When Sammy Carlson stepped up to the bronze-medal tier of last year's Winter X 14 men's Slopestyle podium, it was the third time the shaggy-haired Oregon native had been on a Winter X podium (including Slopestyle silver in 2007 and 2009). But he's never been at the top.
Let's be straight: Earning three Winter X medals certainly does not scream disappointment. But ultimately, competitive expectations soar high for the young gun-turned-Winter X veteran, especially in the wake of throwing one of the first triples (a switch triple rodeo 1260) this past summer at Mount Hood, and notching another year of solid film segments with Teton Gravity Research and Poor Boyz Productions.
We spoke to Carlson, 22, while he was en route to Aspen, Colo., for this week's Winter X Games 15. Despite finishing 11th in slopestyle at this past weekend's Dew Tour in Killington, Vt., Carlson is confident his sixth Winter X appearance could be golden.
ESPN Freeskiing: You've obviously had success at Winter X in your five years competing in Aspen. What's your mindset heading into this year's contest, especially after last year's ultracompetitive Slopestyle?
Sammy Carlson: I think this year will be the same with the competition level. There are definitely more and more kids killing it super hard, so there are probably 10 guys in there that if they're riding really well, they could take it home. But for me, I'm just trying to do my thing and not get distracted by what everyone else is doing. I got my run down in my mind, so I'm just gonna stick to it and try to represent my style of skiing. Hopefully the judges will be stoked on it. I have some new tricks this year, so I'm gonna try and keep it super steezy and technical but definitely add a lot of style to these new tricks.
Can you elaborate on any of these new tricks? I know there will be at least a few Sammy-esque pokes on those grabs.
Oh yeah, I definitely plan on poking a few of my grabs in my rotations. But I'd rather not elaborate on those new tricks in case the jumps aren't holding.
You made a big splash in the ski-trick department last summer with the switch triple rodeo 1260 at Hood. Do you think the jumps on the Slopestyle course will allow you to throw a triple or one of your new tricks?
That trick [triple] is so big that I need a really good jump to do that. I'm not too sure if that will be able to go down in Slopestyle, but I heard the Big Air jump is looking pretty nice this year, so I'm definitely stoked to hit that and see how it feels. Like I said, I learned a few new tricks over the summer that I haven't dropped yet this year and I have them up my sleeve, so we'll see how the jumps are hitting. If they're hitting nice, I'm definitely gonna bust out some new tricks.
How much do you think about winning a gold medal?
I don't think specifically about a gold. I know what it's gonna take to win. Every comp I enter, I want to win, but sometimes the jumps won't allow for everything planned in my head. I just want to do well. If I land anywhere on the podium, I'll be stoked.
How much of your filming and big-mountain style of skiing affects your contest style and direction? Does it distinguish you from other contest skiers?
I think so. Just riding different terrain helps your skiing so much in so many different ways. Lately, you see a lot of people doing the same style of tricks; people that used to have certain styles now have completely new styles. I try and keep doing my own thing and not copy anyone else's style, so I don't look like everyone else. I think that's something that's separating me in the past from others. I'm not necessarily doing the craziest tricks out of everyone, but the way I ride down the course is hopefully appealing to the judges.
Now that you're about to compete in your sixth Winter X Games and you have three medals, how has your approach changed from past X Games?
I'm definitely more relaxed. My mindset on life in general is a lot different now that I'm older and wiser than I was as a kid. I know the routine now; I know what to expect -- we're going to have practice, what it's like in the athlete lounge and the media's going to be crazy, which I'm all used to, so knowing that all helps. But I'm still going out and trying to have a lot of fun and ski well and not put a lot of pressure on myself. It's not like it's just another X Games; I'm super stoked to go there. But if I don't do well, I know it's not the end of the world, because I used to think like that before. So if I'm feeling it, I'm definitely gonna go for it.