Air aware

Rookie begins season on U.S. snowboarding halfpipe team

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— Steamboat's Matt Ladley might have gotten the call in May, but the reality of being part of the 2006-07 U.S. snowboarding halfpipe team is just beginning to set in.

"The (U.S.) Team is more focused," Ladley said. "They're doing stuff with you all day."

Ladley has only begun the initial phases of his Olympic grooming. He had a first taste of training with two of the team's coaches during an August training trip to New Zealand with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's pro/am snowboard team. This weekend, he had his first on-snow team practice in Breckenridge. Ladley joins Minturn's Dylan Bidez and Ellery Hollingsworth of Stratton, Vt., as nominated members of the halfpipe team's Rookie-class riders.

Winter Sports Club snowboard program director Jon Casson said Ladley is the first Steamboat resident on the U.S. freestyle snowboard team's roster in the past five years, since Lex and Tori Carrigan-Koski's participation when the team was still in its development phase.

"He's doing everything really right to step forward each year," Casson said. "His mentality and focus have been working well, and he inspires other kids who watch his work ethic and see his success."

Last winter, Ladley highlighted his season with a second-place finish and a win in Revolution Tour halfpipe events in Spirit Mountain, Minn., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., respectively. He also had a respectable finish at the FIS Junior World Championships in South Korea and was one spot shy of making the final round.

Along the way, Ladley has secured a slew of notable sponsorships from Rossignol, Bonfire and Oakley and local support from The Click and The Lowell Whiteman School.

The modest 15-year-old said he hopes to again qualify for Junior Worlds this season and make it to the final rounds of a Grand Prix event.

U.S. snowboarding halfpipe coach Mike Jankowski agreed. He hopes to see Ladley place in the top five or top three at pro-level Grand Prix and World Cup events and to focus on representing the U.S. by returning to claim a podium spot at the junior worlds.

"One thing that caught my eye about Matt is he always lands on his feet," Jankowski said. "He has a nice touch where he knows where he is in the air - like a cat, a certain awareness - and he can improvise, and he'll land on his feet."

Jankowski said he watched Ladley's talent improve with the Winter Sports Club, and he thinks his training spot on the team gives him serious potential to make the team's pro-level roster.

"We're looking at 2010," Jankowski said. "With his age and progression, if the cycle continues, we're going see a lot of Matt in the next couple years."

Ladley will have his first shot to make his mark right in his backyard. After its final Colorado training camp, the team will start competition with a Grand Prix event Dec. 12 to 16 in Breckenridge.

- To reach Dave Shively, call 871-4253

or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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