Nate Holland at the 2010 Olympics with cousins Nicole, Kelly and Erin McCoy and niece Reilly Holland (Photo by Rebecca Holland)
Olympian and world-class snowboarder
By Amie Wolf
Last winter, the town of Sandpoint cheered on one of its own during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Nate Holland, 32, a member of the U.S. Snowboard Team, participated in his second Winter Olympics in snowboardcross (SBX), an action-packed event akin to motocross.
Unfortunately, as often happens in the fast-paced and unpredictable realm of SBX, Holland went from a gold-grabbing lead in the finals to fourth place in a split second. Not discouraged, Holland is still determined and his energy shows no signs of ebbing.
Born and raised in Sandpoint by parents Don and Rebecca Holland, Nate spent his youth shredding Schweitzer Mountain, planting seeds to become a professional snowboarder. He started competing around the Northwest at 12 after a group of local parents, including his own, started Storm Riders, a snowboard team. He won his first competition at Silver Mountain and was hooked to the thrill of success. Since then, he has had multiple trips to the podium in the exciting world of competitive snowboarding.
After graduating from Sandpoint High in 1997, Holland left for Oregon’s Mount Hood. Working as a parking attendant in exchange for a season pass and living in a tent by Trillium Lake were just stepping-stones to his dream. Holland’s riding progressed as he spent a winter in Salt Lake City and then settled in Tahoe, Calif.
Holland competed in snowboarding contests as they came through Tahoe. His big break came in 2002 when he placed at his first international contest and nabbed an invitation to compete in his first Winter X Games. Since then he has won six gold medals in the X Games – five-peeting in 2010 – an X Games record. But he is still in search of an Olympic medal. If the next four years go as planned, Holland will be poised to make it to the podium in 2014.
When the snow melts, Holland, also a wakeboarder, often spends time in Sandpoint and in 2010 started Action Water Sports with younger brother, Pat Holland.
What would you recommend to someone who dreams of becoming a professional snowboarder?
Nowadays, there’s great programs in the Northwest and around the whole U.S. to start off. Basically, just follow your dream and have fun with it. If you’re doing well and you’re getting to that next level, starting to do some national contests and really pitting yourself against some of the best in the world, just really stick with it. There are definitely times where I had run up some credit card debt and came to a couple different crossroads thinking, Am I really making the right decision here?, and I just decided to keep persevering and just climbing the ladder one step at a time. And finally all the practice paid off, and I got good enough to compete on a world stage.
When you first started competing, did you know you wanted to do SBX?
At first I was actually really focusing on my freestyle snowboard career, and all I really wanted to do was ride half-pipe, slopestyle and big air. So when I moved out, I wasn’t focusing on SBX at all. I’d always do them and always had some degree of success at them. What really changed was in 2004, they announced that SBX was going to be an Olympic sport. My freestyle career was kind of petering out, and the kids were getting younger and going bigger, doing more flips. I just basically wasn’t as competitive as I wanted to be. So I kind of shifted gears and focused on SBX, was invited to the first U.S. snowboarding camp and basically won the camp and won my spot on the team. From there the team started funding me to do World Cups, and I started traveling and having success in the World Cup. My first World Cup debut I took fifth. The coaches were pretty excited about that because they didn’t have to put too much effort into coaching me. And I was already at a competitive level so we just really worked on fine-tuning stuff. By the next year I hit the podium, and from there it was pretty much snowball effect.
This winter was your second Olympics. How would you compare your experience of 2006 in Torino to the 2010 Winter Olympics?
I think mentally I was more prepared for my second winter games. I knew what to expect with the media. You’re on an international stage representing your country, and there’s a lot of added flair that goes to the Olympics. I knew that I was going to have to do press conferences, photo shoots, and I also just knew what the pressure was going to feel like. Not saying that I wasn’t prepared in 2006, but I definitely knew what to expect in 2010. So I think that’s probably the biggest difference. Other than that, having it in Vancouver was definitely a treat. It was a Northwest race, so it felt a bit like a homecoming. I grew up in that sort of Northwest weather and knew what to expect and had a lot of family and friends show up. That was all pretty cool. My racing has matured over the years. I used to be considered a pretty “hot under the collar” racer and would take some pretty big chances to make some moves. Sometimes they would work out and sometimes they wouldn’t, and I’d be wrapped up in a fence somewhere – kind of like the wreck-or-win mentality. There’s definitely a maturity level that I’ve reached in my racing. You can see it just by watching film from the X Games, where I’ll be in third or fourth position out of the hole shot, and you’ll just see me kind of methodically work my way up through the crowd, passing here, passing there, not taking huge risks but charging all the time.
Do you plan on competing in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia?
You know, I’d like to. It’s been a major goal of mine to have an Olympic medal. In 2006 it was a disappointment. I was riding really well and just made a mental mistake. I missed a move on a jump that shot me pretty high up in the air and into a crash. And in this last Olympics 2010, in the finals at one point I was leading the race, and I went from a gold medal to a fourth place, with one little bobble in a corner. So I know I can do it. I thrive on big pressure races, and I just haven’t been able to do what I can do at the Olympics. It’s four years out, so I’ve got to stay healthy and competitive. I mean four years is a long time. As of right now I am definitely focused on it and would like to get there and am going to do everything possible to make it.
This summer you and your brother Pat started Action Water Sports. How did your first season go?
It went great. I’d been working in the water ski/wakeboard business for, like, seven years down in Tahoe. I was working for my buddy’s business, and I know a place quite a bit like Tahoe that no one has done anything like this. I basically took the formula from down here and brought it up to Sandpoint. It takes a little time to get the word out – exactly what we’re doing and what we offer. But once the summer started getting going and the sun came out and heated everything up, we had a pretty successful first year. We plan to grow the business and for it to be a staple in Sandpoint for years to come.
How often do you get to train with your brother during the year?
We both go out to Park City every fall and train at the Center of Excellence. It’s a new training facility, a $22 million facility that the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team built. So we go and live in Park City for about two to three months every fall – live in the same house with the rest of the team and work out together. From there we basically go straight into our season. We’re both on the same World Cup tour, so we travel week in, week out, all winter long with each other. It’s kind of cool to have a brother on tour. It gets a little lonely out there. We have a great group of guys on our team.
This past summer you participated in the Brian Farber Pro Soccer Camp in Sandpoint and had lots of little guys coming up to you for an autograph. When you come back to Sandpoint, how does it feel when you’re approached for an autograph in your hometown?
It feels good, you know. I’ve definitely worked hard to achieve what I’ve achieved, and to have a great community like Sandpoint supporting you is definitely humbling. If I could be a role model for any of the younger kids coming out of Sandpoint, to kind of prove that even coming from a small town tucked away at the Canadian border, that if you stick to your dreams and passions, you can pretty much achieve whatever you’d like. Sandpoint offers such a great outdoor playground. You can’t help but think there’s such a great talent pool that comes out of there. Kids come out of Sandpoint swimming, playing on the lake, boating, mountain biking. Whatever you’re into, you have a great playground for honing your skills. It’s definitely an honor to have people asking for your autograph.
How long do you plan on competing in snowboarding, and what are your plans once your competitive career is done?
I usually take my snowboard career in four-year increments, going off the Olympic schedule. I definitely plan on going full blast through 2014, Sochi, Russia, and then reassessing a few different things. How much fun I’m having is a huge factor. I think that definitely relates to how good my results are and how lucrative it is. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am right now, and I don’t feel like stepping down anytime soon. I love the snowboard industry and recently had an opportunity to coach the Junior World Cup team down in New Zealand. I enjoyed doing some coaching, so that could be an avenue I might like to explore a little bit more. I’ve also done a lot of work with people trying to progress SBX, with board designs and course designs. It’s an exciting sport; I just never want it to come across as getting old or stale. There’s always more things we can do course-wise to make it more exciting to watch, more exciting to ride, to let the rider progress. That’s all wintertime stuff. … Summertime is Action Water Sports – hanging out on the dock, getting kids out on the water and families out on the water to enjoy Lake Pend Oreille.