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Esko senior snowboards his way to nationals

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There's not a lot of time to think when you're 32 feet off the ground, but Esko's Jake Carlson enjoys his time there anyway.

Carlson, 17, discovered he qualified for the USASA snowboarding national championships in three different events last week. He will compete in the 18-22 age bracket at Copper Mountain, Colo., during the first week of April.

Carlson qualified in bordercross, which is a - or five-person race on a defined course; slope style - which is comprised of a series of jumps and rails - and halfpipe. That's where things get really fun.

The 22-foot pipe also has plenty of room above it for tricks and maneuvers, and Carlson estimates he's usually 10 feet above the edge when he's in the air.

"The halfpipe is my favorite," he said. "The adrenaline rush of dropping down a 22-foot wall and shooting out right into another jump is great."

Carlson's showpiece maneuver is a "front side five," which includes a rotation of 540 degrees - or one and a half turns - in the air.

Obviously, that takes practice, on and off the snow.

"You have to have lots of control in the air," he said. "In the summer, I do trampoline training, jumping and springing. You have to know where you are in the air."

Unfortunately, the place where Carlson usually trains, Duluth's Spirit Mountain, doesn't have a halfpipe. That means he has to travel. He and his family have made three trips to Colorado this winter, to Breckinridge and Vail, to practice.

"I practice every day at Spirit Mountain," Carlson said. "The trips I made this year were for fun, too, but this year I have really picked up slope style a lot."

Carlson has competed for two years.

"Since I started, I thought it was cool to see the guys on TV," he said. "When I got into it, I didn't think it was a big deal, but now I'm getting more advanced and aggressive in trying to do new things to progress."

Carlson has since joined the Twin Cities-based "G Team," which has professional coaches and other riders who have ability levels that allow them to coach.

As Carlson rises in ability level, so does the potential for injury.

His mother, Dona, is aware of the risk but notes that her son's common sense helps.

"He is definitely doing things I wouldn't do," she said. "He is really smart about it, though. The G-Team requires a helmet, and when he does a move he always works on it on the trampoline or wakeboarding before he throws it out there."

"I don't know that the fear [of injury] is any different," she added. "If you get hurt in just about any sport it could be bad. I appreciate the common sense that Jake uses. I actually worry about bordercross more, because there you have four to five people who are all trying to be first."

For his part, Carlson, who will graduate from Esko High School in the spring, has his heart set on Colorado.

"I'm hoping to go to Steamboat, to a place called Colorado Mountain College, which has a two-year program about the ski and snowboard industry," he said. "When I go, I'll do as many competitions as I can for fun, continue to have fun, progress to my own abilities and get better."

As for the competition, Carlson has high goals.

"I'm doing bordercross for fun, but I would like to get in the top third in slope style and the top five in halfpipe," he said. About 40 riders will compete in Carlson's age group.

"I admire his character when I see him do this," Dona Carlson added. "Not everyone has a niche in high school sports. It's good to find a program he loves that offers what we value in terms of parents and coaching."