Over the past two seasons, Sammy Carlson hasn't been invisible—he snagged parts in two TGR flicks and continued his gold medal dominance of ESPN's X Games Real Ski competition—but he has been noticeably absent from the freeski podiums he dominated for much of the last decade.
That's because on the eve of his sport's biggest international debut, the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Carlson decided to turn his back on the competition world that once put a high school junior from Hood River, Oregon, on the map. Overnight he dropped off the radar, announcing that his competition seasons were now dedicated to a two-year movie project.
Details on the project (including any sort of proposed release date) were scarce, and it was easy to wonder if Carlson was really putting anything together at all. In a sport where stars are replaced before you can say "high-speed quad," his departure seemed like a risky move for someone who was considered to be at the top of the game.
But Carlson was quietly stitching things together, putting in miles between Alaska, British Columbia, Mount Hood, Europe, and one very sketchy ski jump in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. With the help of Teton Gravity Research, the 26-year-old finally comes back to the limelight with the premiere of his film, The Sammy C Project, on Friday, November 20, in Portland, Oregon.
The 40-minute flick is packed with Carlson's signature style, but the venues have all changed. Jib lines are now pillow lines and laser-perfect booters are now big Alaskan faces. It's the same park-skier-turned-backcountry-powder-hound story we've become accustomed to, but with King Sampson the bar isn't even on this planet. Within the first four minutes of the Sammy C Project, it's clear that just because we haven't seen Carlson doesn't mean he's gone anywhere. And the 36 minutes that follow? Well, that's just a treat.
We caught up with Carlson before his film dropped to hear more about his new project and what it took to make it happen.
Unlike the Jeremy Jones and Travis Rice movies, you were in the prime of your competitive career when you embarked on this two-year project. Why was the timing right for something like this?
I was really getting burnt out on contests—it started feeling repetitive. I wanted to step away while I was still really psyched on the sport and had a lot of energy to put toward a project [like this].
How did you get TGR on board?
Todd Jones and I have been discussing it for a while and the time was right with my sponsors, and TGR was just finishing the Jeremy Jones projects. They really helped out a lot and take the movie to another level.
Speaking of timing, this is a bit of a late release, was there any reason behind that or just a "finish when we finish" situation?
We wanted to try and do something new, releasing the movie right as the snow is starting to fall and people are starting to ski. We're hoping to tour it around at different resorts as a chance to get a little more interactive with the fans. I hope that people are stoked on the movie and then can go skiing the next day instead of having to wait all fall.
We've seen snowboarding in ski films before, but why did you decide to include some in the movie and what type of influence do you draw from those guys?
Snowboarding has definitely influenced my skiing, and overall the two sports mesh really well. Tim Humphries and I are good buddies so it was natural to include him in the film and explore how both sides influence each other up on the mountain.
Taking a step out of the limelight of the ski world is nice, but also potentially dangerous in a sport that changes so quickly. How has this project affected you career-wise?
This project really helped me focus on developing my riding in a new direction instead of going and hitting every contest. I've been lucky—all of my sponsors have been on board. Really everyone sees this as a beginning, a new chapter. I look forward to skiing for many years to come, and hope to stay involved in that progression. For me, it was a big breath of fresh air and I needed the change, personally.
Were there any negatives?
Sometimes it can be scary. It's definitely nerve-wracking to take a step back from contests just hoping that my sponsors are with me. But, doing your own thing and staying true to yourself will help things work out in the end.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to drop into a nordic ski jump switch?
Man…just give'r. That whole idea came together watching Robbie Madison hit it on his dirt bike. That inspired me to make it happen and Todd Jones was on board.
When I showed up I was definitely like, "What the f#%k, maybe this was a bad idea." But we ended up pulling it off. It was a cool experience but definitely one I wouldn't go back to and try again. The speed throughout the air was crazy, the trajectory is totally different.
You're debuting this film in front of a home crowd in Portland. What are you most excited about with the premiere?
Debuting in front of a home crowd is special. I put a lot of work into it and hope that it's well received. It gets me excited for another season, really.
Do you have elementary schools showing up or what?
I hope so. There are definitely a few invited.
At the end of the day, how are you going to remember your Sammy C Project experience?
Overall, I'm just psyched on all of the different sessions and all of the different homies involved. It's a good reminder to not be afraid to do your own thing.