Sammy Carlson does what he wants. The 24-year-old professional freeskier has become so successful that his day-to-day job, which he loves, is simple: get better at skiing and ski tricks. And if he wants to get his bros together for a competition that boasts a $20,000 prize purse—well, he can do that, too.
On Saturday, May 25, Carlson is once again hosting the Sammy Carlson Invitational, a freeskiing competition at Mt. Bachelor in which 25 of the country's best skiers will air out over a big jump and, upon landing, transition to a massive U-shaped wall ride. Participants will be judged on air, style and consistency. Sidelined by a knee injury in 2012, the host plans to throw down alongside his friends this year.
Yes, life is good for the boy who grew up in Tigard. Carlson, who now lives in Hood River, jumped into skiing early. He took up the sport on Mt. Hood with his parents soon after he could walk, and when he was 8 he started making trips to Mt. Bachelor. Soon he was dedicated. He'd spend his summers honing his technique at Windells ski camp in Welches. At home he'd secretly stay up past bedtime watching the same ski videos over and over, memorizing the moves.
It worked. Carlson has been winning Winter X Games medals since 2007. In 2011, he took home gold in the slopestyle competition. In 2010, he became the first skier to executed a switch triple rodeo 1260. Carlson regularly films with Teton Gravity Research and Poor Boyz Productions, and in 2011 he was featured on the cover of Powder magazine's photo annual. This winter Carlson won ESPN's "Real Ski Backcountry" video contest and took home a cool $50,000 for his 90-second video, which he filmed over 30 days in Whistler, B.C.
Despite the huge paydays and rock star lifestyle, Carlson conceded he still has troubling thoughts that keep him awake at night.
"Same things everyone stresses about—girls," Carlson admitted. Not the response I was expecting from the 5-foot-8, 140-pound professional skier. Carlson's relaxed attitude matches his long curly brown hair and his comically oversized ski apparel, ubiquitous among young shredders.
But I got the idea Carlson's women issues paled in comparison with his on-the-job stresses—namely, performing. Leading up to a big competition, the Oregon native said he tries to visualize landing a trick he's been practicing, but fear of failure often infects the process. And then Carlson becomes restless.
"Sometimes I can't sleep for a few days I'm so gripped," he explained.
Failure isn't a concept Carlson is very familiar with. He has, however, suffered his share of setbacks in recent years. He had that knee injury in 2012, which kept him out of the X Games as well as his own invitational. And he missed the X Games this year with a broken ankle he suffered just four days before the event. But he bounced back quickly. Within three weeks he was on skis filming—footage that would win him that $50,000 prize.
It's that level of drive that's kept Carlson on the top. And while he's beginning to look elsewhere for inspiration, he continues to set lofty goals. He hopes to compete in freesking at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And he's hitting the gym at Portland's Nike campus (daily doubles!), trying to stay strong so he can continue making films.
"I don't want to put too much pressure on any one thing," Carlson explained. "Just be ready to ski."
When we chatted Carlson was fresh off a trip to Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, where he and a small collective of skiers were shooting with TGR for an upcoming film.
"For me it was a trip of a lifetime," Carlson said. "The biggest mountains I've skied."
As he gets older, this is the direction in which Carlson wants to take his skiing—remote backcountry locations that allow for exploration and creativity. Competitions feel stale, Carlson said, but the backcountry offers endless opportunities. "I definitely want to get out in the bigger mountains and push my riding in that direction," he said.
In the meantime, Carlson is psyched to host the low-key SCI, a playful contest among the best of the best—not some high-stress, high-stakes comp with icy features and cameras beaming your image to TVs across the country. The Mt. Bachelor bro-down is something Carlson can still get behind.
"It's a way to say thanks to everyone in Bend and everyone who's supported me," Carlson concluded. SW