No Boardercross Roads
So what’s the life expectancy of a professional snowboard racer? Even for the no-fear, all-out, top-ranked American boardercrosser, Nate Holland?
At nearly 34, he’s the new 24. Holland is the world’s No. 3 snowboard cross racer and the top-ranked American, having earned that title even with a broken collarbone suffered during the season.
“After the injury, I barely hung on — I had three races left in the season,” Holland said. “I missed a race, and had surgery right away, but was back on snow in a week and a half. I promised to keep my edges on the ground. I was already bored with laying around for a week.”
Maybe it’s all in his constant pace. This summer, his offseason, he participated in a charity function for Boarders for Breast Cancer, and it was no cocktail reception. Holland skateboarded 28 miles for the cause.
“I don’t have a direct connection to breast cancer, but my friend’s mom is a breast cancer survivor, and so several years ago he started Skate The Lake (at Lake Tahoe),” Holland said. “Well, the lake is 72 miles around, so he reduced it to a more doable 28 miles. I have never been in town during the event, but this year it just so happened I was home. It was a great event and a great cause.”
For the High-Five Foundation, which helps support injured action-sports athletes, Holland played in a bocce ball tournament. He and his brother, Pat, who is also a professional boarder, own and work at Action Water Sports, in their hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho. But in June came the highlight of Holland’s summer, when he married Christen Horner. They live in the North Tahoe area, in Truckee, Calif.
Even now, when there’s no snow, Holland is training on dry land, working out in a gym in Utah five days a week for hours at a time. His mind is set on the upcoming World Cup season, and his ultimate goal is the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Holland, who has won six gold medals in snowboard cross at the Winter X Games, has fallen short of an Olympic medal in his two attempts.
“The Sochi course is wide open, fast and longer, which are all my strengths,” Holland said. “I really want an Olympic medal, and I am going to go for it 100 percent.”
Holland is the star of the X Games snowboard cross. He won the gold medal five consecutive years, from 2006-2010, and again in 2012. In 2004, he won a gold in Ultra Cross, an event that combined snowboarders and skiers.
In World Cup competition, Holland has been on the podium 14 times, including five victories. In the World Championships, he’s finished third twice. At the Olympic Games, however, he finished 4th in 2010 and 14th in 2006. In both Games, the gold went to his U.S. teammate, Seth Westcott, also a veteran at 36.
“Torino and Vancouver were a great experience, everything from the media blitzes to the actual competition,” Holland said. “I fell in Torino, but in Vancouver I made it through all the rounds and felt good, but in the final spun out on Turn 4. It was difficult to take. But a U.S. guy (Wescott) has two gold medals, and I am definitely proud of that, and I definitely want to go and beat Seth at his game.”
Holland and other boardercrossers were dealt a blow in August, when ESPN announced that snowboard cross, skier cross and mono skier cross will not be part of this year’s Winter X Games. On its website, ESPN’s Tim Reed, senior director of content strategy for ESPN X Games, said the decisions were not easy.
“We understand the ramifications these things bring,” he said. “We come up with what we believe are the best events to showcase to our fans on-site and obviously the networks, too.”
Supporters of snowboard cross immediately set up a Facebook page, “Bring Back the X Course to Winter X Games.”
“They called me the day before the announcement to let me know,” Holland said. “It was a surprise. The X Games is the biggest contest for us in non-Olympic years and sponsors love it. It’s our Super Bowl. It’s a shame; boardercross is one of the original [X Games] sports and a lot of my career is built around it. I didn’t lose any sponsors, but the value of my contracts has gone down. We had some things that were wrapping up and so now we have a new deal and a lesser dollar amount.”
Meanwhile, qualifying for the Sochi Winter Games begins with this World Cup season. And though the X Games are off his schedule, Holland still has several competitions in the U.S. to look forward to, including the Telluride World Cup, Dec. 13-15, and the Sprint U.S. Grand Prix, Feb. 28 - March 3, at The Canyons, Utah.
“At the end of the Olympics in Vancouver, I committed myself to four more years,” Holland said. “Boardercross is fast and you have to be strong and quick, and to be young is definitely an advantage, but it’s a mental game and being an experienced rider is a big advantage also. My mind feels strong and I’m having a blast, so there is no reason to retire at this point."