Steamboat’s Olympic snowboard success years in the making
February 19, 2018
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Jon Casson no longer coaches snowboarders. He coaches coaches, he said, but he couldn't help but feel invested, perhaps overly so, as riders advanced again and again Thursday in men's snowboard cross at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Soon, wishes he remembered from a decade ago began to come true.
Now, he's a part of the staff for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team working in coach education.
Then, he was the snowboard director for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and he was sitting on what he even knew eight years ago was a special group of athletes.
Maybe, they all wondered, those athletes would butt heads in the snowboard cross brackets on the World Cup. Maybe they'd meet in a World Cup final someday, or maybe they'd even compete against one another in the Olympics.
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Thursday, it all became real as one Steamboat Springs rider, Mick Dierdorff, ran head long into a battle with another, Australian Jarryd Hughes, who spent four years working with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club.
The riders, close friends even now that they've both moved on from the Winter Sports Club, each earned a spot in the snowboard cross gold-medal finals.
"It’s something we talked about, what would it be like," Casson said. "We talked that this might happen one day. We've been hoping they could get into a World Cup finals together, but that hasn't worked out, so finally to get a big final together with each other, and for me to be there in the Olympics, it's just a dream."
Dierdorff hit the deck hard early in the course in the final and placed fifth.
Hughes, competing in his second Olympics, raced a very strategically sound event and won a silver medal.
It was yet another wonderful day for the legacy of a particular group of snowboarders Casson and other coaches helped usher through Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club at about the same time.
On the freestyle side, coached by Spencer Tamblyn and Ashley Berger, was the brother-sister combo of Taylor Gold and Arielle Gold, as well as Matt Ladley. On the snowboard cross side, there was Dierdorff, Hughes and Belle Brockhoff, another Australian working at that time in Steamboat Springs.
That group's list of accomplishments is staggering.
Arielle Gold is a five-time X Games medalist, having collected three bronzes and two silvers. Earlier in the week, she collected one of the biggest prizes of all in snowboarding, an Olympic medal, winning bronze in the women's snowboard halfpipe in her second Olympics.
Taylor Gold became an Olympian in 2014, has wins at Dew Tour and the U.S. Open on his resume as well as an X Games Aspen bronze medal.
Ladley is an X Games Aspen champion in halfpipe and also has a silver that event.
Hughes has an X Games Aspen gold in snowboard cross, which X Games only puts on sporadically, 14 World Cup top 10 finishes, two World Cup wins and now, an Olympic silver medal.
Dierdorff, meanwhile, in the midst of the best season of his career, hasn't missed a top-10 finish in a major event since the first race of the winter. He has a World Cup podium in that streak and Friday, along with Hughes, made a serious run at Olympic gold.
It's quite a crew, counting eight Olympic appearances, eight X Games medals and two Olympic medals.
"All these kids who came together at one time, and I was learning while coaching them," Casson said. "We had this great group of supportive parents, too, and we had this little sense of what makes Steamboat special all coalesced around this little group."
One for the Aussie
Hughes, who competed this year in his second Olympics, moved on from Steamboat Springs in 2013 to train with Casson in Park City, Utah. Casson made the trip to the 2014 Winter Olympics to coach Hughes.
Now, Hughes officially works out of Whistler, British Columbia.
It's been a complicated ride since he left Steamboat and a bit of that reared its head even Thursday as he celebrated the biggest result of his life, an Olympic silver medal.
He's had an at-times nasty feud with Alex Pullin, Australia's gold-medal favorite in snowboard cross. Pullin was in the final with Dierdorff and Hughes but crashed out early and didn't finish.
He also didn't offer any congratulations to Hughes, a nod toward a disagreement that dates back to the 2014 Olympics. Hughes has maintained private coaches since then, not officially working with the Australian national team, though he has received support from that organization.
In South Korea, he and Pullin kept their distance, even after Hughes took in silver.
Hughes has long since moved on from Steamboat, but he said the town and the club were instrumental in his progress as a rider, and even as he headed for the awards ceremony where he'd receive his medal, he asked about the town.
"Steamboat really developed me as a snowboarder," he said. "I don’t think I’d be anywhere near as good as a snowboarder without it."
Back when he and Dierdorff were just teenager,s they could only dream of meeting in the Olympic finals.
Thursday, it happened.
"We came up the entire way together, and we’ve been on World Cup doing it together," Hughes said.
The other Steamboat snowboarders haven't fared quite as well. Rosie Mancari, an Anchorage, Alaska, rider who trained out of Steamboat Springs, was injured during training before the women's snowboard cross event and had to miss the competition.
Belle Brockhoff, another Australian who spent time in Steamboat in the era of Hughes, Dierdorff and Casson, made the women's snowboard cross semifinals but didn't qualify for the gold-medal final. In the small final, she placed fifth, good for 11th overall.
Alpine riders up next
The last of Steamboat's snowboaders head into action Thursday with the men's and women's parallel giant slalom qualifications. That group, from a slightly separate branch of the Steamboat snowboard tree than Casson's crew, does include some of the biggest stories of the Olympics regardless of nation.
Ester Ledecká, from the Czech Republic, stunned the world earlier this week when she won the women's alpine skiing super-G event. She'll next take to the event where she was actually a gold-medal favorite, PGS.
Vic Wild, the American who won two gold medals as a citizen of Russia in 2014, will also be in action in that race as will Americans Aaron "AJ" Muss and Mike Trapp, all of whom trained in Steamboat Springs.