Amy Donaldson
Tom Kelly, chief of press, conducts a press conference featuring (from left to right): reigning Olympic champion Michaela Moioli, Italy; Orem's Anna Miller, USA; and Vermont's Megan Tierney, USA.

Nate Holland was going to retire after not making the 2018 Olympic team.

“I decided to go to Switzerland at the end of the season and ended up winning a contest,” Holland said at a press conference kicking off the snowboard cross World Championships that begin at Solitude Mountain Resort Thursday afternoon. “After, I looked at the schedule for the next season and decided my goal was to make it to Worlds, and to basically have my family and friends come watch me race on U.S. soil one last time. I’m going to throw it down on that course and see what happens. I am here to do a couple things: win, and then throw a party.”

This is the first time the World Championships for snowboard cross have been hosted in the U.S., and the eight-time X Games gold medalist said it is a familiar feeling.

“It’s good to be back racing on home soil,” he said. “We used to have a lot more races in the U.S. and this feels like a reunion. Also, it adds to the drive to earn medal at World Championships."

The qualifying rounds begin Thursday, with racing on Friday at 11 a.m. As athletes from around the world praised the course, U.S. athletes relished the opportunity to compete in their home country, something that is a rarity.

“I think it's a cool opportunity,” said U.S. athlete Anna Miller, who lives in Orem. “For me, it’s the first time that my family is going to get to come and watch. …There’s a big opportunity for us to show 'boarder cross isn’t as big in the United States as it is in Europe, I think. And for people to understand what our sport is and what it’s about and be as excited as we are, I think it’s huge for the progression of the sport.”

Megan Tierney, Colorado, competed in the 2018 Olympics, as well as the World Cup at Solitude two years ago.

“I think it’s amazing because my family will be able to come out and watch, but all my friends, it’s so easy for them to watch it,” Tierney said, referencing the fact that the events will be televised and available on NBC streaming. “And you know a lot of people are starting to watch it now that it's on in America. …I think it’s huge for Americans and all the young girls coming up.”

Despite the fact that the reigning Olympic champion praised the course for its safety, two of the sport's top athletes crashed and missed Wednesday’s press conference. Five-time World Champion and four-time Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis and two-time Olympic gold medalist Pierre Vaultier, France, both crashed and it was unclear whether they’d be able to compete on Thursday.

All of the athletes praised the course, although officials did change the number of snowboarders racing in each heat from six to four after consulting with coaches and athletes.

A press release said officials felt the change provided “more action and opportunities for passing.”

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For the athletes, who train and race all over the world, they love the Solitude course and resort.

“I really like the course. It’s not so difficult and it feels safer, which I think is really important,” said Michela Moioli, Olympic gold medalist and member of the Italian national snowboard cross team. “Last year at the Olympics there were a lot of (snowboard cross) injuries, particularly among the men. We, of course, all want a big, challenging course, but we also want safety. And this course at Solitude is both of those things.”