Jackson Hole is notorious for its expansive and untamed backcountry ski access. Professional skier Sam Schwartz feels most at home here, preferring the foreboding cliff bands and tight couloirs that make Jackson an emblematic testing ground of his sport.
Schwartz, who is a sponsored athlete for K2 Skis and local apparel company Stio, attributes his penchant for big mountain lines and launching 150-foot cliffs to his familiarity with the Tetons. His hometown of Jackson Hole provided quite the hands-on education.
After winning the Junior World Freeski Championships in 2013, Schwartz realized having the Tetons as his childhood playground gave him a serious leg up on the competition.
“I was just bred into it,” Schwartz says. “By putting in all of those days in the backcountry as a teenager, I arrived on the scene with so much backcountry knowledge compared to my peers. I understood risk management and the patience that goes along with it.”
Schwartz eventually exited the competition circuit in favor of independent film projects, which allows him to chase his perpetual goal of skiing big mountain lines “really, really fast, with style,” as he puts it.
Surprisingly, Schwartz spent zero time in a race suit growing up. He preferred freeriding with his friends and, aside from the occasional “life coach” or mentor, his greatest teacher was his own backyard. As a teenager, the highly motivated skier was inspired by watching his heroes shred his home terrain in Teton Gravity Research films.
Countless hours spent hucking backflips in the Tetons also made Schwartz a steward of wild places. He recently founded a start-up company which aims to provide sustainable solutions for large retailers. The company’s first product, which is currently in development, is a rental system for tote, bulk food, and produce bags at grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
Like many professional skiers and ski town residents, Schwartz has more than a couple irons in the fire. He bartends at Local, writes, and works in the product development and marketing side of the ski industry.
“I’m a skier first, though,” he says. “I care a lot about the art of it. It’s such a big passion of mine. And it’s fun.”
This winter, aside from having a ridiculous amount of fun, Schwartz plans on developing his mountaineering skills in order to access bigger, higher-consequence lines.
To the groms who aspire to make fun their profession, Schwartz offers advice passed down by countless Jackson Hole shredders: Always balance passion and fervor with doggedness and steadiness.