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Duluth native Mason Aguirre finished fourth in the half-pipe in the 1006 Winter Olympics. (2007 file / News Tribune)

Aguirre seeks big show in the snow

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Summer isn't made for snowboarding, unless you're in the southern hemisphere.

Mason Aguirre will be there in 25 days for the New Zealand Open at the Cardrona Alpine Resort. It will mark the start of his quest for a second U.S. Olympic team berth leading to the 2010 Winter Games in February in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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The Duluth native has spent the past few months working with sponsors such as Burton and Nike, visiting friends in Duluth and playing golf.

"But when the snow flies, my whole mind-set changes. I'm ready to go," Aguirre said last week.

The U.S. Olympic Trials for the half pipe are in December and January, when four men and four women will be chosen according to their two best performances.

Aguirre, 21, who has a home in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., but presently lives in Carlsbad, Calif., is among a stellar field of U.S. candidates, which includes the idolized Flying Tomato, Shaun White. Getting to Vancouver will be a task.

"I want to go to the Olympics. I want to show that I'm not the underdog some people think I am," Aguirre said. "There are some new tricks that I've got to learn and then, when the time comes, I'm going to bust my butt. Absolutely, it's a huge thing for me."

Molly Aguirre, 24, who lives in Mammoth Lakes, also is preparing for a shot at the Olympics. Mason's older sister competed on a limited basis in 2008, but already has been training in Mount Hood, Ore., and Whistler, British Columbia, in recent weeks.

Molly Aguirre was one spot away from making the 2006 U.S. Olympic women's team. However, she's not viewing 2010 as a defining moment.

"I'm still a known half-pipe rider; I see myself as among

10 women who have a chance to make the team," said Molly Aguirre, who is coached by her brother. "I'm going to do my best, but I'm not going to dedicate my whole season to the Olympics. There's too much pressure in that. If it happens, fine, otherwise it won't be the end of the world."

Turin in 2006

The Aguirre family had an emotional ride in 2006. Mason was the youngest member of the U.S. men's half-pipe team at age 18, and at the Winter Games in Turin, Italy, finished fourth in a sport scored by judges.

Many observers believed he rated higher than bronze medalist Markku Koski of Finland. The U.S. won the gold and silver medals with White and Danny Kass.

"There was talk that another U.S. sweep in the half-pipe [following a 2002 sweep] would've been bad for snowboarding in Europe; so they had to get a European in the top three," said Molly Aguirre. "I think if the judges looked at the video of the top riders again, they would say they underscored Mason. He should've been on the podium."

Mason Aguirre handled the decision and has remained an elite international performer. He has since bonded with a handful of other Americans including Kevin Pearce, Danny Davis, Scotty Lago, Keir Dillon and brothers Jack and Luke Mitrani, in a group branded as the Frends.

They push each other and critique each other while working to improve. They also remain in pursuit of White, the sports most-recognized rider.

Aguirre did his part last February, by defeating White to win a Winter Dew Tour stop in the rain and sleet of Truckee, Calif., with a routine reported to include a front-side 1080 melon grab, a Cab 1080 nose grab, a backside flat-spin 540, and an air-to-fakie to a switch alley-oop backside rodeo 720.

Getting ready

A week after the Dew Tour victory, at a Burton Global Open Series stop in Fukishima, Japan, Mason Aguirre fell on his chest, crushing his I-pod and cracking a rib. He finished 12th. He came back to America and led qualifying at a U.S. Grand Prix event in Killington, Vt., and then withdrew. He came to Duluth and tried to ride at Spirit Mountain. That was enough; he took five weeks off.

Now he's ready for another season.

"I'm pretty self-disciplined, but I like to smile and have fun," Aguirre said. "I go at my own pace; I give myself time to get better. I've never been automatically able to do what everyone else does. I still can't. I have to reinvent things on my own. I like to be spontaneous."

A recent U.S. Snowboarding release noted that Olympic hopefuls were gathering for a camp at Timberline Resort in Mount Hood, Ore. However, most of the Frends weren't listed.

Aguirre, and possibly his sister, will be on a 22-foot super pipe Aug. 13 in New Zealand with the Winter Games on the horizon.

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