Photo: NBC Sports
For a hockey fan, the boarding you’re most familiar with may result in a two minute stay in the penalty box. But for fans of everything winter, a different kind of boarding exists. It’s exciting, it’s extreme and the talent that makes it so competitive is often of a special variety. U.S. Olympic snowboarder Alex Deibold possess all of the qualities that make an athlete great, and he has an Olympic medal to prove it.
Finding a stride early in life and falling in love with a sport is key to success at the later stages in life.
“I started snowboarding in 1989 when I was four years old. I had been skiing for two years and I saw snowboarders at the local mountain, Bromley, in Vermont, and I told my mom I wanted to try it. For Christmas that year, I got a snowboard and haven’t looked back since.”
While most may find the concept of snowboarding to be an individual attraction, the truth is that many find enjoyment in turning it into a family affair.
“It’s a family activity, growing up, skiing and snowboarding was always our family activity. Every weekend, we would all get together and ski and snowboard. There would be a group of eight of us: my parents, my sister, my two cousins, my aunt and uncle. Every single weekend we would get together and that’s what we did together. I was the first one in our family to snowboard of the eight of us and now everybody snowboards except for one, my aunt never picked it up.”
Finding amusement with family on the mountain is one thing, but similar to all areas of life, the inspiration to follow ones dreams is often found in the style of someone who has already exceeded expectations.
“Growing up, I always idolized Craig Kelly and Ross Powers, I used to be a half pipe rider and Ross was always the guy I looked up to. I never got to board with Craig, before he was killed in an avalanche, but Ross is actually a good personal friend of mine now and we’ve spent a lot of time snowboarding together.”
The camaraderie formed on a field, court, rink or mountain forges the way for former idols to become teammates, coaches and above all, friends.
“It’s really cool, it’s been pretty awesome. In 2002, I was at high school when he [Ross] won the gold medal in Salt Lake City. He’s a coach now, he hung up his boots, he was competing only a couple of years ago — but we trained together for 2 or 3 years and we’re good friends now.”
While modeling style and perfecting runs to make it to the podium is one thing, appreciating athletes in other sports, away from the competitive stage merits mention.
“Off the mountain, Peyton Manning has been a big inspiration of mine, the way he is such a humble champion. I think a lot of people could take notes from the way he carries himself professionally.”
Patience is a virtue and learning to harness it when looking to join anything new is a key to success. Whether it be pursuing a recreational sport or transitioning it to a professional level — everyone starts somewhere.
“My biggest advice would be, be patient, it takes at least five or six days to get into it. The learning curve is pretty slow and you have to spend a lot of time in the snow, you’ll be pretty sore, but the learning curve changes pretty quickly. If you’re patient and you stick with it, the rewards are worth the time spent in the snow.”
Years of devotion, hard work and pursuit of a dream have landed Deibold on the world stage on countless occasions. Most recently catching attention at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, where the label ‘underdog’ followed the 27-year-old continuously.
“I think the key to my success in Sochi was treating it like it was any other race, my mental preparation was the exact same as all the other world cups in the lead up to it. I think being a little bit less of a name, my teammate Nate has won eight X Game gold medals and Nick Bombgartner has had a bunch of world cup victories, having a spotlight shine on those two helped me avoid some of the pressure and just focus on my own snowboarding — which is the key to my success. Not worrying about the big picture or the medals, or sponsors. Just focusing on the really small details helped me with nerves and my mental prep worked out and I ended up walking away with some hardware.”
While the dream to ride may have always been there, the realization that it could be a reality didn’t jump into play at the start.
“I think I was probably 13 or 14 years old when I went to amateur national championships and I got a medal in my first time competing in it. Some local coaches recruited me to go to a ski academy and that was when I thought, maybe I’ve got a chance at doing this professionally.”
Competing across the globe and riding more breathtaking mountains than some will ever see, playing favorites occasionally comes into play.
“My favorite place to snowboard is Hokkaido, Japan. I haven’t been back there in awhile, the culture, the food and the snowboarding are unbelievable. It’s beautiful, it snows more than they know what to do with and there’s typically no one around. I don’t know how to translate it into hockey terms, but maybe it would be like having a clean outdoor sheet of ice all to yourself. Just beautiful.”
Many athletes train their entire lives for a chance to represent their country on the international stage. While the Olympics are an experience laced with pride and accomplishment, the avenues traveled to reach that point are equally as special.
“Winning a bronze medal is going to be a lifetime achievement and something that I’ll always cherish. But I’ve been competing in World Cups for so long, that a year ago in Russia–actually at the same venue that I picked up my Olympic medal–I got my first World Cup podium and it took me 31 starts, meaning 31 races which is almost 5 years. I’d been so close for so many years, so to finally break the ice and be on the podium kind of changed everything. I’ve had two more podiums since then in the last year. I don’t know if I’m just finally hitting my stride or things are finally clicking, but the first world cup podium was probably the hardest one to get.”
For the love of the sport, it doesn’t matter what you play, it’s the passion for it that envelopes you into the desire to prosper. Whatever you love, you love it for what it gives to you — ultimately hoping that it will love you back.
“I think the thing that makes snowboarding so special to me, is that you have the ability to make it whatever you want. With or without instruction, there are so many walks of life that do it. It’s something you share with a huge group of people, but it’s something that you can also make uniquely your own. It’s really apparent right away, how you express yourself and how you ride — it’s something that I really love about snowboarding, the ability to make it your own.”
The ability to make it your own is a concept that may pull riders to the mountain every winter season. But training is a requirement that spans all four seasons, both on and off the snow.
“You definitely have the unique training regime, you have the springtime sort of off, but you can keep snowboarding, take a surf trip or have some time off, whatever you choose to do. But things start ramping up in June, it’s a lot of dry land training in the summer and we usually take two trips, we will be on snow in Oregon in June and then again in August somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Its a lot of plyometrics, strength and power exercises, getting your body strong enough to compete at the elite level and making sure it’s healthy enough to handle the abuse you’re going to put it through.”
Boarding away from the competitive nature of the sport, it takes a certain personality and outlook, linked with talent to garner advancement.
“Positive, happy and fun loving. I try to have a glass half full outlook on everything that I do, just because I found that if you focus of the positives, it makes every experience more enjoyable, whether it’s snowboarding or I work at a bike shop, I like to focus on the positives, it’s a more enjoyable experience. I’m definitely a dork though!”
Following a grueling schedule to prepare for competitions is all part of the sport. With Sochi only a month in the past, it’s the future filled with opportunity that blankets the mountain of freshly fallen snow.
“More of the same, I’m still committed to working hard and training for boardercross. But I’d also like to take the chance on other opportunities that are put in front of me to express myself in other aspects of snowboarding. I’m going to try to ride more backcountry, hut trips and snowcap trips and heli, riding in Alaska, trying to find my way into the bigger, deeper mountains. But at the same time, I’ll be committing myself to a full world cup schedule.”
With a full schedule in the books and subsequently on the horizon, one would assume that a break from the slopes would be a priority.
“I love snowboarding, one thing that I’m really lucky to do, if you look at a lot of other sports, figure skating or ski jumping, or whatever it is, gymnastics — in their downtime, you don’t necessarily see them doing their sport. In snowboarding, when I have a day off from training, I go and snowboard anyway, that’s what I do for fun. I think we’re unique and fortunate in that way, to do something that I love literally all the time.”
As a New England native, winter sports come with the territory. Although athletically inclined, a future in hockey was never in the cards, but an appreciation for the game was and still is.
“I’ve never actually played ice hockey in any competitive forum, I definitely grew up skating in Vermont, I’m a Bruins fan for sure. Being from New England, I’m a Boston fan through and through.”
Always quick to honor fellow athletes,the completion of the Olympics saw NHL teams across the league honoring Olympians at different arenas. The Boston Bruins were one of those teams, honoring not only their own Olympians in Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson and Tuukka Rask — but local ones as well for a ceremonial puck drop prior to their game against the Florida Panthers on March 4th.
“It was so cool, it was so much cooler than I thought it would be. It’s funny, you get to meet a bunch of the players after the game and a bunch of them had just come from the Olympics as well, so we were trading stories and discussed how our experiences were different. They told us what it was like coming back, they had to get on the ice two days after coming back from Russia and that’s some serious jetlag and exhaustion to battle with. It was super cool, getting to be on the ice, meeting the players, I have my own jersey, overall an amazing experience.”
In Olympic terms, supporting athletes from other sports as they ski, skate or twirl their way to the podium is a celebrated way to spend downtime. Getting to be center ice for one of the biggest events is a ticket any hockey fan would drop the gloves for — the spirited, heated and heartbreaking loss for the United States.
“The USA/Canada semi final for men was a close game, it was exciting the whole time through. Obviously being American, the outcome was a little disappointing. It was a different experience. Watching the Bruins game and watching the USA game, they played different hockey. The pace is different, it’s more a sense of national pride when you’re at the Olympics watching, it was a fun thing to do. Going with my teammates, cheering and yelling. An awesome experience over in Russia.”
The pursuit of a snowboarding dream has shed new light on the winter sport already enjoyed by many. The passion, endurance, four-season devotion and love for the mountain that Deibold exudes is enough to power anyone to hang up their skates and try on some boots, exchanging ice for snow, even for just a day.
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