In 1983, a Warren Miller cameraman filming at Squaw Valley tracked down a ski bum named Scot Schmidt, whose tracks he had seen on some of Squaw’s most intimidating lines. That little mission just happened to open the door for what would become one of the ski world’s biggest legends. Beginning with 1983’s film Warren Miller’s Ski Time, Schmidt went on to star in 8 more Warren Miller movies over the next decade, traveling from Squaw to New Zealand, South America, Europe, Canada, and around the western US to shred for the camera.
Schmidt remains one of the most recognizable names in skiing. He is consistently called the godfather of American freeskiing and the first-ever professional extreme skier, and he has inspired countless skiers to chase their dreams over his three-decade career. We caught up with Schmidt to find out how it all started, what he is up to now, what keeps him going…and the one thing in skiing he didn’t accomplish.
Where are you right now?
I’m living slopeside at the Yellowstone Club, in Montana. I’m really just getting back into skiing [for myself]. After 25 years behind the camera, you just don’t get as much ski time doing that – there is a lot of standing around.
Now at the Yellowstone Club, I’m the resident ski pro; I take members and their guests out and show them around. I’ve met a lot of really amazing people, and the ski experience is pretty amazing too. It just doesn’t get the volume and traffic that other places do.
What are you doing when you are not skiing these days?
I spend my off-seasons in Santa Cruz, CA; I used to windsurf a lot, and now I mostly just surf. We have a place in Mexico that we get down to a lot as well.
How did you get your start?
My family was into skiing when I was young, so I started racing. I was doing well, and I wanted to continue being a ski racer. So I moved to Squaw Valley to chase the race dream. I had the FIS points, but I just didn’t have the money. I couldn’t afford the travel and the entry fees.
So I just took everything that I knew and took it to the cliffs. I fit in better with the guys skiing the cliffs anyway, than the race scene. I always tried to ski like Ingemar Stenmark, and my World Cup style just transcended nicely into steep skiing. Back then we were skiing 220s; it was the next best thing to a fat ski.
How did you move from being a wishful, would-be racer with no money to travel to events, to being a globe-trotting athlete in films?
One of Warren Miller’s cameramen, Gary Nate, was in Squaw Valley to film, and he figured out who the skiers were hitting the cliffs and leaving tracks. He asked me one night if I wanted to go out and film. I’d never actually seen a Warren Miller film, but we took him out for a day-it was a beautiful bluebird powder day-and then I kind of forgot about it.
But a few weeks later Warren Miller sent me a letter and asked if I wanted to start traveling and filming with them. Next thing you knew, I was in the magazines and the movies.
Did you have any idea skiing would still be your job, 3 decades later
The most amazing thing is that I am still doing it! Being a freeskier has prolonged my opportunities. I am still a little disappointed that I didn’t get my shot at racing, but…
So what keeps you going now?
I stay stoked, just the thought of skiing is enough to keep going…it’s a pretty magical sport. I didn’t think it would last this long, but it has; it’s been a pretty amazing ride.