By Pat Graham, The Associated Press
COPPER MOUNTAIN— The 11-year-old snowboarder from China has jokes. Lots of them. She even wants to write a joke book one day.
“How do you know if a plant is smart?” Patti Zhou playfully asked. “It has square roots.”
Instant giggles. It’s just the kid in her shining through.
The Beijing-born, Colorado-based Zhou could be the next big thing in snowboarding, maybe even this weekend at her Dew Tour debut in Copper Mountain, Colorado. She might have even been a halfpipe/slopestyle contender at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy — if only there weren’t age requirements (she won’t be 15 yet). It’s the same sort of thing that kept two-time Olympic halfpipe champion Chloe Kim on the sideline for the 2014 Sochi Games.
Zhou reasons it just gives her more time to learn bigger tricks like one of her favorite halfpipe riders, Olympic gold medalist Ayumu Hirano from Japan.
Zhou started riding a snowboard at the age of 2 — was even given a lollipop to sweeten the deal (strawberry-flavored, she believes). It didn’t take her long to fall in love with her mountain surroundings.
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“When I was young, I thought the mountain was so big and so scary and so dark. But the mountain is actually alive,” said Zhou, who’s slated to compete in the halfpipe and super streetstyle competitions on Saturday at the Dew Tour, along with a halfpipe high air & best trick jam on Sunday. “So when I go snowboarding I always try to find the animal creatures in there.”
Then, she gives them names.
A particularly tall deer she once saw she named after Australia’s particularly tall snowboarder Scotty James, who has earned two Olympic medals in the halfpipe. An inquisitive crow she named after Hirano. And a squirrel bouncing around in the woods she named after two-time Olympic silver medalist Danny Kass.
All part of her fun and games.
Raised in Beijing, she and her family have now settled into Silverthorne, Colorado (they rent a place from Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo). Ask her where she’s from these days and she jokes: “I say that I’m from ‘Beijing, Colorado.’ Everybody’s like, ‘What?'”
A typical morning for her during snowboarding season starts off with a bowl of Cocoa Puffs (her favorite), and a trip to nearby Copper Mountain for training sessions (or just to ride). No session is complete, though, without sharing some hot fries smothered in ketchup with her younger sister.
Then, it’s homeschool time, where her favorite subject is “all of them,” she proudly announced. If pressed, though, history tops the list.
If there’s time, she might watch one of her favorite science fiction movies, which include “The Martian,” “Interstellar,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “The Matrix,” and “Avatar.”
That may explain why her top place to visit would be Mars.
“Maybe if I live there for a few days, I might find an alien,” she said. “I’d name it after me — ‘Patti the Second.’”
But this was serious business: Watching all the action unfold at the Winter Games last February in the mountains outside of Beijing. She was captivated — and motivated — by the triple corks of Hirano on his way to an Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe.
She also drew inspiration from Eileen Gu, the freestyle skier who grew up in the U.S. but competes for her mom’s homeland of China. Gu won gold in big air and halfpipe, along with silver in slopestyle. Same sort of motivation struck while watching Su Yiming, the Chinese snowboarder who won Olympic gold in big air and silver in slopestyle.
“China is booming now with sports and (Su and Gu) inspired so many young people to start riding,” said Zhou, whose sponsors already include Burton, Oakley, Woodward Copper and Sun Bum.
Snowboarding isn’t the only sport where Zhou is making waves. She’s also a surfer and frequently trains at a wave pool in Waco, Texas. She said both sports are complementary to each other.
So she envisions a similar path for both.
“I see myself going to the Olympics in snowboarding but after snowboarding I’ll try to get there in surfing as well,” said Zhou. “Try to get a title or something.”
For now, she’s trying out new tricks — and new material for her joke book.
“What’s the biggest cat?” she asked. “A Sno-Cat,” she cracked in reference to the enclosed-cab, truck-sized vehicles designed to move on, well, snow.
“I just made that up,” she said through laughter.