BIG SKY — Holden Samuels’ senior year didn’t start according to plan.
“I tore my ACL in July, so I had to miss all of my senior year of football,” said Samuels. “I just trained as hard as I could so I could get back on the snow. I actually recovered one of the fastest, my doctor said it was one of the fastest that he’s seen. I recovered in five months and was back on the snow. Winning the world title after that injury was a really big deal because a lot of people don’t come back to 100 percent after an injury like that. I feel 100 percent right now, so I’m glad to be back.”
Watching his football teammates from the sideline was challenging, but Samuels’ heart was on the ski hill. The Samuels family owned a vacation condo in Big Sky, but made the permanent move to the resort town when Holden was 7 years old. In an instant, a passion was born.
Samuels, who grew up skiing, had never put his boots in a snowboard before moving to Big Sky. Living minutes from one of the top destination resorts in the west turned passion into an addiction for the powder-loving teen.
“It was awesome. I looked forward to the weekend every week so I could get out here on the mountain,” he said. “I get so excited when there’s a powder day, more than five inches of snow, I’m begging my parents to skip school.”
Samuels spent all of his free time on the mountain – after school, on the weekends, during breaks – following his older brother Chase, soaring off jumps and speeding down the hill. After only three years of snowboarding, Samuels was ready to put his talents to the test.
“I started competing in park when I was 11 years old. That’s the terrain park, jumps and rails and stuff,” Samuels explained. “I went to nationals for two years in that, but by the time I was 13 we decided that Big Sky didn’t have the best parks, but what they do have is a lot of good freeride terrain. I switched over to the freeride side of things, did one or two competitions for a couple of years, then when I was 15 I competed in two or three competitions and I fell in every single one of them. I got really angry, so I signed up for a bunch of competitions when I was 16 because I wanted to get better. That was the year I won the national championships because I was focused on landing all of my runs. I ended up landing all of them.”
Samuels has become a familiar face to freeride fans, winning competitions and racking up points. But don’t mistake Samuels’ freeride snowboarding for the tricks and thrills of Shaun White or Hannah Teter.
“Freeride snowboarding is the big mountain stuff, really steep runs, ungroomed, going off cliffs and jumping over rocks. It’s scored in five different categories, with everything based on your line. Your line score is where you go down on the run, so basically, the most dangerous path you can pick will score the best,” Samuels said. “You have control, how well in control you are. If you fall it’s obviously a big control dock. Fluidity, you can’t really stop on the way down otherwise it looks bad, that’s bad fluidity. Style and energy, that’s tricks, grabs, anything like that. And then there’s technique, how good are your turns, you want to see the powerful carving turns all the way down.”
It was ultimately this cliff that helped Samuels secure runner-up honors in the Freeride Junior World Championships in late March, his 1,020 points adding another accolade to his impressive trophy case.
“As I was going down the run, on my top two cliffs, I kind of stopped on top of them just to make sure I knew where I was, but I picked the biggest cliffs out of all the snowboarders and I really wanted to send it,” he said. “I ended up landing my run and I was so happy. It was a long run to get back there, so I was really stoked.
“I originally picked out a smaller cliff, but then I realized, ‘This is the world championships. I have to go big.’ I picked out that cliff, knew I had a good landing and I kind of saw where I was, so I turned around and just punted it.”
Samuels calls Candide Thovex, a French skier and filmmaker, his idol for his skills on the hills and nifty action sports videos. It’s the latter that sparked Samuels’ and his friends’ interest in documenting their own adventures, winning local competitions in the process.
“It’s called the Lone Peak Shootout where teams of five go out and get a week to shoot a film at Big Sky Resort, it has to be all inbounds at Big Sky Resort. Then you get a week to edit it,” said Samuels. “Last year we won and it was really cool, so this year we’re going to try and win it again. It’s a really cool feeling watching your movie up on the big screen at Lone Peak Cinema. I’m excited.”
The future is certainly bright for Samuels, who heads to the University of Colorado next fall. Competition will continue, with goals of landing on the Freeride World Tour. It would be a monumental feat for a teen that has been competing for less than a decade, but there’s nothing Samuels isn’t willing to overcome. Just ask his doctor about that ACL.