This is part of an ongoing series in which we chat with someone who's making Colorado a more interesting place to live.
Name: Alex Deibold
Job: Professional Snowboarder (competes in halfpipe and snowboard cross)
Alex Deibold wasn't a household name before the Winter Olympics in Sochi—teammates Shaun White, Nate Holland, Kelly Clark, and Hannah Teter (among others) filled that role. He is now, after winning the bronze medal in snowboard cross (also called boardercross), an event where competitors ride down a course riddled with moguls, obstacles, banks, and jumps. I chatted with the Vermont native, who now lives in Boulder, about what it's like to medal at the highest level.
5280: So you won an Olympic medal. How does that feel?
Alex Deibold: Pretty awesome. Winning a medal at the Olympics has been a lifelong dream of mine, and to fulfill that on my first trip to the Olympics as a [competing] athlete is obviously a dream come true. People have been saying I was a big underdog, but I made two World Cup podiums in the calendar year leading up [to the Olympics]. It worked in my favor to stay under the media radar.
5280: What are you thinking about, what's the emotion, when you realize you've medaled?
All week—and going into Olympics—I wanted to make sure I focused on my own game plan and little details like body position. I wasn't thinking about the big picture or getting a medal. When I crossed the finish line, it was the first time I really let myself think about what I had just accomplished. It was an overflow of emotion. I was just so happy to be part of it, and to walk away with some hardware is such a privilege. It's such a small group of people to be a part of.
5280: After the competition, the media really latched on to your personal story: "wax technician for U.S. Olympians in Vancouver medals in Sochi." Was it weird to have that one detail become your Olympic story?
I was fine with it. It’s a great American storyline. It just goes to show that hard work pays off. My experience in Vancouver in 2010 was definitely a tough one. I had to swallow my pride and work for my teammates, but at the same time I was grateful to be there. I think it really benefitted me. I got to see what the Olympics were like from behind-the-scenes; I could prepare myself mentally. And it's something that I’m proud of. It’s part of who I am and part of my road to get here.
5280: The Olympic experience has to be so surreal. What was it like for you?
The venues were all spectacular. The chairlifts were all new. Our course was great. The mountain there is beautiful. Getting a chance to go down to the coast and go to some hockey games and check out the Olympic park, that was amazing. Walking into opening ceremonies is definitely one of the highlights. You're dressed all together with people from all these different sports and countries and thousands of people are cheering. It's a huge moment of pride.
5280: What drew you to boardercross?
Growing up, I was more of a freestyle rider—halfpipe, slopestyle. I went to Stratton Mountain School in Vermont, and my coaches wanted me to be a well-rounded rider, so I competed in all five disciplines. I just excelled at boardercross. I love snowboarding, and boardercross is a combination of a lot of different aspects. It's racing, but also freestyle because you're hitting big jumps. And it makes your result a little easier to handle. If you have a bad day, you don’t have any judges to blame. Getting in the gate, when you hear, "Riders, ready, attention," and waiting for the gates to drop—there are very few moments in life where you feel as alive as then.
5280: I enjoy the suspense and excitement of watching boardercross, but it has to be difficult to deal with the fact that another competitor could ruin your run.
That’s one of the hardest aspects to deal with, but I also think it's what makes it the most exciting to watch. The fastest guy doesn’t always win. There are cases where you get hit by another rider, or he cuts you off or lands on your board. It's frustrating; you never get used to it. You just have to realize that that’s part of the sport that you do and sometimes stuff just doesn’t go your way. In other sports, the referee makes a bad call and there’s nothing you can do. You learn to take the wins and losses equally. Sometimes you get gifted (someone falls in front of you and you advance) and sometimes you give a gift. If you do it long enough, it all balances out.
5280: What does your training regimen look like?
Boardercross, and snowboarding in general, is a dangerous sport so I take my prep really seriously. April and May are downtime, when I just enjoy living in Colorado. I ride my bike a ton and rock climb, backpack, and camp. Summer is when I start hitting the gym regularly. There's a misconception that elite competitive snowboarders are lazy, but we work really hard in the gym. In the fall (August through November), I'm in the gym five days a week doing strength and conditioning, cardio, plyometrics, yoga.
5280: Is nutrition important?
It is now. I’m 27, and I'm starting to get a little bit older in the snowboard world. [Some of the top freestyle boarders] are 16 or 18, and you can eat whatever you want at that age. Boardercross athletes hit their prime in mid- to late-20s and early 30s. I've learned in the last couple years that my diet is just as important to my fitness [as working out], and I’ve made a real effort to make healthy decisions. I'm trying to eat a lot of lean protein and healthier carbs. For me, it starts at the grocery store, making decisions there instead of when I'm home and I'm hungry. It's not hard around Boulder.
5280: Where are your favorite mountains to ride when you're not competing?
5280: Colorado is known for "breeding" a lot of Olympians. Do you think living here has impacted you as an athlete?
Living in Colorado has had a huge influence on my athletic success. The biggest thing that drew me to Colorado is the outdoor lifestyle. Everybody loves to ride bikes and hike. The weather also plays a huge role. That healthy lifestyle has helped me be more active and stay fit. There’s a reason I came out to Colorado and stayed here.
5280: Where do you go from here?
Fortunately for me, I compete in something that I love. Snowboarding is something I’ve been passionate about my whole life. I don’t see that slowing down. The only thing this medal has done is instill that love and make me realize how fortunate I am. There’s a year-round World Cup circuit. I have two more races in the next few weeks. Hopefully this platform gives me a chance to explore some of the things I haven’t been able to do—backcountry, take a trip to Alaska—but never had access to the finances to do. But definitely more snowboarding.
—Image courtesy of Sarah Brunsen
Follow associate editor Daliah Singer on Twitter at @daliahsinger.