VAIL - When Jake Pates was in second grade, he was given the honor of forerunning the men's superpipe finals event at the X Games.
It was the his first season on a snowboard; he was 8.-
Shaun White went on to win the event, and in the years that followed both Pates and White kept getting better at snowboarding - Pates on a sharper curve.
Now, six years later, Pates and White are set to compete against each other in both halfpipe and slopestyle at the Burton U.S. Open here in Vail, just down the road from Jake's home town of Eagle.
"I've been watching him my whole life," said Pates of White. "It's sort of a shocker, thinking back to watching him when I was young and thinking how cool it was to see him up there with so much exposure. Now I'll be competing against him on the same level, it just feels awesome."
Not unlike White, Pates has been on quite a run this year. He took third in halfpipe in the Burton U.S. Open qualifiers Feb. 3 in Seven Springs, Penn., then went over to the Burton European Open in Laax, Switzerland, winning the junior halfpipe and finishing second in the junior slopestyle there. On Saturday, he learned that after the Burton U.S. Open he will be heading over to Erzurum, Turkey, to compete on the FIS Junior World Team where, at 14, he'll be the youngest member of the team.-
His coach, Elijah Teter of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV), says Pates fits in well with an older crowd.-
"He's really riding at that level right now, going big enough to be competing with the big dogs," says Teter. "He's very mature, very receptive, very unique in that sense, being able to listen so well and pick up on what you're trying to describe to him as a coach."
SSCV snowboard program director Ben Boyd says Pates is the type of athlete the coaches there refer to as an "outlier."
"That means he's a kid that's ahead of his years, and not just the way he snowboards but the way he handles life and coaching and his mental approach to everything," Boyd said. "I've known him for a long time now and coached him for a couple years, he takes to coaching very well, understands the technical aspects of snowboarding, has a really good work ethic but also has that passion for it, that drive. It's a pretty rare mix."
And Pates can also do tricks that involve two separate inverted maneuvers-in the same air, also a rare mix. But it's becoming more and more common these days, with this feat -- commonly referred-to as a "double" -- currently driving the sport.-
"I'm working on doing a double for the Open," says Pates. "Trying to perfect the cab double 9 in slope."
He trains with another young gun and master of the double, 14-year-old Japanese sensation Ayumu Hirano, who is also being coached by Teter at SSCV.-
Hirano recently finished runner-up to White at the X Games superpipe, and followed that up by winning the Men's halfpipe open division at the Burton European Open.
"It's super cool to just be around him because we're the same age and he's already at that next level, already winning the big professional competitions," said Pates.-
But Pates' family and coaches say while the formal training has helped to drive the young athlete, it's his big brother, 16-year-old Cole Pates, who has really pushed him along.-
"Ever since he was a little guy, he had a brother who was a mentor, and always someone he tried to emulate," said Chris Pates, Jake and Cole's father. "He was always challenged, no matter where we were or what we were doing, there was no boring day at the mountain for him because he was always trying to be as good as his brother. Having that presence constantly there 24/7 I think has helped Jake significantly."
An SSCV athlete along with Jake, (only Cole Pates is a freeskier), Cole recently finished 18th out of 100 at the Aspen Open, a tough slopestyle competition that takes place on the same course as the X Games. He landed his first ever switch cork 900 in competition at that event, a similar trick to the "cab" (or switch frontside) 900 Jake is currently working on.-
"It came around awesome, right to my feet," he said.-
Cole may not have a big brother to look up to, but with Jake competing at the level he is, Cole says it's like having a brother his same age.
"My friends think he's a-sophomore," Cole says with a laugh. "I say nope, he's in eighth grade ... things are progressing so fast, we're at the point now where we're fighting for each other just to see who can get ahead every day, each day we're either learning a new trick or improving on a trick together. He's improving at such a significant pace, I just want him to keep it going."