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Patti Zhou carries her snowboard up Copper Mountain in Colorado. Photo: AP

Inspired by Eileen Gu and Su Yiming, next big thing in snowboarding is Chinese 11-year-old who loves jokes and big air

  • Patti Zhou was born in Beijing and is now based in Colorado, where she is expected to make her Dew Tour debut this weekend
  • From planning a joke book to making up names for animals on the mountains the youngster is just enjoying life on the slopes

The Beijing Winter Olympics is already inspiring the next generation, and an 11-year-old snowboarder from China tearing up the slopes of Colorado is proof of that.

Patti Zhou is already being talked about as the next big thing in the sport, and her chance to show that could come as early as this weekend, when she makes her Dew Tour debut in Cooper Mountain.

The Beijing-born athlete, who is now based in the US, is expected to compete in the halfpipe and super streetstyle competitions on Saturday, and the halfpipe high air and best trick jam on Sunday.

She might have even been a halfpipe or slopestyle contender at the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy – if only there weren’t age requirements, and the fact she won’t be 15 yet. It’s the same thing that kept two-time Olympic halfpipe champion Chloe Kim out of the 2014 Sochi Games.

Zhou, who loves a joke as much as she loves snowboarding, said that would just give her more time to learn bigger tricks like one of her favourite halfpipe riders, Olympic gold medallist Ayumu Hirano from Japan.

Patti Zhou could be the next big thing in the halfpipe and slopestyle, including this weekend during her Dew Tour debut in Copper Mountain. Photo: AP

A first snowboard lesson when still only a toddler sparked a love of the sport and her mountain surroundings.

“When I was young, I thought the mountain was so big and so scary and so dark. But the mountain is actually alive,” Zhou said. “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 medallist Danny Kass.

All part of the fun and games for Zhou, who also has designs on writing her own joke book. A particular favourite is sure to make its pages.

“How do you know if a plant is smart?” Patti Zhou said. “It has square roots.”

Raised in Beijing, she and her family have now settled into Silverthorne, Colorado, where they rent a place from Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo.

Asked where she’s from these days and she said: “I say that I’m from ‘Beijing, Colorado.’ Everybody’s like, ‘What?’”

Patti Zhou gets some air during a run at Mount Bachelor, near Bend, Oregon. Photo: AP

A typical morning for her during snowboarding season starts off with a bowl of her favourite Cocoa Puffs, and a trip to nearby Copper Mountain for training sessions, or just to ride. Although no session is complete without sharing some hot fries smothered in ketchup with her younger sister.

Then, it’s homeschool time, where her favourite subject is “all of them”, although if pressed, history tops the list.

Watching all the action unfold at the Winter Games last February in the mountains outside 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 US but competes for her mum’s homeland of China. Gu won gold in big air and halfpipe, along with silver in slopestyle. The 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.

“I see myself going to the Olympics in snowboarding but after snowboarding I’ll try to get there in surfing as well,” Zhou said. “Try to get a title or something.”