Jefferson Hills, Greensburg natives claim gold at boardercross nationals
Ale Hakala remembers coming out of the gates during her final run earlier this month at this year’s USASA National Championships in Copper Mountain, Colo.
“I remember dropping in and hearing a commotion behind me and I just blocked it out and kept going,” said Hakala, 32, of Jefferson Hills. “It turned out all my competitors crashed behind me.”
Hakala, who has raced boardercross competitively since 2011, has had three consecutive top-five finishes at nationals, but this was her year to win it all.
“I came through the finish and realized I was first, threw my hands on my hips, fell over in the snow and started laughing because I was so happy,” Hakala said.
Hakala’s coach and mentor, Jeff Brier, was still at the finish line, fresh off of a gold medal run of his own when he saw Hakala fall flat in the snow.
“It was pretty emotional,” Brier said. “I know how hard she’s worked for it. I was a little teared up when I saw her cross.”
Brier, a Greensburg native, started snowboarding in the early 1990s and decided to give boardercross a shot in 2006. Snowboard’s equivalent of NASCAR, boardercross is a high-speed race down a steep mountain course between four to six competitors, filled with banked turns, jumps and drops.
“I never really researched ‘how to race boardercross,’ ” said Brier, 42, of Denver. “I just showed up and said ‘OK, I’m going to do this.’ Since then I’ve learned a lot.”
Brier met Hakala through a mutual friend in 2011, two weeks before her first race.
“I asked her if she had ever raced before and she said ‘nope,’ ” Brier recalled. “I said ‘OK. Let’s do it.’ ”
Brier and Hakala trained at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, but Brier moved to Denver last spring, so the two only trained together the week of nationals.
“I was sending her training programs for the gym. They would often be accompanied with videos,” Brier said. “If she was uncertain of her form, she would take videos of her at the gym and send them. I saw her a week before nationals for three days of practice.”
Boardercross, an Olympic sport and one of the most viewed events during the X Games, has grown since Brier remembers starting, and he thinks it’s only a matter of time before courses will be available to everyone.
“The nationals is a much bigger event than the first one that I’ve been to,” Brier said. “It’s a pretty big deal. I think the next step is resorts to recognize that desire for fun and build permanent courses for access.”
Until then, Brier and Hakala don’t mind spreading the word.
“It’s kind of on people’s radar a lot more than what it used to be, but people still need a little reminder of what it really is,” Brier said.
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.