The Legend of Jumping Scot Schmidt
We dug into the archives to take a look back at the 1986 SnoWorld article that documents Scot Schmidt's transition from B-circuit ski racer to daring, world-renowned freeskier and skilebrity.
Most skiers who have become identifiable by more than family and friends have won gold medals or set speed records. Scot Schmidt gained recognition by leaping off cliffs.
For Scot, the route to the edge of a cliff began in Helena, Montana, and had its roots in a promising racing career. After graduating from high school in 1979, Scot moved west to Squaw Valley to continue the search for points and ever higher rungs on the competition ladder.
"My goal at the time was to be a professional ski racer," Scot said. "My points were really good, but I didn't have the money to travel and go to the FIS races that I qualified for.
"I was working five days a week and racing and training on weekends. That’s when my results got worse and worse. I wanted to race professionally, but there weren't any B circuits at that time, so I just raced in fun races.
"I worked for the race department in Squaw Valley as a pace setter and a course setter for the Nastar program."
Squaw Valley has terrain that can be a challenge to any skier accustomed to speed. Scot's adventures in the upper reaches of Squaw Valley led to his first appearance in a Warren Miller film.
"I had developed a reputation as being one of the more daring skiers at Squaw Valley. One day Warren Miller showed up with a camera crew and they asked me to ski for them.
"We had a perfect day - the snow was good, everything right for jumping and skiing some chutes. When Warren Miller saw the footage, he was really impressed.
"I got a letter a couple of weeks later saying that it was the most exciting footage he'd seen in a long time and asked me if I would be interested in going along the next time he filmed in a foreign country. I wrote back and said yes."
Scot Schmidt's first appearance in a Warren Miller movie was in "Ski Time" doing what he does best at Squaw Valley. He appeared again in "Ski Country" and" Steep and Deep" skiing in New Zealand, and is back again this year skiing in the Alps in "Beyond the Edge."
Jumping for Scot is that extra dimension that most of us look for but rarely find in our own skiing.
"Jumping is a little like downhill racing. I free ski mostly on 220 cm downhill racing skis. Squaw Valley is good for jumping, because it's well groomed and you can get a lot of speed. There are cornices, ridges and cliffs. It's fun going fast off those things."
"My racing background helps my jumping ability. I don't know what makes me any better than anyone else. But I guess it's being used to speed. Downhill was my best event. I always enjoyed downhill racing.
"I had considered doing some speed skiing, but I'm not too interested. It involves a lot of sidestepping. You spend all day getting up the mountain for one or two runs. It is also expensive. I didn't have the money for the suit, the helmet and all the special equipment it takes."
Is it possible to make a living on skis without being a world-class racer?
"There isn't a lot of money in making ski movies, but I've been happy to do it. It's been a living. I've been able to travel all over the world, so I can't hold down a regular job. I spent most of last winter in Europe and some time this summer in Argentina. We had a fantastic time.
"I'm signing sponsor contracts this year. It's mainly because of my being in Warren's movies that all these things are happening. The guys in Warren's office are really good and they are doing a lot of negotiating for me. They're good to work with."
After traveling in Europe and skiing in New Zealand and South America, Scot still considers Squaw Valley his favorite place to ski.
"I like Squaw Valley," Scot said, "but because of insurance rates, some of the steepest chutes and places we used to ski have been closed. So the good old days are gone. We can't do what we used to do.
"There's no problem like that in Europe. That's why I enjoy Europe so much. You can do whatever you want to do. Everything is so much bigger and it's not patrolled the way it is in the U.S. You have to be very careful. There is avalanche danger and there are glaciers everywhere, so there are holes and crevasses to look out for. It can be dangerous."
In Europe, Scot worked with two different cameramen. Fletcher Manley was in Europe for about six weeks, and Gary Nate shot additional footage near the end of the season. For Scot, it was his first trip to Europe and first experience traveling in Europe.
"The weather was really never very good," Scot said. "There were very few sunny days, and we sat around for weeks waiting for the sun to come out. The skiing was about like I expected. The areas are just so big. The things you can do there are endless.
"But the jumbos I've done at Squaw Valley will be the biggest I'll do. I think I've reached my limit and I don't expect to jump any higher than I already have.
"I've probably jumped 130 feet, vertically about 80 feet. That's about like jumping off the top of an eight-story building. The last big jump I did, I was coming in so fast that it was really scary - but that's what made it so much fun. After that landing, I knew I couldn't go much higher.
"I've always liked the challenge. Sometimes I'm not sure I want to do what I'm doing, but I'll end up doing it anyway because I like pushing myself. I think that's the greatest thrill."
Cliff jumping isn't a subject likely to be taught in even the most advanced ski classes, so anyone interested in exploring that other world will be self taught.
"You don't want to go up there and start leaping off things," Scot said. "I worked myself up to the bigger things by starting off with little cornices and cliffs. I got a pretty good feel for what I could handle and what I couldn't
"At Squaw Valley we had the 90 meter Olympic jump. Four years ago we could pack it out and run that. I think going off the 90-meter hill on downhill skis was one of the greatest thrills I've ever had.
"We did it a number of times. We would just climb all morning, ump and then go skiing in the afternoon. We got about the same distance with downhill skis as we would have with jumping skis. We were landing on the lower end of the steep section just before the compression. I'm not sure how far it is - almost 90 meters."
Although skiing north of the equator in the winter and south of the equator in the summer make skiing almost a year around occupation, Scot has been developing his boardsailing skills while living in Santa Cruz, California.
"I'm starting to get into it professionally," Scot said. "I’m sponsored by O'Niell, The North Face and Windwing designs. Windwing makes my sails.
"Windsurfing is definitely an advanced sport. With eight-foot wave boards, the thrill is the same as skiing. It's not one of the most difficult things I've learned, but it's good for me because I'm learning something new. I've done so much skiing it's nice to get the same thrill out of doing something else."
After a few days windsurfing in the fall, Scot was scheduled to appear with Warren Miller at some of the showings of "Beyond the Edge."
"It's fun seeing the response of the audience to the movie," Scot said. "People really enjoy the shows - they're great. It's fun to share that experience.
"I know there are a lot of kids gunning for me now. When I do the shows and they see what I do, they think I have the greatest job in the world. There will probably be some young guys going for it. I like that. I really enjoy what I am doing now."
- Published in the 1986 SnowWorld