Matt Niswonger
Scot Schmidt pioneered freeskiing in places like Squaw Valley and became the first professional skier who didn't race for a living.

Scot Schmidt pioneered freeskiing in places like Squaw Valley and became the first professional skier who didn’t race for a living.

Freeskiing legend and Santa Cruz local Scot Schmidt comes full circle in Warren Miller’s latest installment
By Matt Niswonger • Photos courtesy of Warren Miller

It’s hard to believe that this winter’s Ticket to Ride will be Warren Miller’s 64th ski movie. In the past few decades the films have become one of the most recognized brands in the ski industry, as well as an annual pilgrimage for generations of skiers.

In a segment from the movie about the joys of Montana powder, ski buffs will recognize Scot Schmidt, one of the biggest names in freeskiing, and a veteran of many Warren Miller films during the 1980s and 1990s.

Graduating from high school in Helena, Montana in 1979, Scot traveled west to Squaw Valley to pursue a professional racing career. Instead he developed a reputation as a big air specialist.

Bolder than his contemporaries, Scot pioneered many of the well-known Squaw Valley drops, eventually working his way up to world-class status.

“When I arrived at Squaw Valley in 1979 I was stoked to see some of the locals freeskiing daily on 220’s. That first season was the beginning of my transition from racing to freeskiing. Hitting the cliffs above Squaw on downhill equipment made the fast and tricky run-outs possible. Downhill was my top discipline and applying those skills to the whole mountain was both fun and challenging. It became my focus and everything just went from there,” he told ASJ in a recent interview.

Eventually Warren Miller came knocking, and this led to Schmidt being featured in Ski Time, which toured in 1983. Ski Time catapulted Schmidt into a freeskiing star, and he has been a full-time skier ever since. One of the first professional skiers to make a living outside of the competition circuit, Schmidt’s influence on the industry is hard to overstate.

In late August, ASJ caught up with Schmidt at his summer stomping grounds in Santa Cruz where he maintains fitness by surfing and working on his ranch near Soquel.


Why is splitting your time between Santa Cruz and Big Sky Montana the perfect retirement plan for a freeskiing legend?
Actually I’m working now more than ever, packing in over 120 days a winter on the hill while in Montana. I’ve been very fortunate to continue making a living out of my chosen profession. Living in Big Sky, Montana in the winter, in my opinion, is the ultimate lift service ski experience and when the season is over I’m able to enjoy Santa Cruz and everything it has to offer.

Including Ticket to Ride, how many Warren Miller films have you appeared in? Which was your favorite?
Ticket to Ride will be my 13th. I would have to say that Ski Time, my first film, is my favorite WM film. It basically launched my career in the ski film business.

What do you enjoy more these days, surfing or skiing?
I’ve been skiing since I was four years old and can honestly say it’s still something I really enjoy. Doing less film and photography work at this stage in my life has actually enabled me to get back into the essence of the sport with uninterrupted days on the snow. Surfing is a close second.

Describe your average work day as a ski pro for the Yellowstone Club.
The average day starts with skiing out the door down to the lifts to meet up and freeski with groups and individuals. No teaching, just fast fun skiing on mixed terrain that is known as the “Biggest skiing in America.”

For Skiers and snowboarders, what’s Montana got that Tahoe doesn’t, and vice versa?
Both areas have spectacular terrain, which is what drove me to each one to begin with. Montana simply has less traffic and a very cold dry climate that creates some of the best light powder in the states.

What is the Yellowstone Club?
The Yellowstone Club is a residential Club located in Big Sky, Montana. It has a multitude of activities to enjoy including an 18 hole golf course as well as the only private ski resort in the world with over 2200 acres of skiing. It has a authentic Montana vibe and attracts an very active outdoor lifestyle in its membership.


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