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Holden Samuels stands in first place on the podium after the Big Sky IFSA Freeride World Qualifier Superfinal competition in March. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOLDEN SAMUELS

Local snowboarder Holden Samuels qualifies for Freeride World Tour

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – Standing at the top of the Three Forks chute at Big Sky Resort, freeride snowboarder Holden Samuels knew he had to put down a good line to keep his dream alive. Filled with nerves and cheered on by his hometown crowd, Samuels pointed his board down the fall line, taking off on a run that would earn him first place at the competition and help him secure a spot on the Freeride World Tour.

His win at the Big Sky International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association Superfinal event was one of two podium finishes late in the 2021-22 season that propelled Samuels, 22, to qualify for the tour, a global competition circuit featuring the best freeride skiers and riders in the world. After tearing his ACL twice and making the switch from junior to adult competitions, Samuels’ hard work paid off and he realized a dream that he’s been striving for since he was 16. 

“I had to be patient over the last four years to get to this point,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited to have finally qualified. It has definitely been a dream of mine for a long time. Hopefully this is only the beginning because my goal is to win the world tour.”

Samuels rides his line at the Big Sky superfinal event. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOLDEN SAMUELS

Following a successful qualifying competition season in which he won three out of four events, Samuels faced three superfinal events where the best two of three scores for each athlete were tallied to determine who qualified for the world tour.

Samuels said he went into the first superfinal competition at Crystal Mountain in Washington feeling confident with a No. 1 rank. However, despite great conditions, he said he finished fifth after a lackluster performance. 

“The biggest mistake that I had in the Crystal competition was that I didn’t ride very inspired,” Samuels said. “I was over competing at that point in time. I felt like I had done enough to qualify even though I hadn’t yet.”

A fifth-place finish at Crystal didn’t help him, Samuels said. He needed podium finishes in the next two events to have any hope of qualifying for the world tour.

Samuels kept his dream alive by claiming the top spot at Big Sky and second place at the last superfinal qualifying event at Kirkwood Mountain Resort in California.

“I was really excited and relieved that the season was over and that I had done it,” he said. “At the end of the year I won four out of the seven competitions and got second in one of them.”

Those wins elevated Samuels to the No. 2 overall ranking in the North American region in the 2022 Freeride World Qualifier season.

Samuels stands on the overall Freeride World Qualifier podium for the 2022 season in second place. PHOTO COURTESY OF HOLDEN SAMUELS

Samuels will start riding on the Freeride World Tour next January, traveling to places like Baqueira Beret, Spain, Ordino Arcalís, Andorra, and Verbier, Switzerland, to name a few. 

To prepare, Samuels said he’ll focus on honing his visual inspection skills since, unlike in the qualifiers, athletes on the world tour don’t get the chance to ride or ski their line ahead of the competition. Though this adjustment will be tough, Samuels says he’s looking forward to the greater freedom that he will have in choosing lines.

As he heads to the world stage, Samuels remains tethered to his Big Sky roots. Growing up here, he learned to snowboard on Lone Mountain and was on the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation Freeride Team for five years. Recently, Samuels said a community member congratulated him on his success and noted that Big Sky kids have never before had an athlete from their hometown to root for on the world tour. 

“I am super excited to represent Big Sky on the world tour,” Samuels said. “…I don’t know anyone that grew up here and has been on the World Tour, so I am honored to be the first. …I am sure there will be more kids from Big Sky having success on the world stage, and I would love to be the inspiration for some kids to try out freeride and pursue it competitively.”

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