Snow on the mind
In a season when most Minnesotan's minds are on barbecues and beaches, Ryan Paul is thinking of snow.
At this time last year, freshly graduated from Park High school, Paul was at Mount Hood in Oregon living out of his car all summer on the little bit of graduation money he had left after paying for a $900 season snowboarding pass.
His work on the snow is paying off though. Paul, 19, has placed in regional and national snowboarding competitions including, most recently, the Mammoth West Coast Invitational held at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California in May, where he took first place and won $10,000.
And if not for breaking his collarbone at the same tournament, he said he'd probably be on the powdery slopes of Mount Hood right now.
"I have to kind of take it easy," he said.
Paul has been sponsored by Burton -- a manufacturer of snowboarder gear -- since he was in ninth grade. Watching him move up the ranks over the years has been fun said Burton snowboards sales representative Bob Elmergreen.
"He's just got ... a creative and unique style on his board that kind of sets him apart from the rest of the kids here in the Midwest," Elmergreen said. "He's just got a great personality, strong work ethic and an overall passion for the sport."
Paul began snowboarding with a neighborhood friend in his back yard when he was about 9 years old.
"For two years it was just fooling around in his yard on a little plastic snowboard," Paul said. Then, as a fifth-grader he and his friend went to Afton Alps for the first time. He begged his parents for a season pass to Afton Alps the next year, and started going there nearly every day after school, he said. As an eighth-grader he joined the Afton Alps Riding D-Team, where he'd practice with coaches and compete with other resorts around the area.
"I remember I was really bad at it at first," he said. "My nerves just got the best of me."
Eventually, the nerves wore off, though, when he started focusing on having fun, he said.
Once he was in high school, he started doing contests on his own. After he won a contest at Welch Village in Welch, Minn., as a ninth-grader, Burton began sponsoring him, and then he continued to compete regionally throughout high school. In 12th grade, he was able to take online classes to meet his graduation requirements, giving him the whole winter to snowboard and do contests. He won $2,000 that year.
"I was pretty excited that I got to get out of school and make money doing something that I really loved to do," he said.
Since graduating he's won or placed in contests at Mt. Hood and Powder Ridge among others. He's planning to recover from his broken collarbone in time to compete in the Hot Dogs and Handrails contest in September at Bear Mountain in California.
His current injury is the latest of many including three concussions and a broken wrist. He stopped wearing a helmet, saying he's had no concussions without it, much to his mother's displeasure.
"I try to encourage him to use it," said Jacki Paul. Still, Jacki Paul said she's happy her son's found something he loves, and is good at.
"I know he's good; I don't know all the tricks and everything," she said, "but I am really impressed."