16 / SNOWBOARDER / Bend, Ore.
Achievements: As the youngest member of the U.S. rookie halfpipe team, Ben finished fourth at the Canadian Open in February by boosting massive 900-degree spins with fluid style. A month later he advanced to the finals of the U.S. Open, placing 13th in a field in which 10 of the 12 riders ahead of him had competed in the Vancouver Olympics.
First Steps: Despite growing up 20 minutes from Mt. Bachelor, the second-largest single-mountain ski resort in the U.S., Ben wasn't much of a winter sports fan until age seven. After his first professional win, at age 13, Ben donated $500 of his winnings to Tyler Eklund, a fellow snowboarder who had been paralyzed on a fall earlier that week.
Evokes: Peetu Piiroinen. Watts's careful planning of every run is comparable to that of the Olympic halfpipe silver medalist from Finland.
Coach's Comment: "His style is pretty natural," says Adam Moran, Global Team Manager for Burton Snowboards, one of Ben's sponsors. "You can tell he isn't forcing himself to try and emulate someone else, but he is very smooth and calculated at the same time."
What's Next: Ben has his sights firmly set on the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, when he'll be 20. "It's exciting to watch the level [of snowboarding] going up so much and being right there," he says.