It’s not easy taking over from a legend, but with Glen Plake stepping back from Fall Line duties, next issue we welcome filmer, thinker and multiple Freeride World Tour winner Sam ‘I only know full throttle’ Smoothy.
In advance of this, Jonny Richards, who’s interviewed him plenty over the last decade, picks a handful of moments that reveal the Kiwi’s story, character, and demonstrate why he’s a good deal more interesting than your average pro skier.
From the small farming town of Cromwell, on New Zealand’s South Island, our new writer’s story is an almost regulation one. Dad puts him on skis pretty much as soon as he can walk, he starts racing, doesn’t totally happen, and then comes freeride, a move to Europe and… oh-so-nearly global domination.
He says of going into the final round of the Freeride World Tour leading, yet ending up fourth overall, after refusing to yield and totally going for it once more, simply: “That’s just my style – all-in.” He’s been like that since winning most of New Zealand’s major big mountain events as a teenager, and he’s like that now, working with heavy-hitters such as TGR, and on his own film projects and missions (see below for his plan to tackle all NZ’s 3000-ers, doffing his cap to Chris Davenport’s 14ers and Cody’s Fifty Project). You won’t be agreeing with all his says, and does, but you have to admire the mind-set, honesty, and well, sheer-bloody-minded risk taking.
Interviewing Sam for the My Mountain section (on Verbier, where he was living at the time) was illuminating. Normally it’s fairly heavy going, but he was almost too full of anecdotes. All the times patrol had extracted him with suspected broken neck, back, you name it; how he had no money so couch-surfed for months; how he bummed passes from British Army skiers; how the crazy Finns made you go home and drink all day (whatever the snow) if people didn’t cheer when a certain lift topped out; and how he’d entered the 2006 Verbier Ride at the back-end of his first season, with a moustache drawn on his face, only to find out it was permanent ink…
As to who introduced him to the European freeride mecca, blame us, with a certain Beanie Milne Home, once a regular contributor (and now married to Sam’s The North Face team-mate Xavier de le Rue) telling him he must visit, with Verbier being a freeride paradise.
Freeride World Tour’s best ever line?
Rocky, exposed, yet weirdly slushy in parts – somehow Sam managed to manufacture one of the all-time lines from this smorgasbord of shitty conditions. Turn the time machine (via YouTube) back to 2015, set the co-ordinates for Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra, and get ready for 90-seconds of technical, risky-as-f*** skiing. Sketchy comes nowhere near describing it, with our favourite shred-gambler refusing to take the pedal from the metal even at the final hit amidst the trees, with a last-moment spectacular save required after getting his right ski caught on landing.
The North Korean Chronicle
“We’re not journalists, we have no political agenda whatsoever” says Sam, sporting a mighty red beard, and often slightly concerned expression during this near 20-minute flick. Offering a rare peak behind the curtain of the DPRK, there’s plenty of the usual ski movie shit-housery, drinking, and fun. But despite this (and the lack of big-mountain steeps) it’s a film that stays with you. And makes you think. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with telling people to ski there,” (given the regime) Sam told us more recently (the movie was released in 2017). We say an impossibly difficult subject, covered far better than we ever could.
Three go wild in Vanuatu
There have been many crazy images in WTF?!, Fall-Line’s long running picture-spread, over the 20-odd years it’s been running. Skiers shredding down the hulls of upturned tankers in Kamchatka, nutcases scaling and carving down huge icebergs in Antarctica, jib sessions in abandoned falling-down communist HQs… but none have been quite as mad as Sam’s plan (with the De le Rue brothers for company) to ski an active volcano in the South Pacific Ocean. The end result looks more than a little like what shredding Mars may entail, with a ridiculously tricky journey followed by chunks of molten lava raining down as you clip-in. Sam told us at the time he needed to channel his full Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing, and even watching it (never mind doing it) entails lots of cheek-blowing-out and head shaking.
24-peak party people
As Cody Townsend’s mighty Fifty Project tours towards its suffer-fest finish line (where have you been if you’ve missed the four-season epic so far?), with fine timing Sam has announced his own odyssey. A crackers (in a good way) ski mountaineering plan to climb and shred all 24 of New Zealand’s 3,000m peaks. Beginning with Mount Aspiring on his Wanaka doorstep, he calls it a long-term challenge of the highest order, full of steep, heavily glaciated peaks, a good number that are yet to ever be skied. And the fact that only 13 people have climbed all 24, never mind careered down on their favourite Volkls, gives a good indication of what difficulties await. So best strap in over the next two years, as Sam and long-term film partner Jase Hancox detail the monumental quest.
SAM THE MAN
BORN New Zealand, July 1986
HOME MOUNTAIN Wanaka (and Verbier when in Europe)
MOTTOExperience teaches only the teachable
Describes his ski style as Fast and loose with a good deal of risk