Sammy Carlson opens up regarding his passions, the Olympics and film vs. competition skiing

Comments by Donny O'Neill/

Sammy Carlson has long been one of skiing’s utility players, possessing the ability to consistently churn out quality content while also balancing a full competition schedule year in and year out. While Sammy participated in several competitions this season, he has since chosen to focus the majority of his skiing efforts on filming, particularly for his upcoming X Games Real Ski Backcountry segment, as well as a new two year project dropping in the fall of 2015. Sammy took some time while stacking shots up in British Columbia to talk with us about his filming expeditions, the Olympics and his unique approach to skiing.

On the phone:

Hey Sammy, what’re you up to right now?

[I'm up in] Zipper Creek and we’re getting lots of snow. We’re in the middle of a crazy storm cycle, skiing lots of pow. I’m with a crew of guys doing some filming. X Games just announced Real Ski Backcountry is back on, so we’re just getting things rolling for that, we’ve been sledding out here, starting to stack some shots. I’m psyched to put out another Real Ski part.

Talk about your decision to focus solely on filming and content creation.

I have had a lot of success with competitions. I am really grateful for all the experiences and stoked on my accomplishments. It’s time though; growing up I was all about X Games slopestyle. After I won the gold in 2011, I wanted to take things to the next level as a skier, I wanted to start focusing more energy on filming. I enjoy the creative freedom involved in filming, it challenges me to keep thinking differently and hitting every feature differently. It’s the future for me, and I feel like this is just the beginning. The possibilities are endless out there, as long as your mind’s flowing.

“…the system pushes legends out of the sport…”

I have been competing in slopestyle competitions for over 10 years now. Change is good. I’m not saying I will never ride in a slope competition again, but I just want to put more energy into pursuing my passion for filming. When I first started competition riding, X Games would invite the skiers they thought deserved a spot. Now, there is a whole world ranking system that X Games goes off to invite riders. If you don’t spend the whole season following the tour, hitting a different contest every weekend, you don’t accumulate any points. Skiers who follow the circus obviously acquire more points and end up ranked higher and will get invites over other skiers that are fully capable of holding it down. I don’t agree with using that system for [X Games]. If you want to film there is no time to travel around [if you're also] chasing every contest you can find to keep your points up. Last season, Tanner [Hall] wanted to compete in the pipe at X Games. After a lot of debate, he was one of the last riders to get a spot. After his history at X, he should have an automatic spot if he’s ready to ride. The system pushes legends out of the sport, and I hope X games reconsiders using this system. The overall vibe of the competition scene has inspired change for me.

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Photo by Shay Williams.

Before I go any further, props to all the new skiers coming up in the comp scene who are killing it. The level is crazy and will only go up from here. I got a lot of respect for the new tricks going down. I just want my fans to know what’s coming, and this change is just me following my passions. By no means am I slowing down, I believe I’m just getting started. You’ve heard me say this before, but, for me skiing is about way more than competitions and now it’s time for me to push it in a new direction. I’m ready to discover what’s possible. I don’t need a judge to tell me how I’m skiing. I know what feels good and what doesn’t.

You competed in a few contests this season, and appeared to be vying for an Olympic spot. Can you talk about that process?

Yeah, the Olympics. It’s cool to see slopestyle skiing on that stage. For me, the Olympics wasn’t quite as appetizing as it was for other skiers. I know it’s hard for some people to understand. Growing up I never dreamed of competing in the Olympics, I was all about X Games. For sure, I respect the dedication and skill it takes to get there, but I never had that Olympic dream. Figure skating, mogul skiing, those sports weren’t for me. The Olympics needs slopestyle and halfpipe. I was hyped watching [snowboarder] Sage Kotsenburg win the gold in slopestyle [on Saturday]. I’m stoked for everyone else living out their Olympic dream, but I’ve got a different one.

At first I was excited, thinking it would be cool to bring slopestyle to the Olympics. My mindset since the Olympic announcement was to keep working hard, so when the Olympics were here, if that’s what I wanted to do, I would be ready to go; if not, I would be at the top of my game to start focusing on my film projects.

Over time, after more meetings and learning more about the politics involved, I started getting turned off. My mindset changed from thinking I should focus my energy on the Olympics to push the sport, into believing I should focus more on pushing the sport in the mountains and through filming. I believe that is the future. It was a tough decision, but for me it came down to following my passions. I have always skied off feeling, and so I did a few of the qualifying events, and was just having fun, because it was important for me to not have regrets. Skiing at the competitions confirmed my feelings.

In years past you’ve balanced a full competition schedule with filming. How much does scheduling play into that?

Scheduling is the hardest thing. Everything takes time, getting ready for the competitions and being 100-percent. Also, going out in the backcountry and feeling comfortable takes time. Last year it was hard to balance the competitions with Real Ski. A lot of work goes in on the back end producing film segments. That’s definitely part of the fun. Going out and exploring, finding the coolest feature and terrain to ride for the day.

Sammy Carlson’s 2013 Real Ski Backcountry edit.

Can you talk about your Peaks to Parks edit?

Teton Gravity Research just dropped a re-edit of my footage from this past season, presented by Nike and APO. We were filming in Alaska, we went up there for three weeks. We had a camp set up 80 miles out in the mountains. It was a really cool experience, I was out there with Sage [Cattabriga-Alosa] and Tim Durtschi, Ian McIntosh, Angel Collinson, and Dana Flahr. It was cool being out there with the TGR crew, it allowed me to push my skiing to a new level, and get on some bigger lines than I have in the past. Sage was sharing lots of good knowledge with me. After AK, we went to Mammoth Mountain and did some more shooting. It’s always a good time in Mammoth, and we had a private park out there, taking as many laps as possible in perfect spring conditions.

With all of your recent edits coming out, do you feel pressure to continue producing content?

No, definitely not. That’s what I like to do right now. Going out and stacking shots. I enjoy producing content and trying to get creative. It helps me push my riding. We’re always trying to take it up a notch on the production side. It’s cool exploring new angles and setting up the shot.

Does all of the positive feedback to your edits validate your decision to focus solely on filming?

It helps, definitely. It’s cool seeing people are stoked on the edits. It makes what I do possible. There’s so many other people out there killing it, people are always coming up with fresh and unique content, I’m really stoked on that. It’s cool to see the sport evolve, we can talk about the Olympics but that’s only one part of the sport, there’s so much else going on.

Which film athletes out there do you admire?

There’s so many skiers out there killing it; Candide Thovex, Sage, Dylan Hood, Phil Casabon, Chris Logan and his crew, Adam Delorme, Stept, Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, Tanner, Sean Pettit, Vinny Cash [Vincent Gagnier], [Eric] Pollard and Nimbus. There’s so many skiers killing it.

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Screenshot of Sammy while filming for Real Ski Backcountry 2014. Credit: Scotty Titterington.

Who’s your favorite competition skier to watch?

For me I like to watch Henrik [Harlaut] ski. He’s one of the few guys out there doing all of the contests that still keeps his own unique style. Everybody knows what the judges are looking for, most competitors think about adding another 180, or something, but Henrik is mixing it up a whole different way, really bringing a fresh style. I get a little bored watching some of the skiers who tend to ski the same. I just like to see any skier out there doing their own thing and bringing their own style.

What’s your plan for the rest of the season?

My plan, I’m going to focus on stacking shots for my Real Ski segment. Big video project coming up! I’m really hyped to start working on a feature length film dropping in fall 2015. News on that will be dropping soon.

Also Watch: Watch Sammy Carlson maneuver the X Games Aspen course with ease