Outsiders: Scot Schmidt

Chris Noble/The North Face

Scot Schmidt was the poster boy of extreme skiing in the '80s and '90s.

[Editor's note: Since the very beginning, freeskiing has been a sport defined by a sense of freedom, by a lack of rules and restrictions. This interview series, called Outsiders, celebrates that individuality and limitless nature by featuring people in the ski industry who led the way with their own style. Over the past eight weeks, writer Mike Rogge has spoken to pioneering filmmaker Warren Miller, 13-year-old homeschooler Logan LaPlante, ski-BASE jumper Suz Graham, web innovator Doug Bishop and more. This is the final installment of the series.]

As one of the pioneers of the extreme skiing movement, Scot Schmidt has influenced an entire generation of today's skiers. He is the original freeskier, an outsider from the very start. And since he began appearing in Warren Miller movies in the 1980s, he has skied with his own distinct sense of style, one that's been captured in dozens of films and thousands of photographs since. Now, Schmidt spends his summers in Santa Cruz, Calif., and his winters as the professional ski ambassador at Montana's private ski area, the Yellowstone Club. In 2012, he appeared in Greg Stump's film "The Legend of Aahhh's." At 52, Schmidt still maintains sponsorships with both Stöckli Skis and The North Face.

I grew up in Montana City, Mont. We needed a family sport. When I was about four, my dad thought skiing would be a good thing to do.

I moved to Squaw Valley for racing. I was a junior racer, trying to make it. I was a downhill racer and I took that experience to the cliffs. When I got there, there were a bunch of long-haired steep skiers hitting cliffs with their 220s. The scene was jumping in and going fast.

After my second or third season in Squaw, I realized I couldn't afford the race program. I ended up hitting the cliffs with all the locals. It was a scene back then. There weren't any rules. You could tuck the mountain and everything was open. There were no closures.

I was in Squaw for 10 years. I was there at the right place and the right time.

Powder magazine took notice. [Former Powder editor] Neil Stebbins wrote a story about the freeskiing scene in Squaw Valley. The article was called 'Great Scot.' It had all the Palisades, Eagle's Nest photos, everyone was on 220s. That was when people first took notice.

Warren Miller Films showed up in 1983 and put that stuff in the film "Ski Time." They filmed all of our standard jumps we were doing off the Palisades. Of course, we probably stepped up a little bit for the camera.

That's when it became a phenomenon, when it hit the Warren Miller big screen.

Chris Noble/The North Face

Scot Schmidt skied stunts for the 1993 cult classic, "Aspen Extreme."

My style? Ingemar Stenmark was the guy I idolized. He was the most stylish World Cup racer at the time. I idolized his technique and tried to look like him.

Fortunately, my knees and my hips angulate naturally. I took that racing technique to the big mountain and it became an image. I had to work hard to hit my marks.

After being in Warren Miller films, Greg Stump started hounding me. He was the new filmmaker. "Maltese Flamingo" and "Time Waits for Snowman," those films were pretty wacky. Greg wanted me to be in his new film. I told him I didn't think I'd be a good fit. I was an ex-racer and a big mountain skier. Those guys were just a bunch of freestyle skiers from back East.

But we ended up doing "Blizzard of Aahhh's," which was a huge success. I'm so glad we pulled that one off. Greg had the right idea.

I ski 120 days a season. I'm still skiing professionally. I'm still really active. I just don't ski for the cameras as much anymore, which is kind of a nice departure.

I got back into skiing for the actual sport of it.

I think Sage [Cattabriga-Alosa] is probably one of the smoothest skiers I've seen. Seth Morrison is pretty phenomenal. There have been a lot of guys that are incredible.

I think a lot of the style has kind of gone. That stylish angulation is kind of gone. Everybody stands up straight and stomps everything and has their hands at their hips. They're doing amazing things and going really fast, but it's a different style.

There was nobody for me to follow. I kind of had to make it up. I was the first paid professional freeskier.

I kind of had to keep re-inventing it. It worked and I loved it. It was awesome, but it was tough to get the sponsors to step up.

I used to have to modify all my own stuff. I sewed my own headbands. The North Face wasn't making them, and that's what we were rocking in the '80s. Lots of headbands.

Skiing was my truest passion. I knew it would work and it did. For the kids today, I'd say don't give up. That's the most important thing. Don't be discouraged. People will try to talk some sense into you. If you want to be a skier, become one.

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