Female extreme skier plays her cards right | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Female extreme skier plays her cards right

Jeremy Evans
Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune Amy Holland is a freestyle ski champion by day and a Harrah's Lake Tahoe card dealer at night.

It was almost six years ago when Amy Holland drove through Kirkwood, took one glance at the surrounding landscape and knew her ski career was about to change.

She remembers the extreme terrain, the volcanic rocks, the spires. As he she continued down the road, she gazed at Thimble Peak and then salivated at a lovely piece of real estate known as “The Cirque.” It all made quite an impression on Holland, who had been skiing the past five seasons at Mount Rose, a nice but relatively benign mountain.

“I was really just a ski bum looking to be challenged,” Holland said.

Ever since that drive to Kirkwood, it’s been an extreme ride for the 29-year-old South Shore freeskier. When the normally reserved Holland isn’t shredding Kirkwood, or making a name for herself on the North American Tour, she’s dealing blackjack inside the party pit at Harrah’s in Stateline.

Not long after the impressionable Holland envisioned the possibilities of Kirkwood’s extreme terrain, she met Jon Copeland, who not only offered her a job ski instructing but a dose of reality. Copeland, a highly regarded freeskier and director of the resort’s ski and board school, remembers Holland had technique and aggressiveness but didn’t know how to combine the two.

“So I took her out and basically said ‘follow me,’ Copeland said. “I wouldn’t say that I heckled her, but I definitely pushed her to become a better skier. In just one season at Kirkwood, I would say she made the biggest progression I’ve ever seen from someone at that level.”

Although the progression has continued ever since, starting with her competing in the annual North American Free Ski/Ride Championships five years ago at Kirkwood, it culminated last month in Utah’s Wasatch Range.

That’s where Holland won the women’s division at the Subaru U.S. Freeskiing Nationals at Snowbird. The win was not only her first and prequalified her for future North American Tour events, but it immediately thrusted her among the sport’s upper echelon.

“That was huge for her,” Copeland said. “She has come back a lot more confident. The first thing you notice about her is that she is so quiet and shy. Hopefully by winning there it will give her that confidence for the rest of the season.”

The beginnings of a champion

Let’s take it back, before her Rossignol sponsorship that followed her win in Utah, before this week’s Colorado Freeride Series in Snowmass, where Holland is searching for another title. Let’s take it back to where it all started.

Holland grew up in Southern California, where she skied occasionally and remembered her parents always fighting over money. When Holland was 13, her family moved to Sparks. She became a member of the Sky Tavern program at Mount Rose, remembered her parents still fighting over money, and started ski racing.

Within a few years she graduated from Reed High School without any plans for the future, except, well, to ski, so she got a job as a ski instructor at Mount Rose. She enrolled at the University of Nevada without a career path in mind, except, well, to ski, and has since amassed more than 100 credits going in every direction.

“I’m not even close to graduating; I can’t pick just one thing,” Holland said. “How many times did I see my parents hate their jobs and fight about money? Skiing was my escape.”

Holland estimates that she works – actually works – only a few days a week as an instructor. Most of the time she acts as backup to the ski school and negotiates Kirkwood’s steeps while she waits for customers. She said her family is supportive, her mom more than her workaholic dad. Her younger sister, also a workaholic, has more to show on paper than Holland does.

“But I kind of feel like I have the life and she does not.”

Night job

Three nights a week, in order to make ends meet and feed her lifestyle, she moonlights as a blackjack dealer at Harrah’s party pit. This a job that entails her wearing a skimpy outfit and earning sizable tips. Before the Harrah’s job, her second job was at Costco in Reno, where she was a refund cashier.

“Um, yeah, I make a little more than I did at Costco,” Holland joked.

Her boyfriend of two years, Doug Severn, a telemark skier who also calls Kirkwood home, doesn’t enjoy her stories of being disrespected and of guys hitting on her. But Holland said the casino is flexible with her competition schedule and having a night job allows her to pursue her true passion.

“Ski bums want to make their days available so they can be on that first chair for that powder day,” Holland said. “But I’m also a serious ski bum. I want to challenge myself athletically. That’s my priority, and that means I work even harder because I’m working odd hours and odd jobs. I don’t have any money. I tell my parents I’m not going to be like this forever, but I might as well ride the wave.”

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