Loving the life: Ladley soaking up snowboarding, from the big comps to the powdery days
From the big comps to the powdery days, Matt Ladley is soaking up snowboarding
Steamboat Springs — A conversation with Steamboat Springs pro snowboarder Matt Ladley yields plenty of facts.
He likes dealing with sponsors.
He broke his ankle a year ago in a desperate bid to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and was crushed not to make the team — yet it did help when he saw the miserably soft condition of the pipe in Sochi.
He’d like to see snowboarding use surfing as a model for a season’s competition structure, bringing together the various circuits and series into one large circuit that helps focus the sponsors, the spotlight and the money.
His favorite trick is a backside 540, comparatively easy but much easier to style up with amplitude and a grab.
He relies on the double-cork 1080 in his run but is hoping snowboarding is truly shifting away from competitions being either parades of that one trick or an arms race chasing whatever is the next thing.
He’s not working on a triple cork — perhaps what will be that next big thing — but can’t help taking a poke at someone who is, Shaun White.
“Tell Shaun I’m working on back-to-back triple corks,” Ladley said, grinning.
Ladley is prone to sticking the phrase “this is what I signed up for” into conversation about the ups and downs of his career.
He considers himself hard-working and fortunate, but not lucky.
And Matt Ladley loves, absolutely loves, his life.
Sitting down in a Steamboat Springs sushi joint two shopping days before Christmas, Ladley still was soaking in an afternoon spent on a perk of the life he loves: a day snowmobiling and snowboarding on Buffalo Pass, looking for powder lines for filming later this season.
“This is what I’d be doing if I won the lottery,” he said.
He is doing it, though, so what does that say of Ladley and the lottery?
Ladley moved to Steamboat Springs from Chicago with his family when he was 10. He wanted to be a pro snowboarder before he got to town, and he definitely wanted to be one after he got to town.
He got support from home, early and always.
“My parents never laughed at me for saying ‘I want to be a pro snowboarder,’” he said. “A lot of parents would.”
Ladley started his snowboarding career with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, and before long, he was opening checks from sponsors. That was at first eye-popping for the young rider, but he proved again and again that he had the results to back it up.
He earned podium spots and wins at many of the top half-pipe events: the Dew Tour, the U.S. Revolution Tour, U.S. Grand Prix events and the TTR World Snowboarding Championships.
He soon began consistently earning starts in the X Games and said he still gets goosebumps every time he lives out that childhood dream.
He’s sponsored by Nike and signed a deal a little more than a year ago with Rockstar. He also is signed with Ethika, a sports-focused underwear brand, and Powder Tools, a snowboard shop in Steamboat Springs.
He’s 23 and has traveled the world competing in his sport, and he plans to continue to do so. If you don’t count the times he’s helped buddies working to haul furniture, he’s never had a “regular” job.
But the lottery? He made clear it’s not winning the lottery.
“Some people may take this the wrong way, but I don’t like it when people tell me I’m lucky,” he said. “That implies I won something. Well, I haven’t really. I’ve been in a lot of pain. I’ve sacrificed. I work hard.
“I’m fortunate I’ve had the opportunities I’ve had, and I’m lucky what I work hard at is something I absolutely love, but in general, no, I’m not lucky. I wasn’t given this.”
That pain Ladley speaks of has been a regular element of his career.
He shattered his ankle a year ago as he tried to make good on one last chance to make the Olympic team, and now the joint is reconstructed with bungie cords and screws.
Don’t worry. It doesn’t set off the airport metal detector any more than the three plates and 33 screws embedded in his arm and collar bones already did.
“It was mostly double corks,” he said. “Those will get ya.”
That latest injury wasn’t the same as the ones before, all of which knocked Ladley off the snow for just a few weeks at a time.
Two years ago, after racking up all those results, Ladley seemed to be the Steamboat men’s snowboarder destined to travel to Sochi on the U.S. Olympic team.
Still, midway through the qualification process last winter, it wasn’t looking promising.
He had failed to make the finals at Dew Tour, the first event of five that would decide the four U.S. men to make the trip. While he made the finals in the second event, he couldn’t land a run and didn’t help his cause.
Weather forced the final three events all into the same weekend at Mammoth Mountain in California, and there Ladley finally got a chance. He was third in the first event, meaning another strong finish could put him in.
That’s when he pushed it a bit too far. He went as big as he could in his last chance to make the team. When he flew up for one of those often-painful double corks, a strong wind pushed him away from the lip of the half-pipe and the comparatively gentle landing that promised, into the pipe itself, where a 40-foot drop, down from the apex of his jump, awaited.
He landed on that flat portion of the pipe. His ankle gave way and this time it wasn’t a three-week fix. His season was over.
“It was tough, but it was one of those all or nothing moments,” he said. “I could have put down a run that felt pretty stable with the wind and the conditions, but I’d rather go for it and come up short than play it safe and still come up short.
“That was a tough day, but that’s how it goes.”
He spent three months on crutches before tentatively trying out his ankle on a board at Mount Hood, Oregon, this summer. He took one powder-seeking trip, with fellow pros Scotty Lago and Greg Bretz, to Argentina, but stayed away from hard pack and half-pipes until this season started.
After failing to make the finals in this season’s first competition, it appeared he may not be fully back yet.
That changed at the most recent big event, this year’s Dew Tour in Breckenridge.
There, Ladley leapt into the finals with the fourth-best score. In finals, he was sixth, with his best scored run of the season, 83.75.
“That was a win for me, coming off a really long injury which was one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to get over in my career,” Ladley said. “Putting down those runs at Dew Tour erased all that negativity in my mind, the doubt. Now the sky is the limit.”
Sign ’em up
Ladley turns to “that’s what I signed up for” most often when talking about his injuries, painful crashes he’s taken in the half-pipe and the long recovery from his most recent accident.
He sat last week in a Steamboat restaurant downing sushi and edamame and he ordered a second round of saki.
He was with friends — former Winter Sports Club alum Kurtis Jackson and former club rider and pro snowboarder Robbie Dapper — and they laughed.
They told stories of getting into the sport and, in the Jackson and Dapper’s case, getting out of it.
For Jackson, before Ladley was a friend he was the kid who lived across the street who came home every day sporting a giant helmet and dragging a board.
For Dapper, Ladley is the buddy who’s razzing him to finish up with work on the laptop so they can get onto the snowmobiles and into the powder.
They laughed and joked, talked about new tricks in the pipe and old, that day’s backcountry adventure and the next day they’d be able to go out.
Ladley has a big plan in snowboarding.
He wants an X Games medal. He wants to do more backcountry film, and while he reserves the right to change his mind when the time comes, he wants to go to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Still, much of that seemed far away at the restaurant.
Soaking in the joy after a day of the best “work” he could ever ask for, one thing seemed clear: This is what Matt Ladley signed up for.
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