Reigning Two Time Champ Sammy Luebke Talks The Freeride World Tour

Well earlier this season the plan was to have a nice piece of reading from all Sammy’s stops during his 2nd annual demolition of the Freeride Word Tour. Yeah that’s right the guy won again. Well we made it through one post before he went rouge on a quest to reach the highest vantage point in which to soak a crowd of his fellow competitors and buddies with champagne. Hey Sammy if you’re reading this the ten percent rule still applies to those of us sitting in the office editing out your “ums” and “likes” from this interview. Finally the other day we got a hold of the illusive Tahoe-ian and spoke with him about everything from mowing down the competition for the second straight year to the fact that he probably won’t have to mow his lawn until June with all that snow still piled high up there by his home in the Sierras.


So you won the world title again this year, second time in a row. You won four out of five events, right?


Are you the first person to ever do that, ski or snowboard?


Are you starting to receive a lot more attention as a result and how do you feel the Freeride competition scene differs with the typical Slope and Halfpipe scene?

Not really at home, but for sure in Europe. In Europe, the Freeride World Tour is definitely a lot bigger. It'll even be on the news in various countries. People follow freeriding over there with the Alps being in their backyard - their countries are chock-full of mountains. The mountaineering lifestyle and skiing is ingrained in their life growing up. In Switzerland or France most people are very aware of what skiing is, as opposed to here in the United States where that might not be the case. Think if you're from the deep South, or Central Plains or whatever, a person who has never even seen snow in their life and have concept of what skiing or snowboarding is. 

Freeriding is a pretty small tight-knit community of people who are passionate about the mountains as opposed to halfpipe and slopestyle riding, like X-Games or the Olympics. Everyone is pretty much on the same page on the tour - there to have a good time, experience new mountains and root for each other to do their best. It’s definitely different than typical contests where everyone is there just trying to win. They're rooting against everybody who could beat them, even their friends. The Freeride World Tour is definitely not the same in that matter.

Speaking of that sense of community, are you kind of stoked that freeriding is not in the Olympics?

Yeah, I'm pretty stoked about it. The fact that it's not in the Olympics is probably due to how difficult the events are to judge. Halfpipe and slopestyle, people said the same thing I guess, but at least the courses can be very objective. For freeriding you need proper conditions, the lack of human control would make it difficult to hold an event in its current format. Progression wise, I feel that freeriding to this point is still growing, whereas halfpipe and slopestyle are kind of nearing the end of where progression can go. People keep chucking more, but a some point you can't really do much more with a 30 or 40-foot tall jump. Whereas freeriding, you don't need any of that. You don't need park builders or people spending tons of money to build a halfpipe. You just need the mountain and good conditions. Not being in the Olympics is cool because we get to keep our community core, but I guess in the future it could be cool, if the Olympics can get it right. I think freeriding is the fastest growing discipline in skiing and snowboarding right now. There are freeride programs popping up all over different resorts, and now there is coaching for it with so many kids getting more into it.

You grew up through freestyle and were more into the whole contest scene when you were young, and then you made the switch? You've been freeriding forever, but what or when was the transition where you discovered freeriding and its opportunities? 

When I started snowboarding in Alaska, we didn't have parks or pipes so we watched those things on videos. We pretty much only shredded the mountain and what it had to offer. At that time, I guess you could say, I was freeriding; we just rode whatever was there. But I definitely wanted to ride a halfpipe and park because that was all new to me. I started competing and that gave me an outlet to go ride halfpipes and hit kickers and stuff. I was doing slopestyle and halfpipe contests like lots of young kids - doing USASA contests to go through to Nationals and compete on a national level. I remember always wanting to do well. I loved snowboarding and my brother and all his older friends did it, so I was super into that. I moved to Tahoe and they had parks, pipes, rails and stuff. I really soaked all that in and I loved it for sure.

My whole beginning was based on wanting to do freestyle, halfpipe, slopestyle, learn different tricks, and just kind of be in the snowboard community. I was stoked on competing like that probably until one year that I got hurt doing a contest. I think my sponsors were kind of like "Oh, you're hurt?" I'm like "Yeah, like I'm hurt." They made me feel bad for being hurt, like I was lying or something. They were trying to push me to keep competing and I didn't really like that pressure. So then I got the opportunity to start filming when I was around 16 for The Community Project, and that was like, my first taste of freeriding that year. That was it. From that point on I was like "I want to freeride and go on the backcountry and ride backcountry jumps and stuff”.

Even then I didn't really understand freeriding as much as I do now. I was just trying to get out in the backcountry, because that's what was going on at the time. Being around people like Travis (Rice) and (Kyle) Clancy, they were kind of my peers. That and then in Tahoe seeing the freeride scene at Squaw and whatnot, that's probably when I started transitioning into more big mountain riding and just started to use what the mountain had to offer instead of spending my whole day in the park. I filmed for years and years up until one year I was asked to do these freeride events. I was stoked because I liked competing but I was sick of the halfpipe and slopestyle scene and how whack everybody was towards each other. I did my first freeride contest when I was 16 or 17. I experienced the community first hand and saw how stoked everyone was and how much fun everyone was having.

That kind of put my mind in a different set where I could just focus on going out in the mountains, get more involved with learning about them and how to stay safe in them. Just enjoying being out there, you know? I didn't have to ride every single day, I could go and try to pick the best days, find the best snow, keep my body healthy, still progress and push the sport in my own way. It’s definitely a huge difference from when I started to where I'm at now. It's like full freestyle to the full opposite.


How is it having two kids and a wife, your place in Tahoe, a dog - all these roots but still going out and doing these world tour events, filming and doing whatever else you do during the winter. How do you find that balance?

It's definitely harder than it used to be. My wife now, Kelly, has been my girlfriend from when I was 16, so she's kind of always been around. Back then it was a lot easier for me to leave knowing that there wasn't really anything back home to worry about. There was no pressure; I could just go on any trip on a whim. I would just pull the trigger and go. It was different then. Having kids obviously is really hard because you want to balance your time at home.

Your kids are going to be there with you the rest of your life. You don't want to leave them at home too long. Now that they're getting older they know when I'm leaving on trips, it's hard on me because I see that they get sad and stuff. I've really got to look at if the trips are worth it for me, you know, weighing out how many days I’ll be gone for.

It's really finding what's important, having my wife at home who supports me is a huge factor. If I didn't have her here at home willing to watch the kids and take care of them while I'm gone, I wouldn't be able to travel, whereas someone who doesn't have kids can just be nomadic. I know a lot of people who are living out of vans and just camping and doing whatever they're doing. I love that lifestyle, but that being said, I'm have to think on the lines of two people instead of just myself.

You've got to weigh out what's more important, what's going to work for your season and what's going to be the best for the whole family. The family is always most important. I’m trying not to add too much to my plate now to make it a lot easier for me to focus on these contests and balance that time with my family. Maybe I'll go back to filming if I'm not competing, but I think just finding the right balance is really hard when you're a father and a husband. I think it's made me responsible and able to really take care of my shit during the summer so that during the winter I can shred harder and provide for my family.

Something I think a lot of people don't know about you is that you still live the dream, but it’s the actual normal person’s ski bum dream of working during the summer, saving their money and then snowboarding or skiing all winter. You still are a professional and still kind of do that, right?

Yeah for sure. Summer means work. I work in the summer, I watch over the kids when Kelly works all the time too. For me it's working hard, saving money and finding a balance of the things in your life that are important. I don't need to spend money on certain things that aren’t needed because I know in the wintertime I'm going to need that extra cash to go here and there. Also if you just look around and try a little harder, you can find cheap budget ways of getting around. Traveling to Europe for me for instance is like, yeah it's expensive but this is probably my fifth year doing the tour. There are ways of keeping things cheap - whether you're making friends with people and sleeping on couches, staying at hostels, or splitting housing with a big group of people to offset prices.

For me, I'm lucky enough to make a decent amount in the wintertime and during these contests especially is another decent way for me to make an extra dollar. At the same time I believe you get back out of snowboarding what I've put into it. Some people say they can't afford it, but I think if you work hard enough all summer long, you can save up plenty to go ride. Get a season pass, get a splitboard or buy a sled - something that helps you get to the mountains. You don’t have to own a super expensive house in the most expensive place and buy tickets every day to go ride. You can still have a successful winter in the mountains. Super passionate people will give their last nut to shred all winter, those guys are going to work hard, they're going to find the cheap ways and budget ways to keep the shred going.

For me, I ride one mountain. Whether it is a crappy day or a pow day, I ride Squaw. That's my go to. If I go splitboarding around here, there are so many places to find turns. There really is endless terrain. You can spend your days in there and appreciate it just as much as the pro who did it for his whole entire life, you know?

One last question. Where do you see the future of freeriding going, the Freeride World Tour, all that kind of stuff? Do you see it growing? Do you see more freestyle? Do you see the movement of people kind of going to the same place you're going, where you kind of are?

There's a change, man. It definitely used to be more billy-goat-esque, just a person making it down the mountain was good enough. Now I see it going more towards people implementing their style in the mountain. People are finding cool ways down the mountain and looking at it where they're like "Oh, look there's a hit there," or like, "There’s a sick jump right there and a good landing."

There's definitely a different vision of freeriding coming alive, especially from these contests. I think it's definitely getting bigger, freeriding and freeride events. Like I was saying, there's things like freeride teams now. At Squaw they had a moguls team years ago and I think there's less people on the moguls team now than the freeride team, which didn't exist up until I don't know how many years ago, but definitely recent. Kids are signing up to freeride, and there are coaches for it; it's growing very quickly.

People can go out and enjoy the mountain and the terrain that it has to offer without moving somewhere based on their park or pipe that they have. That’s what I think is the best part of it, we’re moving into a direction that will provide for funding for freeride events. There's going to be more opportunity for these events to get better. In the future, once this contest gets bigger, it will have two or three runs so that people can really put down something sick - throw a seven in there or a nine, not worried about maybe crashing or something like that.

Then maybe we move to more events like Supernatural, where we've got kickers, pat-down takeoffs, there's freeriding and freestyle hand in hand. It's not just like an invite-only type of contest like Supernatural, but maybe one where you can qualify like the US Open. People can come in who are no-names and become somebody. That's where I think it's going. I think freeriding is progressing in that way. Once the Olympics stuff kind of cools down again, people are going to start investing time back into it, I think that's probably the best thing for the sport right now because splitboarding is getting huge and people are out producing all these sick powder boards in all these sick shapes, different styles that don't cater to just freestyle. It's kind of cool to see it go back to where it all started. I think freeriding's going to progress further down the road, so I’m pretty hyped for it.

Perfect. That's it, dude. That's all I got. I appreciate it.