Matt Ladley, 16, could be any teenage boy. But he's not. Instead, he's quickly becoming one of the faces of the future of U.S. men's snowboarding.

Photo by Brian Ray

Matt Ladley, 16, could be any teenage boy. But he's not. Instead, he's quickly becoming one of the faces of the future of U.S. men's snowboarding.

Ladley looks to soar to new heights

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— Matt Ladley is your average 16-year-old high school junior.

He loves skateboarding in the summer and hanging out with friends as often as possible. He hates homework - "It's miserable," he said - and just got his driver's license. He loves winters in Steamboat Springs.

But what makes Ladley a little different than most is that he's already being dubbed the next big American thing on a snowboard.

"The sky is the limit for Matt," U.S. Snowboarding halfpipe coach Mike Jankowski said. "He's got everything in place. A strong background from the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, great support from his family, friends and community in Steamboat."

Ladley's also got the results.

Last year was a breakthrough year for Ladley and served as his introduction to the world of competitive snowboarding.

As part of the U.S. Rookie team, Ladley won the Revolution Tour, a five-stop event designed to boost riders to the next level of competition.

While he certainly made his mark there, it was in late February that Ladley really stepped onto the scene.

Competing in the last event on the 2007 Chevrolet U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix in Tamarack, Idaho, Ladley finished third. During Olympic years, Grand Prix finishes determine the U.S. snowboarding halfpipe team. They also feature the best pro riders in the country.

"It was the best season I've had," Ladley said. "I moved up a lot. It was the same competitions but with higher expectations. I had a ton of fun traveling."

Ladley's superb year wasn't done.

He was later invited to Norway to take part in the prestigious Artic Challenge. As the only American rookie invited to the event, Ladley got to meet one of his idols and snowboarding legend Terje Haakanson.

"He's like the king of snowboarding," Ladley said.

During the finals of the event, Ladley was scheduled to compete in the amateur portion. But before his run, Haakanson asked if he wanted to join the pros.

"Of course I said 'yes,'" Ladley said.

Now, as Ladley relishes some of his downtime before the season begins with training sessions in Breckenridge on Dec. 4 - and the first Grand Prix on Dec. 14 and 15 - he said he's looking toward the upcoming season like he looked at the ones that preceded it.

"You hope to do as well if not better," Ladley said. "But I'm not going to be bummed if I don't do as well. Last year was a pretty good year. Hopefully, I can make a couple of (Grand Prix) finals. Maybe a podium. Definitely the Artic Challenge again."

With Ladley's development, Jankowski said each of those goals is attainable. Jankowski said what makes Ladley so good is how natural the halfpipe comes to him.

"He's got great talent, great touch and finesse on his board," Jankowski said. "So, he's got that special touch on the board where he takes off smooth, is smooth in the air and then lands smooth."

While Ladley has burst onto the scene in recent years, his comfort on snow was evident to his mother, Ellen, long ago.

The Ladley family used to live in Chicago, and Ellen would take her children skiing every Tuesday to a small ski resort in Wisconsin. She also had a sister who lived in Telluride, and the family would spend weeks at a time there. Ellen would take Matt out on the mountain in the morning, and he'd refuse to go home until the evening.

"What I saw really early, like when he was three, was he had an incredible center of gravity," Ellen said. "He knew where his body was in space, knew where his feet were on the ground, and he was always looking for jumps."

The Ladley's moved to Steamboat when Matt was in sixth grade. By that time, Matt's snowboard had become an extension of his feet.

"I can't help not snowboarding," Ladley said. "It's fun. It's the worst in the summer when I can't snowboard."

Ladley now looks to future goals such as making the Winter X Games. He's thinking about the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the 2014 Olympics in Russia.

But first he's going to focus on being a 16-year-old high school student and a regular guy.

"I try to not get too wrapped up in the business," Ladley said. "That's not what it's all about. It's all about having a bunch of fun. It's about snowboarding for as long as I can."

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