Snowboarding might dominate winter action sports, but freeskiing has been making major moves over the past few years. One of the most talented freeskiers in the world right now, 22-year-old Sammy Carlson leads a pack of riders who will be debuting their sport in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Carlson has made a name for himself at the X Games, most notably by winning gold in the 2011 Slopestyle event. He's hittin' the slopes this weekend at Breckenridge for the opening event of the Winter Dew Tour and took some time to talk to Complex about Pam Anderson, the Olympics, his favorite ski spots and more.
What’s your favorite album of 2011?
Carter IV. Wayne has always been one of my favorite rappers for sure. There was a lot of anticipation with him coming out of jail. That album has a lot of great beats, and has a lot of energy. The more you listen to it, the better it gets. I always have a lot of Wayne on my playlists.
What are your favorite sneakers to wear?
I’ve been sponsored by Nike since I was 15, so I’ve always had massive amounts of shoes. I’m a big fan of the Jordans. Nothing specific. They’re all so sick.
What’s the most money you ever spent on an item of clothing?
I’m not a huge person into fashion. I spent probably about $500 once. It was this leather jacket that I bought.
Who is your celebrity crush?
Growing up I was always about Pam Anderson. Since then I’ve grown much wiser, though. I’ve heard she’s a bit of a dirty girl, so that’s changed my mind about her a little bit.
Favorite alcoholic drink?
Rockstar Vodka. It always gets you goin’. You Always should have a good night with that.
Current video game obsession?
Skate 3. Strictly. I skate In the summertime. It’s fun to just cruise around on the board, and I go down before you know it.
I like trucks definitely, but it’d be sick to have a Bentley Continental just for crusin’. I always liked the logo.
Coveted tech product?
Computer. I need the internet.
Favorite city to visit?
I don’t visit too many cities, because I’m always in the mountains. I’d really like to visit New York City. I’d say Tokyo if I had to pick. I’ve been there four or five different times. It has crazy architecture going on. There’s one strip with so many crazy lights. It’s nuts to go down. It’s one of the most beautiful city landscapes to look at. It’s such a cool culture over in Japan. I know just enough Japanese to get by.
The last year or two, you’ve really broken onto the scene. What was the journey like to get there?
It’s been sick to be on the scene for a while now. Last season was my first gold, and it was awesome to finally experience that. It was a feeling of mission accomplished. It shows you’re working towards something, and I’ve been able to meet some of the coolest people on the way. Every year I love what I do, so it keeps me coming back.
What keeps you coming back?
The passion for the sport is ultimately what drives me. So many things come into it to keep the fire burning: Friends, family, other action sports athletes, watching other sports. Also, just people that are haters or doubters. Just the feeling of skiing keeps me coming back. Riding down the mountains is almost like flying. You’re just floating, especially when you’re powder skiing. When you get in the air, it’s like you defy gravity for a couple seconds. Everything is so free. There are no worries on the mountain.
How have things changed since you were first getting started?
I have that feeling of mission complete and now I’m just setting new goals. I experienced that feeling the first year of going and not winning, so I had to keep at it. Now it’s a feeling of going back to see if I can do it again and testing the boundaries. Before it was more of a grind. It’s a super rewarding feeling. After I won, it was just a feeling of clarity for a while. I felt on top of the world.
How do you go forward from here?
Now that Olympics are coming to the sport, that’s one thing I think about.
How are the Olympics different from what you’ve done so far?
To me it is not a completely different level. For skiing, the X Games are the highest level of competition, because everybody is already competing there. It’s just a bigger platform, a different stage now. With the Olympics, it’s cool to get the sport out there to a bigger audience, but I’m not that blown away by it. I’m stoked about it, but it was always about the X Games growing up. That was always where some of the most superhuman things were going on in the world. Now that skiing is a part of the Olympics, I’d like the opportunity to show the world what we can do. X Games has always been the shit, though. Gold in the Olympics and gold in the X Games mean the same to me.
You hit up Mammoth Lakes in California every year. How’d that become one of your spots?
I heard about Mammoth, because a lot of the top skiers were out there. It had some of the biggest jumps there and had a strong reputation for being the biggest and best place in the world. It has one of the best chair lifts in the world. It’s so fast there, and the weather is always great.
What are your favorite slopes?
Growing up I always skied up at Mount Hood in Oregon, which is year-round skiing.
One of the coolest things I’ve been able to do through all of this was when I got to put together a movie called On Top of the Hood.
How’d that come about, and what was it like?
I always grew up skiing at that mountain, and I’d see a ton of stuff hiking around in the summer. I’d constantly see this giant ridge in the distance and was like, man, if we could get over there, we could build the sickest jump. I thought some day I was going to get the right crew and sponsors and do a summer project with it. We finally had such a good season with my X Games gold, that my sponsors got behind the idea. We were able to get a budget together and got a great crew of cinematographers and skiers together.
We had to build everything by hand and hike to all the jumps, because we couldn’t take the snowmobiles out there. We had to hit it over and over again and walk back every time. We went out for about two months straight everyday until 10 at night. We really got to explore the mountains, and go farther west than i had ever gone before. It was such a sick experience. I was able to hang out with an amazing group of guys, and the footage that we got was some of the best we’ve ever captured.
How important is it for you to be able to go back to your crew every year?
That’s what’s so sick is that every year you come out, and everybody goes out. We always get together even just for a few weeks during the season. The bonds and passions are so tight. It’s so important to have those relationships. I’ve met some of the best and most motivating people through everything. By maintaining those relationships, they’ve helped shape me to be the way I am. It’s super important for me not to forget who I am. You need to remember all the things you have been through. That’s what makes it feel really good or feel real.
There’s this kid Willie Borm from Minnesota that I’ve known since he was nine, and he just made his first appearance in the Dew Tour and qualified second. Watching him grow from nine years old to now 14 years old is super sick.
Are you his mentor?
I wouldn’t use the word mentor. I’ve tried to help show him the way and take care of him when he needs it, but he does it all on his own. He reminds me of myself. He just wants to keep progressing. I love seeing that drive and watching him create a career. I know he’ll be winning X Games one day for sure. I always just remember when I was a kid, I had some sick mentors at Hood that showed me the ropes and made sure skiing was as fun as possible for me. I’m just trying to make sure Willie has the same thing and the same opportunities. It's definitely been a crazy journey.
One of your most famous moments was when you landed a triple cork. Tell us about that.
It was up on Hood two years ago. We built one of the biggest jumps ever specifically for that. It had a super poppy lift with a big top landing. That was what feels like flying. It really felt like I was defying gravity. That was just so sickening. I blew my own mind when I landed that. I never thought I would do a triple flip, so I was super stoked. I was the first to do a switch triple cork. It wasn’t a straight, feet over the head flip, it was a cork or rodeo flip, so the style was different.
What's your mindset going into this new season?
I’m definitely skiing to win, but at this point, my point is to give it my all and never hold back. It’s the first event of the year, and I have a run I want to do. I'm just going to stick to my gameplan, not worry about others. I want to run it clean and use it to build. No need to stress out about it. My main focus is the X Games, but I want to represent for myself and my sponsors.