Steamboat Springs For three years, Steamboat Springs High School senior Mick Dierdorff lived for snowboardcross.
That's to be expected, considering he is close to breaking through to the top echelon of the sport. He's been invited to the Junior World Championships the past two years and went head-to-head with 2006 Olympic gold medalist Seth Westcott - even leading for half the race - at a Grand Prix in Tamarack, Idaho, last year.
But as each year school started, Dierdorff got the itch to try something new. He'd played football in eighth grade, but he hadn't put on pads for the past three years so he could focus on his budding snowboarding career.
It's certainly a dilemma that numerous athletes - especially in Steamboat Springs - have faced.
How do you balance being on the upper echelon of one sport while still wanting to do another?
Dierdorff got his answer at a U.S. developmental camp in Mount Hood, Ore., last year.
"I had a coach there that started telling me about how in high school he played and how it was the best experience he'd ever had," Dierdorff said. "He said it would be a great thing for me to experience, not to mention great training."
So, Dierdorff decided that instead of doing dryland training with the rest of his team, he'd put on football pads for the first time in three years. While the initial transition was a little shaky - "I had no idea what to do the first week of two-a-days," Dierdorff said - the results have been anything but bad.
Dierdorff's started nine games, recording nearly every snap, this year as a right guard for the 8-1 Steamboat football team. He also says he's in some of the best shape of his life for his upcoming snowboarding season, which kicks off in December with a Jeep King of the Mountain event in Telluride.
"It's fundamentals in both sports. Once you learn those, it's how you build on that," Dierdorff said about how the two sports have translated to each other. "I think I've refined my skills in snowboarding so much to be at that level. But being athletic has allowed me to have the skill to play and start this year" in football.
Sailors football coach Aaron Finch has known Dierdorff for a while and had encouraged him to play football since his freshman year. Finch said when he got the call from Dierdorff this summer confirming he was going to play, he knew he had a potential piece of the puzzle.
Considering Dierdorff's a relatively big guy who obviously is athletic, Finch said he knew Dierdorff could step in and play right away.
"He's picked up what we do quickly," Finch said. "He's a smart kid, and that's one of those intangibles that even though he came in pretty green, he's started the whole season."
Although Dierdorff is playing football, snowboarding always comes first. After battling a shoulder injury at the end of last year, Dierdorff is healthy and is ready for his biggest season yet.
"He's a very talented rider," said Jon Casson, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's snowboard program director. "He's got that rare combination of aggression and power. He's a big kid, but he's graceful and light on his feet. He could go some big places. The X-Games and Olympics are all within his reach."
For now, Dierdorff will focus on the football season - one he said he doesn't want to end until Steamboat's in a state championship game. He's still keeping an eye on the upcoming snowboardcross season - hoping to make a World Cup start and the Junior World Championships again - knowing he has found the best of both worlds.
"Nothing beats winning a snowboardcross race," he said. "But I really love that feeling of pancaking that guy on the football field. I just really love them both."