Freeriding. Riding free. The sought-after powder enveloping us and making us feel good. It’s as simple as that. How many of us really understand what it means to be able to follow our instincts and just ski down a face? Very few, I believe.
It is true that, in the words of Stefano de Benedetti, “As long as you push your boundaries, you will feel the same emotions I do”. It is also true, however, that judging what risks to take and how to tackle them is not something one can easily master.
In Courmayeur for the Swatch Freeride World Tour 2014, I caught up with Samuel Anthamatten. A focused gaze and swift, precise turns on the snow. That is how I imagined him to be. Born and bred in Zermatt, Samuel smiles easily, has gentle manners and does not take himself too seriously.
You grew up in a family of talented men (in addition to Samuel, there are his older brothers Simon and Martin), who all accomplished a lot.
Well, we have a younger sister, too! But she is not climbing, nor competing.
She must have decided to step aside and do her own thing. That’s interesting. You are a talented professional skier and became a mountain guide at 24. That’s a very young age!
Well, I could have become a guide at an even younger age, but at 19 I decided to focus on Patagonia, so the training had to be postponed. I don’t think that age matters so much in this profession. Experience clearly plays a part, but if you grow up in the mountains, then you surely possess a preparation unlike others.
How do you divide your time between being a mountain guide and doing your own projects?
Well, right now I am working less in the winter as a mountain guide, as I am channelling my energies towards my life as a professional skier. I will then take up work again in the summer. It is good to work. If you keep on doing what you want all the time, then you get lazy and don’t really value what you are doing, you may fail to see what a privilege we have in having this profession. Yes, I think we really are privileged, and being able to make a living out of our passion is just the icing on the cake.
Freeriding has taken up most of your life. What magic does it hold for you?
In general I don’t like to have guidelines when I ski, nor follow somebody’s tracks. I love to pursue my instinct and if I see a line that I know I can ski, even if somebody else may have deemed it undoable, then I just go. That’s where the freedom lies. I can tour the mountains and spot I route I find intriguing and just ski down it. I don’t think many people can do that. Of course, ski “tourism” is reserved for those who stay on groomed slopes, which plays a big part as well.
Certainly because not everyone has the courage to take the risks related to adventurous choices.
Well, you need to have the right techniques to venture on such a terrain, and very few people master them. As Andreas was saying in the film (Andreas Fransson in Mission Steeps, premiered for Italy in Courmayeur), probably only 1% of skiers can really push the boundaries. That is a very small percentage and this figure says a lot about the difficulties of extreme skiing. If you are in that 1%, you have many more opportunities of exploring and tackling new challenges. We may also apply this to any discipline, from mountaineering to climbing and bouldering. Elite athletes are free to push the boundaries and can do almost anything they wish for. There is of course a limit for everybody, and if you do not see that limit, the consequences may be fatal.
Sure. So what about the risks involved?
Well, if you are freeriding or mountaineering, you always take risks. To an extent, you can calculate them, but it is also down to experience and preparation. Some people may appear to be taking more risks, but they are actually better prepared than others. The Freeride World Tour competition, for instance, is deemed as dangerous and even silly by common skiers, but that is just because they haven’t trained and are not as prepared as we are. Going down such extreme routes is quite a common thing for us.
So what do you expect from this year’s Freeride World Tour?
I think the best approach is not to expect anything at all. That way I always ski at my best.
That’s a good attitude. What’s the atmosphere like among the other riders? Is it very competitive?
We clearly all share the competitive aspect, but we all talk to each other to see what lines one is following, share views and ideas, and so we are just like friends catching up. This event gives us the chance to meet, talk about what we have done and the atmosphere is usually very relaxed.
It is therefore completely different from other sports, for instance ice climbing.
Well, when I was in the Ice Climbing World Cup, the atmosphere was dissimilar from the way it is today. We were a bunch of friends, getting together to have fun. But then the rules became stricter and stricter, and that made the whole mood rather tense, killing the vibe of the sport. Perhaps in a few years we will see less and less ice climbing competitions as these may well destroy this sport. I also think it should stay the same in the freeride domain. If you set too many rules, then the spirit of the game is lost and you prevent this sport from evolving.
You have taken part in two films with Xavier de le Rue, White Noise and Mission Steeps. What is your relationship with him?
Xavier is a cool guy, I like him a lot. He is training for the Olympic Games in Sochi at the moment and so that is taking up all his time. I wish him all the best there, and when that is over, we will surely do something else together.
How about your own projects?
I would like to progress with my skiing technique. Perhaps join Jeremy Jones, who has recently been to the Himalayas: that would be a fun trip. Or maybe Alaska again.
You achieved a lot while climbing – Freerider, Yosemite, Cerro Torre, Jasemba, Nepal, Peuterey Integral to name but a few – and this shows your versatility as a professional climber, professional skier and mountain guide. Is it difficult to keep track of everything?
Well, I want to take advantage of this flexibility and the skills I acquired over the years. It would be ideal to climb nice peaks and then ski down them. I was in the Yosemite Valley with Simon in 2010 and we climbed El Cap ten times in one month: that was a great experience and I would like to have similar ones, but in climbing you need to train constantly in order to obtain good results. I have skied so much over the past few years that my legs have developed very strong muscles, so not ideal for steep over-hanging climbing!
Do you often ski in the Freeride Paradise region, Alagna, Gressoney and Champoluc?
Sure, you can easily get there from Zermatt. You ski down the Piccolo Cervino and then find your way… That’s the thing with Freeriding. If you have the ability, you can always find new terrain to explore and test your abilities. It’s a world I truly cherish.
Watch Samuel in action here http://www.swatch.com/en/swatch-tv/1935530178001
and here http://vimeo.com/77157212
Samuel is sponsored by Swatch, Mountain Hardwear, Black Diamond, Julbo, Bayard Sport, New Rock Sport