Matt Ladley competes in the men's snowboard superpipe final at Winter… (Matt Morning/ESPN Images )
Even though he'll be facing off against a living legend in superstar snowboarder Shaun White, 21-year old Evanston native Matt Ladley is ready to take on the "Flying Tomato" in the Winter X Games this weekend.
"He's an incredible athlete, you know, and the best halfpipe rider—he's always stepping it up," Ladley said when reached by phone in Aspen, Colo., this week. "But I'm feeling really good right now, and I'm really stoked because I've been healthy this year."
Not that the life of a pro snowboarder is easy. Even though this is his third X Games, Ladley said the experience of being there before takes you only so far.
"The excitement level is so high, the adrenaline is pumping so much, that you almost don't even think, you just react," he said. "It's like a mix of adrenaline and fear and it's hard to breathe, and butterflies are jumping in your stomach, but it's also really exciting."
Ladley, who finished fifth in snowboard superpipe last year, said most of the gravity-defying spins and flips performed at the X Games to impress the judges are basically the same for each competitor. Winning comes down to execution.
"It's about who can do it bigger, more consistently and with more style," said Ladley, who also finished third at the Dew Tour and second at the TTR World Snowboard Championships in 2012.
Luckily, he'll be close to home. These Winter X Games are held in Aspen, Colo., about three hours from his current home in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Ladley was born in Evanston, and his family moved to suburban Park Ridge when he was 2. He fell in love with snowboarding at age 7 and recalls spending long hours on the slopes of Raging Buffalo Park in Algonquin before moving to Colorado at age 11.
"I loved it more than anything, and my mom would drive me out there after school and I stayed out there until everything closed at 8 p.m.," Ladley said.
Ryan Smith is a RedEye special contributor.
What is snowboard superpipe?
One of the signature events at the Winter X Games, snowboard superpipe involves traversing a halfpipe with near 90-degree vertical walls that measure at least 18 feet in height from the bottom to the top. Boarders have several attempts to impress judges and pull off stunts—mostly variations of flips, spins and grabs. Shaun White has dominated the event for the past half-decade, winning the past five gold medals and earned a perfect 10.0 on his final run in 2012.
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