Few riders are as familiar with the US Open as 21-year-old Scotty Lago. From age 8 he has never missed the event, which celebrated its 27th birthday the weekend of March 21.
Lago has an ongoing joke about the Open, saying that maybe he's cursed: He's been able to podium in just about every other major contest in snowboarding, but a top-three finish in any category at the revered Open has eluded him. "After 13 years, you'd think I'd figure it out," he said, laughing.
Judging by his seven podium finishes this season alone, you might wonder the same thing especially after seeing him ride in any of the three films he was in this year.
A rider will typically do contests or focus on a film part an either-or thing. There are few who do both well, and Lago is proving to be one of them.
For '08-'09, he came with a full part in Grenade's "The Boned Age," a premier spot alongside Travis Rice in the opening segment of the blockbuster "That's It, That's All," and a shared part with Kevin Pearce in Absinthe's "Ready."
"This is definitely the best year of my life, career-wise," he said. "I couldn't possibly feel better about my snowboarding right now, or about having more fun and living the life I've always wanted to. As long as I feel I'm pushing myself and my riding, then I'm where I want to be."
Aside from parts and podiums, Lago belongs to the crew of riders who call themselves the Frends: Mason Aguirre, Kevin Pearce, Jack and Luke Mitrani, Danny Davis and Keir Dillon. For the past couple of years they've been making stickers and T-shirts, built a snazzy Web site, and are currently at work on a pilot for MTV, "about building Frends into a brand, with snowboarding as a backdrop," Lago says in his best TV-pitch tone.
"Our crew started as a way to support each other. Because we all travel together, it's good to have that network, but now Frends has grown into something larger and we see a lot of potential for a more developed brand. I've learned a lot about business from snowboarding: how companies run, how the game works. Together we can use our careers to make something cool. We just need to figure out what we'll be selling and what kind of company, or whatever you want to call it, that Frends will become."
I couldn't possibly feel better about my snowboarding right now, or about having more fun and living the life I've always wanted to.
Some fairly grounded business sense from a 21-year-old.
"Lago is the most driven, humble dude I know," said Burton rider and Vermont native Jack Mitrani. "He can pretty much do anything he wants to. He's super funny, has good business sense and is an amazing rider." Wrap that skill set up, add to it his level of athleticism, and therein sits a successful recipe for a pro snowboarder: natural talent, likable personality, drive, determination and an understanding of what it takes to market your career.
But what about that US Open curse?
Before this year's Open got under way, I met up with Lago in his hometown of Seabrook, N.H.: a small, proud, blue-collar town with 8,500 residents which sits near the borders with Massachusetts and Maine. "I guess you could say I'm part New Hampshire-ite, part Mass-hole, and part Maine-iac," Lago said of his background.
Lago grew up on a 60-acre plot, where his family has been since 1946. In the early days, before Scotty and his snowboarding were around, the homestead served as a dairy farm, complete with cows and chickens. Over the years, however, the family business changed. His father, Mike Lago, got into the firewood business and his grandfather, also Mike Lago, into the hay business. It's clear, too, that they have several entrepreneurial projects going on at once, from local property ownership to dog training and countless services they provide with their backhoes, front-end loaders, dump trucks and tractors. Lago Land is a lively place.
Shooting clay pigeons with a 20-gauge Winchester filled with shells they pack out themselves (rather than buying them), Scotty and Grandpa Mike were trying to remember what got him interested in snowboarding in the first place.
"Well, I got you your first board," said Mike. "Scotty was 6 or so and wanted one for Christmas, and honestly, I had no idea what a snowboard was. So, I told him he didn't get the snowboard. And he was bitterly disappointed."
"I don't know about bitter," interjected Lago. And then, "Pull!" as he blasted another round.
"Well, on the verge of tears maybe." Mike said, laughing, as he reloaded the trap. "Back then they didn't make kids' boards, but I found the smallest snowboard I could and stuck it in my fireplace. On Christmas Day, I says, 'Scotty, Santa left the board down here ... and you didn't even notice!' Then we took him up to Canada to ride, and he was a natural. He was glued to it. It never stopped from there."
There were no snowboarders in Seabrook, and Scotty didn't know one person who was doing it. Asked how he even got the idea that he wanted to try it, he says, "I have no idea, I might have seen it on TV or something."
"And now he's the guy on TV," said his dad, adding, "Once you get on the TV around these parts, you're on a lifetime pedestal."
Lago's father, Mike, is a former college football linebacker who also raced snowmobiles professionally. His build is thin, tall and athletic like his son's, both his head and face are cleanly shaven, save for a small surfer patch on his chin, and he's wearing Lago's sponsorship clothes Smith sunglasses, Billabong flannel and hoodie but balances the look with Carhartt jeans and work boots.
During the Open, Dad and Grandpa were packed into the front row of the crowd, shouting for Scotty in their thick New England accents every time he took a run. His family has always been supportive, even when he dropped out of high school in ninth grade. "I just wasn't into it, and I didn't have a doubt in my mind of what I wanted to do. I tried a couple different schools, but I was just missing too many days with riding. In eighth grade, I went to home school, but it was a program meant for stay-at-home moms, and both my parents worked so I had to grade my own papers. I'd be like, 'Ah man, you're close enough, you get 100 percent!'" But his family stuck by him (Mike and Scotty's mom, Christine, are divorced, but she still lives nearby in Newburyport and maintains a close relationship with Scotty), and they're as tight now amid Lago's success as they were when he was a struggling teen.
Outside of the family, Scott Millete, Lago's first coach and then agent for six years, was the first person to recognize Lago's potential. He also landed him his current deals with Billabong and Flow Snowboards. Millete also brought Lago to his first US Open. "It was before they had the Junior Jam, so it was basically Shaun White and Scotty Lago taking a couple runs before the main contest started two ripping kids who weren't old enough to hang with the big guys yet," said Millete.
"Most people don't know how rich Scotty's history is. Back in the day, he was competing against Jeff Brushie and Frank Wells," Millete said. "When Scotty does an old-school trick, it's not him giving tribute to the old school it's a part of what he once was."
By age 10, Lago had already won countless contests and his family started a snowboard company with Millete called Kapital (which gave Lago his first pro model). He was charging it. By age 12, Lago had broken 12 bones. "He was in the Nationals, and on one hand he had two broken bones and on his other arm he had a broken wrist, so he was competing in pipe and boardercross with two casts," said his dad.
When Scotty does an old-school trick, it's not him giving tribute to the old school it's a part of what he once was.
But the family knew it was go-time. The kid had talent.
"'Live Free or Die,' that's what it says on New Hampshire license plates," said Lago's Flow team manager Andrew Mutty. "Scotty embodies that attitude. He has always done what he's wanted to and made his own choices, and it's paying off for him."
Travis Rice saw that get-it-done spirit in Lago, and asked him to film for That's It, That's All. "He embodies everything that has to do with why I shred," says Rice. "He's open to try new things. A lot of riders you go film with, they fill the quota per se, but Lago he's got aces up his sleeve."
"I've learned so much from Travis," said Lago. "He basically does whatever it takes to get it done, and that's how I want to be."
"I want him to be a big part of our next film project," said Rice. "We'll film with him this summer, then he can go get the Olympics out of his system and after that it'll be game on."
Lago will be doing everything he can to make the U.S. team for Vancouver 2010. "It's harder to get a spot on the U.S. team than any team in the world, but I think I'm ready to make it happen," Lago said. Two-time Olympic halfpipe silver medalist Danny Kass agreed: "Scotty definitely has it in him. If there's a new guy on the scene for Vancouver, I'd put my money on Scotty."
For now Lago is focusing on the rest of this season. With the bulk of it complete, and if the "ideal" winter is to be pulled off, Lago has no time to spare: super session with Snowboarder Magazine in April at Loon Mountain, then to Mammoth for a photo shoot with Flow and filming with Transworld. Then it's off to Laax, Switzerland, for another shoot with Flow and then more filming.
"It's getting late and I'm really hurting for shots. I'd really love to get an opening or closing part. Realistically, I doubt it's going to happen, but if I work really hard, I might get lucky," said Lago.
And maybe it's that same luck that helped put an end to Lago's US Open curse. In one weekend, Lago was named the top men's performer of this year's US Open, winning first in quarterpipe and third in slopestyle, earning him $15,000 and a new Volvo XC60. With his 13-year dry spell broken, it would appear that luck, if that is in fact what Lago needed, is on his side.