Sammy Carlson is sort of a hero. To listen to the 26-year-old speak about the mountains and how the backcountry inspires him and how he wants you to enjoy the alpine too, you can’t help but want to get out there and shred. But probably not exactly like Carlson, cause he’s one of the most progressive skiers in the sport. He doesn’t expect you to ride like him. That’s just one reason why he made the Sammy C Project with Teton Gravity Research (props to that crew on another gem, btw): he wanted to progress his art for himself. Not so you ride like him. But maybe so you want to ride after watching him. And isn’t that the real purpose of ski films anyway?
Talk about the Sammy C Project.
It’s been a two-year commitment, pushing my skiing beyond slopestyle. To keep progressing. I found myself feeling bored and stale with competition courses. Along with Teton Gravity Research, we focused on pushing skiing out of the park and getting as creative as possible. Adding one more 180 to a trick wasn’t progression for me. This whole project has meant a lot more creative freedom.
When the Olympics came around there was pressure from people around me to try and go but it was time to step beyond competition. The key as a skier is to keep your mind fresh and stay stoked. I wanted to really challenge myself by looking at the mountain a little differently.
So people were putting serious pressure on you?
It got pretty serious. Unfortunately, in the middle of the movie project I had some problems with a sponsor over the whole (not going to the Olympics) thing—Apo Skis—to the point I had to drop them. That was definitely an obstacle to overcome: No ski sponsor, trying to do a project like this? But I was super-grateful for Armada, who stepped up to help me and I ended up coming out ahead of the whole situation.
It’s seems like the movie has had a real positive response.
It definitely feels really good for the movie to be received as well as it has. I had a lot of people close to me telling me it was the wrong choice. But for me, it was never a question and I’m super-happy with the decision. I’ve never once regretted it and that’s a really good feeling. And it’s extra motivation to pursue my own path, representing for all the fans, to keep filming.
So this 24-story ski jump? Shouldn’t have you been riding freeheels?
Ha, that was actually two years ago. TGR’s Todd Jones found it. He had this ramp in Park City but he’d wanted to change the location based on the visual aspect. (The Michigan location) was a lot more compelling. It was a bigger hill too, a 60-meter Nordic ramp like you’d see in the Olympics. It was one of the gnarlier sessions I’ve ever had. It’s funny, people ask if I’m crazy but I’m really the most comfortable when I’m on skis. I was definitely pretty gripped, though, before, but once (I got one jump in) it was all good. Over the years you develop this sixth sense in the air and feel 100 percent confident. But this session, the speed was so much, it was kinda hard to find the comfort zone.
That wipeout was pretty sketchy looking. Epic save, though.
It was instinct. It all happened so fast. I really felt good coming into the landing but I was too relaxed and went into kind of a Lincoln Loop. I was lucky to get my feet down underneath me because I was heading straight towards these ugly metal stakes on the side of the run. Definitely a scary moment.
Sounds like the locals were great?
It was super-funny working with the people. The spirit of the Midwest was strong. My mom’s from the Midwest. Two weeks before I showed up I hung up my phone with Todd and was like, ‘shit what did I just commit to?’ But the people were super cool, which allowed me to stay in a good space mentally for the whole thing.
So competition, we still need a way to measure athletes, right?
I don’t pay too much attention to comp skiing anymore. Definitely hats off to all the guys doing it, the skill is undeniable, they’re killing it. For comps to progress, though, they need to revamp the courses and change it up. The Dew Tour has been the same for the last five years. I love seeing courses progress. But my progression is beyond competition. I’m pushing a lot harder out in the mountains, where you need to learn and prepare–working with weather and snow conditions. And then the safety preparation it takes to navigate properly in the backcountry so the mountains don’t kill you, knock on wood.
What kind of competition would you like to see and how would it survive?
It’s up to the ski industry to get behind some of these other alternative contests and push them more—like the X Games’ Real Ski Backcountry. That video contest is really cool and it gets a spot on ABC primetime. There’s definitely going to be room for competition, it’s never going away.
But isn’t the mainstream exposure good for skiing?
Skiing isn’t about the mainstream, at least my riding isn’t. Focusing on getting my riding in the mainstream is what drives me away, into the mountains. It’s like deciding on not doing the Olympics, people are like ‘think how much exposure you’re going to get.’ I’m not skiing for people that don’t know anything about skiing. I’m pushing for the fans who know and recognize progression. It’s great that the mainstream is catching on, but (for that segment) I just want to motivate people anyway I can to get away to the mountains and find a passion and take time to have fun everyday and do something you enjoy. There’s a lot of negativity in the world.
So, kind of a cliché, but still interesting, who were your biggest influences?
My biggest influence was definitely Eric Pollard, on and off the hill. Growing up on Hood, watching him, he has a really unique style, a unique way to look at the mountain. He’s older than me and the more I was around him the more I admired how he lived his life. He’s super humble. And Tanner Hall, from a skiing aspect, just his focus and dedication to the sport. When I met him it was like nothing I’d ever seen before, how serious he took it and how he wanted to take it to the next level.
Style, you’ve mentioned it with these guys and it always seems to be on your mind?
Style has always been so important, and to me, it’s always what a feeling looks like. I’m definitely not an adrenaline junky. I prefer when everything goes smooth out there. Style is like your dreams: you think about lines in your head, and moving into backcountry skiing, I have a vision in my head of different lines and I can bring them to life.
So with all this travel, it’s really a grind, does it get lonely on the road?
It’s important to surround yourself with real people. I always try to stay in touch with true homies and real people give me motivation and energy everyday to keep pursuing life. It can be lonely but this is the grind I accepted a while ago and have stayed committed to it. As long as you have real friends it’s easy to keep those relationships. And with girls, it doesn’t work out with all of them because I chose skiing, but when the right one comes along, it’ll all be good. I don’t have a girlfriend but I have some ‘girl’ ‘friends.’
What’s you’re favorite thing to do off the mountain, in the summer?
Surfing, as much as I can. I’ve definitely noticed a cross over with the way I look at my lines on the mountain now, the feelings I’m trying to create, definitely trying to recreate that feeling on the mountain. I surf Oregon—Shorties (Short Sands) Pacific City—Baja, Hawaii, France, wherever I can go. I travel with my two surf buddies, Dylan Thompson he’s a snowboarder and Tim Humphries, a snowboarder in the flick. It’s fun to get out and shred together.
The Sammy C Project is now available for download on iTunes.