By Douglas Hare EBS Staff

Five juniors on the Big Sky Freeride team competed in the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association competition in Whistler, British Columbia from April 6-9, and a first-place finish by 16-year-old snowboarder Holden Samuels secured his entry to the World Freeride Championships next January.

Coaches Peter Manka and Cooper Raasch traveled with the team to the IFSA Junior Freeride North American Championships, where 160 athletes between 12 and 18 years old were invited to compete based on their national or regional rankings.

Big Sky’s Nehalem Manka, 13, launching through the Oreo Blizzard section of the Diamond Bowl venue at Whistler Blackcomb. PHOTO BY PETER MANKA

Big Sky’s Nehalem Manka, 13, launching through the Oreo Blizzard section of the Diamond Bowl venue at Whistler Blackcomb. PHOTO BY PETER MANKA

The Big Sky team had qualifying athletes in each of the four skiing divisions and one in the male snowboard division. In the skiing competition, Austin Samuels competed in the 12-14 boys division; Nehalem Manka skied in the 12-14 girls division; and in the 15-18 divisions, Chase Samuels represented Big Sky for the boys and Gracely Speth for the girls.

Holden Samuels was the lone BSF representative in the snowboard competition, riding in the 15-18 boys division. Several other Montana athletes competed as well.

Qualifying for the finals was difficult, with warm, deteriorating weather conditions dictating that just over 30 percent of the athletes made the cut and had a chance for a second run on Saturday.

“One hand slip or slide out and you were not making it through,” said BSF program director and head coach Peter Manka, adding that he was pleased with how his athletes performed in the challenging conditions. “The talent and level of competition continues to impress.”

The event took place in the challenging Diamond Bowl in the Spanky’s Ladder area of Blackcomb Glacier. During the finals, the venue was extended further down into the bowl where the diverse alpine terrain – holding complex features with names like Oreo Cookie and Chocolate Chip – allowed riders to pick creative lines with plenty of opportunities for big air.

Holden Samuels’ first place finish in the 15-18 boys snowboarder division made him

Holden Samuels dropping big air on his way to a first place finish in the 15-18 boys snowboarder division at the IFSA Junior Freeride North American Championships. PHOTO BY CHRIS SAITO

Holden Samuels dropping big air on his way to a first place finish in the 15-18 boys snowboarder division at the IFSA Junior Freeride North American Championships. PHOTO BY CHRIS SAITO

the overall points champion for the year as well. Holden’s impressive performance during the 2016 season qualifies him for the World Freeride Championships in Andorra next January.

Big Sky locals Maria and Jack Lovely – both former BSF athletes and now IFSA independent skiers – were also invited to compete based on their consistent results this year. Maria had two strong runs and took third place in the 15-18 female skiers division, while her brother Jack notched a 17th place finish in the 12-14 male skiers division.

Earlier in April, at the U12 IFSA NorAm Freeride Championship at Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort, Big Sky Freeride’s Skyler Manka placed second, Maddy Cone came in fourth, and Andrew Smith finished fifth.

“The qualifiers and results from these competitions once again show that the Big Sky Freeride team has some of the most elite freeride athletes in North America,” Manka said. “It was another good season for us.”

The International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association was founded by Shane McConkey in 1996 and has grown into the leading international governing body for big mountain freeriding.

The Big Sky Freeride team is a program run by the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation offering 12 to 18 year olds training to compete in sanctioned freeride events, while also emphasizing snow safety and avalanche awareness. Founded in 1993, BSSEF is a local nonprofit dedicated to offering alpine, Nordic, and freeride instruction and training for local youth.