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Local snowboarder advances dream of competing in Freeride World Tour

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Holden finished in first place at the Freeride World Qualifier event at Kicking Horse on Jan. 27. PHOTO BY CAM MAHONEY

Holden Samuels notches key wins in Canada

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – Ever since he was 16, Big Sky native and snowboarder Holden Samuels said he has wanted to be on the Freeride World Tour. After claiming the top spot on podiums at two recent freeride competitions, that dream is within reach.

Holden, 22, finished first in two four-star Freeride World Tour qualifying events at Revelstoke on Jan. 23 and Kicking Horse on Jan. 27. Samuels currently ranks first in the International Freeskiers and Snowboarders Association Region 2, which includes Canada, South America and the United States, in the men’s snowboard category on the Freeride World Qualifier tour.

“It feels pretty good,” Holden said of his recent wins. He hasn’t won a world qualifier event since age 19 and Holden said this is the first season that he has felt fully healthy competing after an ACL tear. “It feels like a lot of the work I’ve done over the past couple years, it’s kind of paid off,” he said.

Holden began snowboarding at age 7 after his family moved to Big Sky. He joined the Big Sky Ski Education Foundation Freeride Team at age 13 but has been competing since he was 10.

“Seeing his passion and joy with this sport through the years has been a gift to us and we are thrilled to see him move closer to his long-time goal of qualifying for the Freeride World Tour,” wrote Holden’s parents, Acra and Chris Samuels, in an email to EBS.

The aspirational rider has a few more hurdles to jump to qualify for the Freeride World Tour.

Previously, skiers and riders counted the top three scores from six competitions to qualify, but a change in the qualification process for 2022 made it so athletes must add up their scores from the first four qualifying events of the season to qualify for the final three events. Then the points start over, and world tour hopefuls are pitted against world tour riders who were recently eliminated from the tour. An athlete’s

top two scores from those final three events are counted and the top two riders qualify for the world tour.

Holden gets big air at the Junior Freeride World Championship in Kappl, Austria in 2018 where he finished in second place. PHOTO COURTESY OF ACRA SAMUELS

Holden’s approach to this 2022 season differs from his past strategies. He says he used to go for the biggest air in his lines but this year he’s focusing more on riding well through an entire line and avoiding big crashes.

“I am really just trying to ride the hardest thing that I can make look easy, because the judges really like that,” Holden said. “When you’re super in control, you’re super-fast, you never stop and it doesn’t look like you’re hesitating on anything.”

A line score is based on five criteria defined by the IFSA: line choice, control, fluidity, technique, and style and energy.

Holden won the IFSA North American Junior Freeride Championship at age 16 and 17 and was invited to return to the Freeride Junior World Championship both years. At age 18, Holden finished second place in the world championship after tearing his ACL earlier that year.

Though his first ACL recovery was quick, Holden tore it again when he was 20 which took over a year for him to heal. Last season was shorter than usual with only three events in the span of a week and a half due to COVID, according to Holden, and he said one fall last year put him behind his fellow competitors.

“I was really motivated for this season because I wanted to be on the Freeride World Tour since I was like 16,” Holden said. “It’s been the only goal in my mind. So every day in the offseason [I’ve been] working out in the gym or hiking mountains or doing whatever just trying to get in shape for the winter.”

Holden has two more four-star qualifying competitions at Snowbird, Utah and Taos, New Mexico in the preliminary round of world tour qualifying events. Based on the two wins he already has under his belt, Holden says he’s already qualified for the final three events of the season which will take place at Crystal Mountain, in Washhington state, Big Sky Resort and Kirkwood Resort in Lake Tahoe.

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