The Midwest may be somewhat vertically challenged, but don't tell that to Heartland skiers and snowboarders. Competition is in our genes. Look at just about any ski hill in our region at night, and it's normally filled with adult and junior race leagues and high school race teams practicing or competing in a sport they love. This spirit of competition has produced some fine regional snowsports athletes and champions.

I recently wrote an article on Louie Vito, the pro snowboarder who grew up learning to ride at Ohio's Mad River Mountain and returns annually to give back to his hometown hill. Here's another young Midwest pro rider who hasn't forgotten his roots.

Future Olympic snowboarder Mason Aguirre spent hours practicing his moves at Spirit Mountain near Duluth, Minnesota, in the late 1990s. He also found time to pass along his passion for the sport he loved to younger riders.

"Mason took a shining to my son who was only about five at the time," says Spirit's ski school director Heidi Jo Karlsson. "He and his sister Molly would take my son over to the halfpipe and work with him. They taught him how to ride, and I remember a couple of times he fell asleep at the top of the pipe when he got tired. He loved it, and just didn't want to quit. It just shows that, with practice and determination our smaller hills don't hold us back when it comes to competition."

Aguirre, who finished fourth in the 2006 Winter Olympics, eventually moved to Mammoth, California, to hone his sport, but he hasn't forgotten his Minnesota roots. Mason and his sister, also a pro snowboarder, have taken turns returning to Spirit the past couple of winters to host a special event, sign autographs, and ride with the local kids.

Both Louie and Mason ended up in the finals of the Superpipe at the recent Winter X Games.