The Original Freeskier, Scot Schmidt, at 50

Interview: 'An inspiration is all you can hope to be.' - S.S.

Scot Schmidt, left, and Greg Stump at a preview screening of Stump's film, 'Legend of Aahhhs,' at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House, Nov. 2010. Photo: T. Mutrie

Scot Schmidt, left, and Greg Stump at a preview screening of Stump's film, 'Legend of Aahhhs,' at Aspen's Wheeler Opera House, Nov. 2010. Photo: T. Mutrie

By John Clary Davies

Scot Schmidt doesn’t need an introduction. Perhaps, though, an update: In winter, the original freeskier serves as an ambassador for the Yellowstone Club. He is sponsored by the Swiss ski company Stockli and The North Face, and is featured in Greg Stump’s upcoming film, Legend of Aahhhs. Otherwise, he lives with his family—he has kids ages 11, 18 and 20—in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he surfs and wave sails. Here, in a conversation with on his 50th birthday, July 21, Schmidt reflects on his 27-year professional ski career.

Scot Schmidt cover shot, October 1990. Photo: Scott Markewitz

Scot Schmidt cover shot, October 1990. Photo: Scott Markewitz

'Aspen Extreme' cover shot, February 1993, with Schmidt, XXX, with XXX. Photo: XXX

'Aspen Extreme' cover shot, February 1993, with Schmidt, left, and Doug Coombs, in the Selkirks. Photo: Gary Brettnacher

Schmidt on Eagle's Nest (aka McConkey's) at Squaw, from the pages Powder Magazine, spring 1985. Photo: Hank de Vre

Schmidt on Eagle's Nest (aka McConkey's) at Squaw, from the pages Powder Magazine, spring 1985. Photo: Hank de Vre

I made a conscious choice when I was 14 or 15. I just remember making a decision after I had won some races and was stoked. I decided I was going to be a skier. I didn’t care what anybody said, I was going to follow it. It’s tough when your parents say that’s not very practical, and you’re not being encouraged. I basically ran away from home to chase my dream.

I won a DH and a GS and afterward my coach pulled me aside and said I had potential. He advised me to get out of the state. Luckily, I chose Squaw Valley. … I tried to get to the FIS races. I had the points but didn’t have the dollars. I didn’t make it.

The same year I fell out of racing I ended up in a Warren Miller film (Ski Time). I didn’t think too much of it. A couple weeks later I got a letter from Warren and he said it was the most spectacular footage he had ever seen and wondered if I was interested in travelling around world with his film crew.

I struggled forever. After about six years of getting free trips and free skis and free jackets, I hit a wall. I was so broke. Nobody would pay me. Warren Miller wouldn’t pay. If you didn’t like it they’d take the next guy in line. I put my foot down and hung in there.

North Face was the first to sign a contract with me. Then K2 and Salomon, and all of a sudden I had four endorsement deals and I was on my way. I had a steady income. It took six years to convince them to sign a freeskier. I was the first freeskier signed in the industry in mid ’80s. I was in magazines and in films, yet nobody would pay for it. We were risking our lives and couldn’t understand why we couldn’t be compensated. We tried to demand some rate so that we could do this professionally, but there is always some guy that will take your spot for free skis.

I was in Santa Cruz and met a guy who was managing some surfers at the time. I told him my dilemma. He saw the exposure and said, “This is crazy.” Three months later everybody had signed. It took a guy to go in there and say you can’t take advantage of this guy. He got the ball rolling for me. I’m celebrating my 27th year with North Face. That’s like a world record for an athlete.

Greg was kind of hounding me. I didn’t think I’d fit into his films very well because they were all kinds of zany and crazy and I was a racer and big mountain skier. But Greg kept hammering me. He said he had a pretty good budget and was headed to Chamonix. I liked Chamonix. I was glad I didn’t turn down The Blizzard. I didn’t have a whole lot of hope for the film but it was a sensation, and it took everything to a whole other level. The Blizzard did more for my career than ten years of Warren Miller films. We ended up on the Today Show.

I was going to the premiere and hadn’t peeked at any of the edits because I wanted to be surprised. I had no idea. It could have ended up being another wacky Maltese Flamingo. Seeing it with a big crowd and having it be so successful was memorable and one of the highlights of my career. There’s something different about it. It came out right about when the VCR became affordable. So all of a sudden everybody had ski movies in their home. They wore their copies out, watching it over and over until they played a gray fuzz.

Greg is really one of the best editors in the business. The music was perfect. He took it to a whole other level. You got to know the characters. It was the right recipe.

I see Plake every now and then, but he’s super busy—I don’t hang with him. After K2 dropped some of us, I lost track of those guys.

K2 dropped me and I don’t know why. I never missed a beat and I couldn’t understand, especially for such a nominal retainer. Tim Petrick made the decision. He lost me and Plake. It’s funny how would they just abandon legends like that.

After 25 years working with photographers and filmmakers and all the travel and anxiety and the pressure and danger—I survived a lot of crazy stuff. There’s a whole new wave of guys coming up. I had my turn.

Sage is one of the smoothest out there. I love his attitude. Seth Morrison took it to a whole other level. He was the first one to really step up and consistently do that. He’s humble and quiet and he sticks it.

I’ve taken some pretty nasty tumbles and was swept away four times by avalanches and have never broken a bone. It’s a lot of luck.

Skiing has taught me everything about myself. I kind of learned how to make decisions. My skiing life has taught me how to live life—how to deal with challenges and hardships and dangers and being in the mountains.

I don’t see myself slowing down. I’m not hucking 100-foot cliffs, but I’m dropping things on the right days.

Skiing was a selfish pursuit for a long time, but it’s amazing the impact that it has had. What gives me the most pleasure is when somebody comes up and wholeheartedly thanks you for changing their life, for taking them into the mountains. An inspiration is all you can hope to be.

The ever shred-ready Schmidt at the Yellowstone Club, March 2011. Photo: Travis Andersen

The ever shred-ready Schmidt at the Yellowstone Club, March 2011. Photo: Travis Andersen

Posted In: Stories


Add a comment

  • Jerry Hoffman

    I’ll always remember your invitation to ski with you and Greg at Squaw Valley after one of our radio shows at the Squaw Valley Inn back in 85′ I think. As another Santa Cruz big mountain skier Cody Townsend follows in your tracks to greatness, I hope he can maintain your humble nature and sincere lifestyle. Hope to run into you again in Santa Cruz sometime. It’s been way too many years. Oh, one other thing Scot, please check out if you’re not already on to it.

  • Jerry Hoffman

    and happy 50th. U da man.

  • Jack Morris

    Happy Birthday, Scot! You are class act and a true role model. Your influence on the sport of skiing is immeasurable. I wish you continued success as a skier and a family man.

  • Curtis Blake

    Happy 50th, Scot…

    You truly were an inspiration to me. I’ve been in (or near) the mountains of Colorado for 20 years now and I’m still having the best days ever on skis.

    I hope you and yours have many outsanding ski days to come and I look forward to hearing more news from you in the ski world.


  • MadPatSki

    Happy 50th Scot.

    Thanks for the great interview.

    Happy that I wasn’t the only to mention Scot 50th (on my blog) and decide to point it out and celebrate one of the most influential skiers of a generation.

  • Ritch Schmidt

    Your the reason after traveling the globe surfing I took up skiing and now live the dream here in Utah. Thanks for the inspiration and Happy Bday bro!
    The skiing world needs more Scot Schmidt “s!!!
    Skiers need a platform to progress this sport in order to rival other action sports, ie. surfing. skateboarding, snowboarding, etc.
    Thanks for giving so much back!

  • Zach

    Gonna do tons of tip crosses and schmear turns in honor of THE MAN this season! Happy 50th Scott!!!

  • MIchael

    Dear Ski Hero – 50 is the new 30 – Keep Chargin’!

  • Travis Andersen

    Happy Birthday Scot! It’s been a real pleasure and honor to get to know you and ski powder with you. You inspired my generation to go big and dream big and follow the snow. Never would have guessed we’d become friends some day. Thanks! Can’t wait to do it again next year.

  • Mark Lang

    Hey Scot,

    Long time no see! Happy 50th. Remembering all the great years at Squaw back in the 80′s! The Palisades! Still going strong in the 50″s


  • Paul Lupton

    Although this post was originally done last year, I reflect on what Scot turning 50 means to me: I will still be able shred on skis at 50 myself(!), Scot (you, Glen and Mike) are the reason I ventured over to Chamonix in 1992 and again in 1994. Your segments in Blizzard inspired me beyond all imagination. Thanks for being real and humbly pushing the limits year after year.

  • Mike McCreight

    Meeting Scot in Ottawa (and having him sign my TNF suit!) was an honour, and a privilege. Might have even influenced that Paul guy! (Hi, Paul!)
    Scot is a true gentleman, and was GREAT with all of us at the event. I still watch the videos!
    Thanks for everything, Scot.

  • Nikki Kovick

    Hey Scott Schmidt! Seeing U takes me back to a time growing up with U and all the crazy times! Take care my friend,,, Nikki

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