Sam Smoothy once broke the internet. Dropping into a competition run in 2015, he briefly stopped above what looked like an impossible line with no clear end. The announcers were unsure as to what to say. What was he doing? Was Smoothy lost? Was he going to have to climb back up and risk tanking his score? In the end, he managed to put it to his feet, cementing his legacy on the Freeride World Tour as a people’s champ and stomping one of the gnarliest competition lines ever skied. It was clear that billygoating and linking cliff drops like James Bond being chased by villains was in his blood. That fateful 2015 FWT run in Andorra was preceded by years of skiing gnarly lines, climbing even bigger mountains all over the world, and a never-ending desire to chase the dream of being a professional skier. Now that the Kiwi has transitioned his focus to skiing for the camera, be sure to check out his lines in TGR’s upcoming film Far Out, presented by REI.
Tell us a little about how you started your ski career, who inspired you when you were younger, and especially what the Kiwi ski scene was like when you were growing up.
The Kiwi scene was so tiny then, everyone knew everyone and it was super fun and supportive and had this real DIY vibe to it. When there were no rails we just set bits of wood in the snow and used those like park features. I think we were pretty isolated from the rest of the ski world back there, so the local heroes were a huge influence, we had some chargers like Geoff Small and Hamish Acland who both won comps overseas and were the guys to beat at home. Hamish gave me so much advice when I started heading overseas to compete which was super helpful. As a kid, I watched Ski Movie 3 so many times that the tape wore out. Especially that Seth Morrison section. I went through this phase of just trying various flips off cliffs, that section was so huge to me. But I think the person I really looked up to was Shane. His skiing was rad, his innovations to technology changed powder skiing forever and he was the funniest man in skiing. But, it was the fact he took the time to take me for a few runs when I was in Squaw, gave me props for my sends and even took me in for Christmas because he knew I was away from home, that kindness and humility really made a huge impression on me.
What were some of your favorite spots during that time?
Well back then, I was somewhat restricted by barely operable motor vehicles and a constant lack of funds so normally we shredded Treble Cone with my parents. It's still my favorite home area with so much rad flowing natural terrain it’s been a huge part of sculpting my style. I actually skied halfpipe and slopestyle until I was 18, as 'freeride' wasn’t such a thing, I think we just called it skiing back then. We would hitch rides up Cardrona and Snowpark to hit rails and jumps. There were so many pro skiers coming through when SnowPark was a thing it was incredible getting to see them stomp around our home ski areas.
Top : Sam Skiing Treble Cone Left : Sam Learning to Ski Right : Hiking The East Face of Mt. Cook in NZ with Xavier de la Rue
Let's hear a little about your time on the FWT. Maybe touch on that fateful run in Andorra that broke the internet. What goes through your head during a run like that?
I am hugely thankful for that. The riders I got to meet and hang out with were equally influential and they’re what I miss most about it, but I’m happy to have moved on. I spent more time researching that one line in Andorra than an entire season of FWT lines. I went all over to look at it from so many different angles, including climbing this rock wall in a blizzard to get a better angle on that top ramp system. I was frustrated by many things on the Tour and especially my performances to date that year and had reached the conclusion I would just ski what I wanted to ski, not what I thought was smart or would judge well, consequences be damned.
the freeride world tour was a huge part of creating me as a skier and turning me into a professional...
If I fell, I was pretty sure I was off to hospital and then off the Tour but I didn’t care anymore. I wanted that line so bad. But on the day of, I really felt it, I felt more relaxed than ever, it was like it was meant to happen. I watched a few of the other runs, which were good, but I knew if I cleaned my line I would win. I definitely sounded like an arrogant dick watching those runs but I was sure the win was on the cards. So when I dropped in, it all went quiet and I just let it happen. A properly planned run that goes exactly to plan can be really quiet mentally as your body is on autopilot and your mind just observes. It’s when things start going wrong that things get loud.
Transitioning to filming, how did that affect your skiing? It's obviously a different pace, so is that something you actually prefer these days?
Filming is a real different kettle of fish, hey? I really love the varying layers to it, it’s not just show up, scope a line and throw down. There is so much more to it than that. I love coming up with a trip idea, talking through logistics with athletes and filmers, figuring out the story and pulling it all together. Then in the field, you look at the mountain so differently, about how to create more aesthetic ski lines than comps, though I still feel I have that competitive drive so when one of the crew slays a line filming I’m fired up to try step it up too! There are obvious drawbacks like waiting around for the right conditions and it’s a slower pace than just going skiing. I have found that pace a little tough as it seems to lessen my ability to get fully fired up for aggressive skiing but I'm working on it and I really really want to get my best ever skiing on film. I feel that hasn't happened yet, but I really love the process and I am super lucky with the amazing crews I get to work with, so fingers crossed for the coming season!
How about ski mountaineering? With Bolivia last year, that seemed like an entirely different type of mission than we are used to seeing from Mr. Sam Smoothy, but it sounds like that runs in the family. What are some of the challenges associated with showcasing that kind of adventure on the big screen?
Man, Bolivia is not a classic ski destination for a reason, but I really love it there! Ski mountaineering is something I have been working on, building up to, it’s a natural progression of my love/hate relationship with big exposed lines and now the adventure of spending days walking and climbing just for 10 minutes of skiing really appeals to me. It’s that slower, more convoluted adventure where you really don’t know if you will succeed for much longer time period than just skiing one line. My parents were keen alpinists and being able to ski some of the peaks in Bolivia and NZ that they have climbed is very special, to have that connection with them and sharing those experiences is so valuable to me.
Translating that vibe onto the big screen is tough, just showing how physically hard what we were doing there was tough! Everything from the altitude, the difficult logistics, the awful ice snow, the lack of support and infrastructure, or the huge consequence of any mistake were pretty hard to ignore and just added to this very intense experience that I loved. It’s not been long enough that I can say I'd love to go back, third times the charm right?
Far Out. Tell us about your experience filming with TGR this year, feel free to elaborate on anything about that mission, doesn't have to be just the skiing!
This year I spent three weeks in Girdwood, Alaska, Angel's new home with twin brother John and TGR. We decided to go late January into early February, because we love freezing camera people. It was easily one of my favorite trips ever as it felt like we lived there, as opposed to just visiting. The community was so welcoming, taking us in for amazing dinners of wild food and politely smashing us at Quiz Night. I still think that was rigged. I really loved the triple threat we had going of some heli lines, ski touring and hiking spines and using snowmobiles to access lines, the last two being firsts for me in Alaska. Hiking a spine was such a revelation as to how much more you can understand a line, and being self-powered made it all the more gratifying.
“INSPIRATION AND WARM WELCOME, FINDING MY LONG LOST TRIBE.”
Though I did keep running out of food and stealing the guide’s lunch. I have also never snowmobiled in such deep cold snow, its was -20 C and just billowing everywhere, absolutely ridiculous. I don’t think I have ever been so cold on a film shoot. Skiing with the Collinsons is one of the most fun things you can possibly do, so that was a blast always. Getting to learn off Angel's man friend Jeff Magnum PI Hoke was incredible, the ultimate adventure ski guide legend. If she doesn’t snap him up I will. It's a place that is truly special to me now and I can’t wait to get back and explore it more!
Who are some of your favorite guys/gals to shred with these days? How do the relationships you form skiing shape you as a person?
I have learned a lot from the people I ski with. From that first Fantasy Camp, the TGR crew made me feel so welcome. I didn’t want to step on any toes, but they really pushed me to say what I wanted to ski, so a huge thanks to Angel, McNutt and Sage for that welcome. They really taught me a lot about filming with such a professional crew. I have been able to spend a lot of time with High Angle Dangle and Brother Collinson and I think we understand each other pretty well. They have been so kind to me and I love talking about all manners of things. For such young punks, they are pretty wise.
Basically, the whole TGR crew has been like finding my long lost tribe, I know I live half a world away but I really don’t, they get me and I don’t need to see them all the time. Though I wish I saw them more, can we create an extra three-month shoulder season please for visitings? Because any catch up with them is all time.
Xavier de le Rue is someone I love riding Europe with and someone who I have paid close attention to, from his riding style, his creativity with filming and expeditions, to his work with sponsors and even how he is setting himself up for the future. I just note these things and see what I can learn from them.
At home, my go to adventure buddy is Fraser McDougall, he makes everything look so smooth and stylish and he is so damn strong going uphill. I love how we are really starting to break into new zones for us at home and developing our ski mountaineering and filming skills together.
And yeah Shane, for what I mentioned earlier, I try not to take myself too seriously and stay humble and to give back to the scene at home, that’s something I’m really looking forward to doing more of in the future.
Grabbing one for the 'gram with Johnny In Alaska