“I always knew I wanted to be part of that someday,” he says.
That someday has arrived.
Kearney will compete at Friday’s World Cup boardercross (SBX) event, having earned one of two coveted “Coach’s Discretion” spots following a week-long training camp in Telluride with U.S. Snowboard Team coaches. Steamboat Springs athlete Mick Dierdorf snagged the other spot, giving these two up-and-coming competitors the chance to race shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best snowboarders on the planet during Friday’s adrenaline-heavy bordercross event.
Kearney and his younger brother Harry were among the six young snowboarders invited to last week’s camp, and according to U.S. Snowboard Team coach Peter Foley, both Kearney boys showed their prowess in SBX trainings and time trials. In Hagen’s case, generating speed on the SBX course’s straight sections proved his strong suit, with Kearney actually beating the members of the US Team in time trial segments on jumps and rollers. Foley chalked that up to his strong skateboarding background, noting that he brings those skills onto the snow and “is as fast as anybody out there.”
“He definitely still has some work to do in the turns,” Foley noted, “but on the jumps and rollers…there’s some stuff we can learn from him.”
Racing in a World Cup event marks a highlight in this still-underage snowboarder’s budding pro career, which launched last season following seven seasons racing in the USASA circuit under the tutelage of Telluride coach and ex-Pro snowboarder Jason Troth.
“Hagen’s in that rare group of upper-echelon riders who truly understands what it means to train, work hard, and pay your dues so you can reap the rewards,” says Troth, who coached Kearney and his younger brother Harry (who is expected to forerun at Friday’s boardercross contest) since they were 13 and 11 years old, respectively. As Troth describes, both boys were trained under the philosophy that establishing proper posture and alignment, as well as following a healthy diet and lifestyle, are key to creating a solid athletic foundation. “They’ve had years of building those structures, and now have started building dynamic, explosive strength on that solid foundation,” Troth says. “Now, the sky’s the limit for both of these guys. I think both of their pro careers really have the potential to go far.”
Kearney was invited to join the International Snowboard Training Center (ISTC) team, based out of Summit County, this season, and has been training with that hard-charging group since the fall.
He says his background riding and training in Telluride helped mold his path to this weekend’s World Cup, gifting him with a solid foundation in freestyle competition as well as skill-building experience exploring Telluride’s technical on- and off-piste terrain. After placing first at the 2007 US Snowboard Nationals SBX event, Kearney focused his attention on this developing discipline. He met Seth Wescott, two-time SBX Olympic gold medalist, who further inspired his allegiance to the sport. He actually bought two of the snowboards Wescott didn’t wind up using at the Olympics, and put them straight to work building the basis for his own boardercross renown.
All roads ultimately led to last week’s training camp, where Kearney admits that he rode well mostly due to the fact that he was having such a great time (training on a world-class course alongside world-class athletes, and being in the best shape of his life, didn’t hurt either, he says.)
“It’s what it’s all about for me – having fun, and expressing myself through snowboarding,” Kearney says. He doesn’t plan to let the experience of racing alongside the sport’s best competitors, on one of the snowboarding world’s most touted venues, get to his head; but he is a wee bit nervous, he admits. Racing on a World Cup course, on his home mountain, hold it’s fair share of pressure, after all.
“I couldn’t be more honored,” he says of competing this weekend at Telluride’s Snowboard World Cup. “I mean, this is where I’m from, and I always hoped that someday I could get the opportunity to race here. Now I get to race for all my friends, the locals, everyone that’s supported me… and show them what Telluride’s made of.”