Diving in, Dierdorff chases his dreams | SteamboatToday.com

Diving in, Dierdorff chases his dreams

Steamboat snowboard racer hopes to capitalize on strong season

— The highlight of Mick Dierdorff’s season, maybe of his career, came Jan. 24 at Feldberg, a small German Black Forest resort near the border with France.

The Steamboat Springs snowboard cross racer has had other good days, of course, and even a higher finish. The 2015-16 season was a big step forward for him, and nothing symbolized it quite like that day at Feldberg.

The just-finished winter was important for Dierdorff on a number of levels, he said, speaking Thursday while taking a break from the work-workout routine he's dedicated himself to this spring and summer.

"Mentally, it definitely was kind of a breakthrough season," he said. "This year, my confidence went through the roof."

Through much of the season, that manifested itself most often in qualifying rounds — the individual trips through the course that allow riders to qualify to the bracketed finals. Those times are also used to seed them in their heats, which contain either four or six riders.

The fastest half of each heat, either two or three racers, advance.

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Dierdorff qualified better this season than he ever has, averaging in at 12th place.

There were plenty of reasons why, he said, but a big one was a small tweak to his racing stance.

U.S. coach Jeff Archibald reminded Dierdorff to push out his back leg while riding, something he often did naturally, but something he could lapse on, as well.

"You're in a more squat stance, and you have more power on your back leg to work features and generate speed," Dierdorff said. "He really tried to hone in on some of my strengths and adapt my riding, and I really grasped it and started excelling."

The race at Feldberg actually proved an exception to those results, at least in qualifying.

Dierdorff was 30th there in qualifying. It was good enough to make the bracketed-section of the event, but it left him seeded poorly and in tough six-rider pod.

A day later, however, it all came together.

"I was making a bunch of crazy passes everyone couldn't believe it," he said. "I just came out of nowhere and motored by people and kept getting through the rounds."

He was the third rider — the last one from his heat — to qualify into the quarterfinals, and with that, he was off to a big day.

Big day, big finals

Advancing and racing for a podium, that's the goal, Dierdorff said, at least the most immediate goal.

A larger one looms, of course.

Dierdorff, 24 and in his second season on the U.S. Snowboarding Team, has been racing on the circuit since 2009 and has been gradually working his way up the ladder ever since. It's taken longer than he'd hoped.

He had big plans of making the U.S. Olympic Team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but his results that season didn't get him an invitation.

He stuck with the sport, however, and has had his eyes set on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, ever since.

He got the chance to race that Korean course this season in an Olympic test event. He was 10th in qualifying then got tangled up during his first heat and ended up 28th overall.

"It still felt really good just knowing I can be fast there," he said.

That one day in Feldberg offered some of that same confidence.

He survived his first heat in Germany then was better in the quarterfinals, placing second to advance to the semis.

He'd been that far before, once, in 2014 in Spain. He made the semis but couldn't advance to the big finals, where he'd have raced for the overall win.

Instead, he slipped to the small finals and eventually placed fifth overall.

This time, in Germany, racing in bigger heats of six riders instead of four, he was better.

He survived one more time and made the big finals.

He ended up placing sixth overall, meaning it wasn't technically his best World Cup result, but it was something he'd never done before, and he said he hopes it’s a sign of things to come.

Olympic ambition

Dierdorff is all in for the coming season. Back from Europe for the offseason, he's working his days framing houses and spending his evenings lifting weights and working out.

He's planning to move to Park City in July, a move he's resisted to this point, but one he's convinced is a necessary step.

"You can always train on your own and push yourself, but it's always better to have a trainer there to help and to be with teammates, pushing each other," he said. "They're going to put us all up in a house, and we'll have the best training facility you could imagine. We'll be able to work on really sport-specific stuff, which is difficult to do anywhere else."

Still, the path to the Olympics isn't easy.

Dierdorff ended the season 19th in the World Cup but fifth among Americans.

The U.S. sent four snowboard cross athletes to the Olympics in 2014, three of whom finished this season ahead of Dierdorff in the rankings.

Still, he said this winter something was different, and he's hoping that can carry him to even greater success in the coming seasons.

He finished the season with another highlight — a second-place finish in the U.S.A. Snowboard and Freeski Association championships at Copper Mountain. It was his first podium in the event since he was 14.

"No matter what guys I'm racing, I'm not intimidated any more," he said. "I know I have the potential to beat them down the course if I ride to my fullest ability.

"That was a really big thing this year, just knowing my riding is there for me to achieve my goals."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9