children’s hospital in Denver and doctors told them it was epilepsy. He underwent treatment and eventually, he grew out of the symptoms. The disorder essentially went dormant and he was able to live a seemingly normal childhood, growing up skiing alongside his brother, Jack, on the slopes of Vail.
“Epilepsy is invisible. In some cases, it’s a very minor thing. In other cases, it’s a very major thing,” Kevin says in his new film, “Dropping,” which premiered online in early January. The film covers the skier’s once-private battle with epilepsy while he struggled to maintain his spot on the Freeride World Tour.
Back in 2019, Kevin dominated the Freeride World Qualifier series and earned himself a coveted spot on the Freeride World Tour for 2020, where he placed 13th overall in his rookie season, one of few Americans on the world tour. His brother, Jack, also qualified for the FWT and the two competed alongside each other that first year. (Both Nichols brothers are Flylow-sponsored skiers.)
Both brothers were enrolled at Montana State University in Bozeman and Kevin worked at a sushi restaurant by night and studied and skied the steeps of Big Sky by day. He would travel around to freeride competitions, sleeping in the back of his truck and winning the contest. Things were going exceptionally well.
But then October 2020 hit. “I’m working full time. I was having a tough week. I wasn’t doing well in school, I was stressed,” Kevin says in the film. “But it’s Halloween weekend, I go out with my friends, we’re having fun. I went to the bathroom. It just happened.” A seizure. He came back into consciousness and found himself on the bathroom floor. The only thing he could think: It’s back.
Kevin had a relapse of seizures—his epilepsy had officially returned at the age of 22. Just two months before departing for Europe to compete, he was declared unfit to travel and compete on the FWT. By January of 2021, he was getting treatment and feeling stable. He was skiing well enough at home that he thought he might have a chance of competing that winter, but then he had a rare allergic reaction to the anti-seizure medication doctors had put him on. His white blood cells, which are used to fight infection and disease, had been devastated. Just a day before flying to Switzerland, his neurologist called and said basically: Don’t go anywhere. He had to defer his entry into the tour. “I was forced to realize there was this risk that I can’t control,” he says.
In 2022, Kevin was able to return to the Freeride World Tour. He was hoping for a Cinderella-like comeback story: skier rises from the ashes to the top of the podium! But, of course, life isn’t a fairytale. Last winter, Kevin had some spectacular runs coupled with some memorable crashes, landing him in 15th place on the tour’s overall rankings. But making this film, he says, is perhaps even more important than a podium.
“My story isn’t a comeback,” he says in the film. “I had to talk about what was going on with me. When you’re vulnerable and talk about what you’re battling, you realize everyone on Earth is battling something.”
His brother, Jack, will be competing on the 2023 Freeride World Tour, which kicks off this month in Baqueira Beret, Spain, while Kevin is taking the year to ski for himself.