Alex Deibold (center) rode to his first ever World Cup podium in Sochi
/ZumaPress.com

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) -- Alex Deibold's tweet after winning World Cup silver at Sochi earlier this month summed up his career to date:

"31 starts, 300,000 miles flown, two surgeries, countless hours of training and hard work and it was all worth it."

And he still had enough characters to add "finally."

It was a breakthrough performance for one of the nicest guys on tour and makes the 26-year-old a favorite this week at the U.S. Grand Prix snowboardcross championships at Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah.

The memory of that pre-Olympic test also should provide a mental advantage should Deibold qualify for the Sochi Games - now less than a year away.

"It's been a long time coming," Deibold said of his first podium after so many tries. "I've been close in the past, definitely had ups and downs in my career and this year has just been going great."

There's no question something lit a fire within the personable Vermont native, who lives in Colorado and spent three months last year training in Park City.

Deibold was in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics. But he wasn't racing as an alternate. He was there to support his teammates, and ended up working long hours as a wax tech - at one point sleeping seven hours in three days.

"It was grueling work ... and I wouldn't have traded it," Deibold said. "I got to be part of the Olympic experience without the pressure of having to perform."

He did the same job at the world championships in Quebec in January when he was the odd man out.

"I was so motivated to never be there again," he said.

Three weeks later, he was surviving four six-man races to finish second overall in Sochi.

Deibold is quick to credit riding with boarders half his age, something he has been able to do because his girlfriend is a halfpipe coach in Colorado.

"It just reminded me of what snowboarding's about and kind of helped put me in the right frame of mind," he said. "It wasn't a `no fear' thing (with the youngsters); it was more of a `no care' thing."

The 12- and 13-year-olds just rode, played follow-the-leader through the pipe, did tricks and afterward high-fived each other whether they landed them or not.

After seven years on the U.S. team, Deibold acknowledged the pressure had stripped away some of his enjoyment.

"There's definitely times you stress so hard," said Deibold, who has supported himself through auto detailing, roofing and a summer bicycle sales job in Boulder, Colo.

"Am I going to qualify, are my results going to be good enough to keep me on the team, will I go to the next event, where are my points at?"

He had to be reminded he was a snowboarder.

"It's not like I'm pushing paper behind a desk," Deibold said after a second day of practice at Canyons. "The reason I do it is because it's fun. Spending the time free riding, being out with those kids, has definitely helped."

Of course, bringing home a $6,500 check from Sochi to put toward his hefty credit card bill put a smile on his face, too.

His teammates, competitive as they are on a deep squad, were overjoyed to see him take a step onto the podium.

"You couldn't be more happy for him," said Faye Gulini, a Salt Lake City resident and favorite to win the women's event at Canyons. "We like all bombarded the finish (in Sochi) and they were holding us back because you're not supposed to run in there. He really, really deserved it, and I think I speak for everyone. We're really proud of him."

Recovered now from a 35-hour journey home from Sochi, Deibold has had a chance to get something besides pasta and cheesecake in his system as well as check out the revamped Canyons course

"Right now my riding is the best that it's ever been. I'm strong and healthy and coming off a podium is definitely a mental confidence booster," he said. "I know I can ride with the top guys."

This week that includes Nick Baumgartner, Seth Westcott, Nate Holland, Jonathan Cheever and rising star Trevor Jacob.

Since it is snowboardcross, anything can happen, and spills are often part of the race.

Deibold knows as well as anyone, after having another boarder ride over his left hand following a March 2011 fall in Switzerland, shattering a finger bone into 13 pieces.

"The doctor said it was like trying to repair sand," Deibold recalled.

The pieces were too small to insert screws, so the surgeon used a technique that pinned both ends of the joint, "pushed all the (pieces) together" and let bone fill in around them.

Two long scars are still visible, one from where the hardware went in and another from its removal.

Deibold was back training that summer.

"I don't take what I do for granted any single day," he said. "I worked hard to get here and now, 'How great is the opportunity I have in front of me?'"

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