World Cup rookie and SSCV alumnus Matt LaBaugh continues his breakout season at Dew Tour Superpipe High Air and Best Trick Jam
The U.S. Freeski rookie team athlete competed in his first World Cup final earlier this month in Mammoth
Vail freeskier Matt LaBaugh is putting together a stellar rookie World Cup season, and on Sunday, he’ll get to show the local fans just how far he’s come.
After missing finals by one place in both the Dec. 17 Copper Mountain and Jan. 19 Calgary World Cups, the 19-year-old broke through and finished 10th in Mammoth, California, on Feb. 3. The string of impressive performances by the former SSCV star, who moved to the valley at 13, nearly qualified him for the FIS World Championships in Bakuriani, Georgia, which overlap with this weekend’s Dew Tour.
“It’s been a great season so far,” said LaBaugh, who will be contesting the Superpipe High Air and Best Trick Jam on Sunday at Copper Mountain, the second day of the Dew Tour.
“He’s just on a roll, you could say,” added SSCV freeski park and pipe head coach Willis Engelhart, who has coached LaBaugh for the last four years and still works with the 2022 SSCV graduate alongside LaBaugh’s primary Team USA halfpipe rookie team coach Ryan Carey.
“For his first season on the halfpipe World Cup and first year on the U.S. freeski rookie team — and being such a young kid and pushing up there and beating some of those veterans — it’s pretty amazing to see.”
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Saturday, February 25
11 a.m.-4 p.m. – Dew Tour Experience in Eagle’s Landing
11 a.m.-4 p.m. – Credentials & VIP Pass Pick-Up
11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – Men’s Ski Superpipe Final
12:45 p.m.-1:45 p.m. – Women’s Snowboard Superpipe Final
5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. – Women’s Snowboard Super Streetstyle Qualifier & Final
6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. – Mix Master Mike DJ Performance
7:30 pm-9 p.m. – Men’s Ski Super Streetstyle Qualifier & Final
Sunday, February 26
11 a.m.-4 p.m. – Dew Tour Experience in Eagle’s Landing
9 a.m.-4 p.m. – Credentials & VIP Pass Pick-Up
noon-1 p.m. – Men’s Snowboard Superpipe Final
1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m. – Superpipe High Air & Best Trick Jam presented by U.S. Air Force
5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. – Women’s Ski Super Streetstyle Qualifier & Final
7:30 p.m.-9 p.m. – Men’s Snowboard Super Streetstyle Qualifier & Final
*Event schedule is subject to change*
Winter Dew Tour is a free event and open to the public. Spectators will have a front-row seat to the action out of Copper’s Center Village where the event will take place. The Dew Tour festival experience, located at the base of Center Village, will include as a sponsor village, food and beverage, pro athlete photo-ops, poster signings, and the Streetstyle course. Superpipe events will conveniently sit just above the base of Center Village.
Streaming information can be found on DewTour.com
LaBaugh said getting over the qualification hump didn’t require any secret sauce.
“Just coming in with a gameplan and doing the run that you want to do and not really thinking about what the judges want — that’s always a good way to go into it,” he said.
That gameplan typically opens with a double cork 1260 Japan grab, which he personalizes by kicking his leg out extra far.
“His Japan grab is unique,” Engelhart said. “It’s very predominant and seen by the judges all the way at the bottom. It’s a nice way to start off the run with a grab that no other athlete really does in that rotation.”
LaBaugh is also capable of switching his opening hit with a double 1620. “He doesn’t have a crazy grab in that, but it still is a 1620 which is what the top guys are doing in their runs to win X-Games and World Cups,” the coach continued. “He’s quite the aerialist — and his technique and his grabs — and he still keeps the amplitude up. So, he has some big tricks up his sleeves.”
Either way, he’ll follow it up with a double alley-oop rodeo 720, another feature Engelhart said sets his run apart. “It’s almost orbital in the way he rotates,” the coach detailed. “His body actually flips sideways instead of in a backward or forward motion. He flips with the pipe angle and lands back switch.”
If his right double is going well, he’ll rip that on the left wall with a safety grab, or he can execute a switch 1080 tail grab. His last hit usually gets the fans into it — a big double Michalchuk with a Japan grap through the whole trick.
“He usually stomps that perfectly,” Engelhart said. “It’s a crowd-pleaser.”
With only six athletes invited to Saturday’s ski superpipe final, LaBaugh said he expects to only compete on Sunday unless an illness or injury opens up an alternate spot in Saturday’s event. That being said, depending on the weather and conditions, he’d like to try and go big with a left-double 1620 for the best trick.
“I’m just hoping to have fun, really. It would be nice to make some money,” he said.
“Some of the guys who are doing world champs haven’t left yet and they’re going to do Dew Tour, so it will be fun to ride with them and hopefully it will be nice out and we’ll just have a fun day cruising the pipe.”
Riding with heroes
Part and parcel with each World Cup start — which LaBaugh earned via his 2022 NorAm halfpipe season title — the youngster said he’s had a few starstruck moments training and competing alongside athletes he idolized as a kid.
“Definitely — that first trip to Austria, meeting Alex Hall and Colby Stevenson was awesome,” LaBaugh said. “Then, after that, going to train pipe and hang out with Birk Iriving, Hunter Hess, David Wise, Alex Ferreira and Aaron Blunck — it’s all super cool.”
Coming into the year, LaBaugh’s main goal was to make a World Cup final, which he accomplished in Mammoth. World champs, though, wasn’t even on his radar.
“Honestly, coming into the year, I probably didn’t even know it was a world champs year,” he said. “And then once I got to Mammoth and once I made finals, I kind of realized that if I did really well, it could be possible.”
This season’s successes will serve as a nice launchpad to his lifelong, longterm goals.
“It’s always been my goal to make the Olympics,” he said.
“But next year I hope to be on the podium in a World Cup and just consistently making finals; hopefully get moved up from the rookie to the pro team on the U.S. side. And then, just start building a run for the Olympics to hopefully be there in 2026.”
LaBaugh’s threefold talent — he also has competed in World Cup slopestyle and big air events — is rare. It puts him in the same camp as Telluride-grown Gus Kenworthy, the 2014 Olympic slopestyle silver medalist and multi-time Dew Tour podium placer. LaBaugh said right now he enjoys halfpipe competitions the most, partially because of those results, but craves the other two disciplines within his weekly schedule.
“I think in training in definitely helps me,” he said of having all three elements to work on. “It’s pretty fun to ski jumps and rails in the spring with your friends.”
His best slopestyle finish this year was a 30th-place on Dec. 16 at Copper. On Nov. 19, he was 51st in the big air in Stubai, Austria. With the World Cup halfpipe season concluding early this year, his March will bend toward more opportunities in Europe to improve those big air and slopestyle marks.
The way Engelhart sees it, however, LaBaugh’s growth hasn’t been just results-based — even though he’s certainly achieved notable finishes.
“But it’s overall, him as a man, growing up,” Engelhart explained. “He’s getting stronger, he’s getting better, he’s working out. He’s taking his body more seriously the last couple years because he knows he’s capable of doing these high-level tricks and competing with these guys he used to look up to.”
The focus on the mental side during his SSCV upbringing is coming into play as well.
“That’s really key in our club — knowing how to channel out bad moments and bad runs and channel into the good and kind of control that fear in the start gate,” Engelhart continued. “And drive it into your run and channel it into focus. I can just see Matt has found that focus.”
A great example was last year in Stonehma, Quebec, when he needed a win to secure the NorAm crown.
“He dropped in with just this fire in his eyes, hit his chest — and now he does this every time he drops in for a world cup run,” Engelharts recalled.
“And he dropped in and put down one of the craziest runs to win. I think he found out how to channel that and apply it to his skiing and I think that’s really important — not just being a skilled, technical skier, but having a good mindset and knowing how to control it.”
“Both physically and mentally, he’s getting stronger and stronger every year,” the coach continued.
“I think in the next year or two you have to watch for Matt LaBaugh out of Vail. He’s going to be one to reckon with.”