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Big Sky freeride ahtletes finish season strong



Holden Samuels wins his second Junior NorAm title

By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – For the second consecutive year, Big Sky snowboarder Holden Samuels won the Junior NorAm Championship event of the International Freeskier and Snowboarder Association tour.

Big Sky Ski Education Foundation freeride head coach Cooper Raasch said the win grants Samuels access to the Freeride World Tour event next year, as it did when he won the 2016 NorAm Championships in Whistler, British Columbia. Raasch said he’s heard the next world tour will be helicopter-shuttled at Snowbird Resort in Utah or held at the last venue, Grandvalira in the Principality of Andorra. Samuels took home seventh place there in February.

Holden Samuels' win granted him automatic qualification for the IFSA World Finals next year.

Holden Samuels’ win granted him automatic qualification for the IFSA World Finals next year.

The Kirkwood, California, event was invite-only and scheduled for April 5-9, but weather constraints—Raasch called it a “full blizzard”—effectively closed down the resort for two days. Although wind and snow restricted each athlete to one judged run instead of two, it also opened up access to a venue that’s virtually always closed to the public.

“Kirkwod has so much snow right now that they let the kids ski the professional venue [which] has only ever been [skied] on the world tour,” Raasch said.

Samuels, 17, made the most of his opportunity to ride the Kirkwood Cirque, laying down a clean run with airs off two 20-foot cliffs and one 10-footer. He scored nearly four full points ahead of second place; Raasch said that big of a point difference is typically seen between first and 30th place finishers.


Andrew Smith finished 25th in the NorAm Championships at Kirkwood, California. Smith’s home base is in Minot, North Dakota, but he spends the majority of the winter in Big Sky to be closer to the Big Sky Freeride team.

Samuels is sponsored by Never Summer snowboards and has been tapped as a potential athlete for film company Teton Gravity Research out of Jackson, Wyoming, Raasch added.

Nehalem Manka, 14, finished the event in seventh place but earned enough points on the tour throughout the season to secure fourth place overall in the 12-14 skier division.

“She had a real nice, straight line through some rocks, took some air off some cliffs, stomped it all [and] skied a great run,” said Peter Manka, Nehalem’s father and coach.

Eleven-year-old skier Andrew Smith finished in 25th place out of nearly 50 athletes in the 12-14 division. “He had a great run and he’s going to train really, really hard this summer and he’s going to come back [and] do way better next year,” Raasch said.

Nehalem’s younger sister Skylar wrapped up her competition season at Grand Targhee Resort on April 2, finishing as the top North American IFSA skier in the under-12 division.

Manka said it was a good year for Big Sky freeriders. They competed against athletes from all over the U.S. and Canada and closed the season with two champions and one top-five finisher. “Big Sky kids know how to ski,” he said.

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