Sonny Alba looks to be next great California halfpipe snowboarder, joining Kim, Mastro

Sonny Alba is only 14 and making her X Games Aspen debut on Saturday night

American snowboarder Sonora Alba airs out of the Buttermilk Superpipe on the first evening of practice for the 2021 X Games Aspen on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021.

When the women’s snowboard superpipe contest gets underway Saturday night at X Games Aspen 2021, all eyes will be on the return of five-time gold medalist Chloe Kim after her year off.

Then there is Maddie Mastro, who is largely considered the second-best female halfpipe snowboarder on the planet after Kim even though she only has a single X Games bronze medal to her name from 2018.

This is all just as well for Sonora Alba, who goes by Sonny, as she’d rather not have too many eyes on her when she makes her X Games debut next to the sport’s biggest stars this weekend.

“I’m super excited to be here, but definitely a little intimidated,” Alba said Friday afternoon. “I’m 14 and I’m riding with girls I’ve looked up to since I’ve been riding, but I’m just honored to be here.”

Yes, Alba is a mere 14 and currently in the eighth grade. And she’s one of a scheduled eight athletes to get a start in Saturday’s 8 p.m. contest at Buttermilk Ski Area. But she’s a name people should start getting used to hearing.

Like both Kim and Mastro, Alba comes from California. She lives in San Pedro but spends most weekends at Mammoth Mountain, where she was part of the Mammoth snowboard team. Mastro and Kim also made their way to the U.S. national team via Mammoth, and both are women Alba greatly looks up to and seeks to follow in the footsteps of.

“I definitely look up to Chloe and Maddie,” Alba said. “They are so great. They have accomplished so much more than me and what they can do for women in snowboarding.”

Alba is coming off a big season that caught a lot of people’s attention. Among her breakthrough performances was winning the girls’ 2020 Junior Jam contest at the Burton U.S. Open in Vail, which gave her an entry into the main contest. She finished ninth out of 13 competitors in the semifinals at Burton last year, a contest she called her best to date. China’s Cai Xuetong eventually won, while Mastro was fifth and Kim did not compete.

Alba also competed at Dew Tour in 2020, helping pave the wave to her being named to the national team for this season. She’s one of only four women, along with Kim, Mastro and Steamboat’s Arielle Gold, on the U.S. women’s pro halfpipe snowboard team this year.

“I still have a lot to learn in my riding and skills,” said Alba, who claims her strength is the amplitude she is able to get out of the halfpipe. “I’m just naturally good at it. But I love to go high and get the adrenaline rushing, too.”

Saturday’s contest at X Games is shaping up to be a whole new experience for the 14-year-old rising star. Kim, 20, is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and is considered by most to already be the greatest female halfpipe snowboarder ever. She sat out the 2019-20 season to focus on her Princeton studies, but enters this year’s X Games as a heavy favorite.

For comparison, Kim was only 13 when she first competed at X Games Aspen in 2014, winning silver to become the youngest-ever medalist. Kim then won gold in 2015 at age 14, and followed up with wins in 2016 (twice, with another win in Norway), 2018 and 2019.

“I totally want to be like her one day, but she definitely has shown what women can do in snowboarding,” Alba said of Kim. “I think that’s amazing.”

Mastro, also 20, still is looking for her X Games breakthrough performance, but there is little doubt about her skills in the halfpipe. Along with the three Americans in Saturday’s competition, there is defending champion Queralt Castellet of Spain, Canada’s Brooke D’Hondt — herself only 15 — and a Japanese trio in Kurumi Imai, Haruna Matsumoto and Ruki Tomita.

While the spotlight will be bright, even without fans, Alba sees the Buttermilk superpipe itself as a challenge, as it has steeper walls than halfpipes she is used to riding.

“I’m going to try and land a good run with the tricks I have on lock, and then I’m just going to go for it,” said Alba, who also is a passionate skateboarder and surfer. “The pipe is definitely different. It feels more like a vert skating ramp, but I just needed to adjust to it.”