Matt Schott. PHOTO: Christian Pondella
Matt Schott. PHOTO: Christian Pondella

Skiing is About Being Humble and Keeping Yourself in Check

Mammoth local Matt Schott is a silent assassin on the hill and a drummer for death metal off it

Originally from Seattle, Matt Schott, 44, is a long-time Mammoth resident, known locally for pushing heavy lines in the Eastern Sierra backcountry over the last 20 years, often solo and in full winter conditions. He has first descents on two of the most futuristic lines in the guidebook, Backcountry Skiing California's Eastern Sierra. That's not the only heavy thing he does: Schott is also an elite-level drummer specializing exclusively in the gnarliest possible death metal. Both through his own band, Valdur, and as a session drummer for other metal groups, Schott has established an alternate identity in the music world while living the ski life to the hilt. From skiing king lines in Chamonix and in his backyard, Schott has very quietly and privately built a ski résumé to rival any couloir connoisseur, all while rehearsing, recording, and touring all over the country.

Extreme music is challenging to listen to and to play, but just like skiing, I want that. Life is short. I can ski all day and then go home and play music and keep that same rush going instead of drooling on the bar somewhere. Same goes for the off-season. I can go play shows or make an album and get some of that feeling.

My main objective isn't to go out and be rad. Who you gonna impress, yourself? No one cares. It's fun to get your modern gear and ski really strong, but it's also about: I'm gonna take my old super G skis out and try to ski steep lines, pretend I'm Scot Schmidt for a day, make myself laugh.

The year before I went to Cham [in 2000], I was up on Tioga Pass, just hitchhiking laps on the chutes up there. On my second lap, Nathan Wallace picked me up and he was like, "You should go to the Alps." When I went, I was ready. It's about stacking experiences and becoming mentally stronger. That takes time.

Alaska for me seemed like not as much bang for your buck, whereas the Alps... I wanted to immerse myself into more alpinism and mountaineering. I didn't want to save up all year for a helicopter ride when I could go to Cham for the winter on 3,000 bucks and be James Bond.

Drumming is super intense and rigorous. Our music is ultra-rehearsed. Skiing is the same thing for me. The adrenaline rush of playing this super tight intense music is the same as when you drop into a heavy line. It's your ass if you fuck up. There's no safety net. It's the same chemicals in my head.

I've always hated mixing business and pleasure. I don't want to take skiing and try to turn it into a job. "Oh, I have to get up tomorrow to climb a peak for a photo shoot." That's the last thing I want, to have some agenda or obligation. Same thing with music--there are so many bands that lose their magic because they try to make a career of it.

I chose to turn my back on mainstream society, music, religion, whatever, at a young age. I live in the mountains to be alive and learn and be appreciative of life more than if I was just commuting down the fucking freeway on Percocet.

With experience and age, you learn that it's all about becoming humble and keeping yourself in check, connecting with nature. Not "check me out, I did this."

I gravitate toward the dark trees on a storm day. Hiding from everyone in this mysterious place...I think nature wants us to be more private, anonymous.

Drummers [in the metal world] drop like flies. Their backs go out, their necks go out, wrists...I've been really fortunate and careful to be able to keep doing that and skiing. Most of my injuries have come from drumming. Playing this brutal music is super athletic.

Mammoth has a secret scene that's thriving. People ski their asses off here, you just don't hear about it. Which is awesome.

Some locals are like, "When's Matt going to grow out of this metal thing?" Like it's not compatible with being a skier. I'm not going to grow out of metal. I'm not going to grow out of being a skier.

This story originally published in the January 2018 issue of POWDER. For more hard-hitting content, sign up today.