U.S. Ski & Snowboard recently announced its U.S. Ski Team nominations for the 2022-23 season. Of the 22 athletes named to the team this season, six were not on the previous year’s roster, either newly named or renamed: Michael Earnhart, Walker Hall, Zak Ketterson, Will Koch, Finn O’Connell, and Sammy Smith.
To help fans get to know these new(er) faces, FasterSkier is doing a series of interviews, providing insights into the factors that have contributed to development, progress, and growth for these athletes last season. In this installment, we talk to Sammy Smith about her participation and success in numerous sports, the charity she and her siblings founded during COVID, and her nomination to the U.S. Ski Team D-Team.
At Junior World Championships in Lygna Norway this past February, Smith finished 5th in the skate sprint and 11th in the 15k skate. She also finished 10th in the skate sprint at Senior Nationals in Soldier Hollow in January 2022 racing amongst the senior women’s field.
Not only is Smith a successful cross-country skier, but she has also achieved impressive results in running, soccer and freestyle skiing. During her freshman year of high school Smith won the 1,600 and 3,200 meter events at the Class 5A Idaho state meet, leading her to be a finalist for the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards.
Ella Hall/FasterSkier: You’re sixteen, does that mean you’re a junior in high school?
Sammy Smith: I actually just finished my Sophomore year of high school (our school got out last week), so I will be a junior in the fall.
FS: And do you live part of the year in Boise and spend the winters in Sun Valley?
SS: Yes, I live in Boise for the fall, spring, and summer. Although during the summer I am often gone a lot, and we frequently go up to Sun Valley. I go to Boise High School for the fall and spring, then I move to Sun Valley for skiing for the winters and while I’m there, I go to the (Sun Valley) Community School.
FS: From what I’ve gathered you’re involved in quite a lot of sports, can you tell me which sports you competed in this year?
SS: Currently I cross-country ski, play soccer, run track and cross-country, and freestyle ski. This year, I competed in all of the above, except freestyle skiing. Unfortunately, I sustained an injury in the late fall that prohibited me from jumping so I was unable to compete in freestyle. My track season was also cut short because of an injury but I’m healthy now.
Soccer and nordic are definitely my two primary sports. For soccer, I am actually in the US U17 Women’s Youth National Team training pool. I was selected as an alternate for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) tournament this spring. That meant I only participated in the pre-camp, then returned home prior to the tournament kicking off. I aspire to compete for the full US Women’s National Team (WNT) one day, and hopefully will have the opportunity to represent my country in two different sports.
FS: How and when did you start nordic skiing?
SS: I initially got involved in nordic skiing because of my older sister. When I was five, my parents had signed my sister up for SVSEF’s devo program, and naturally I wanted to do everything she was doing, so I began to pick up the sport as well.
FS: I read that you and your siblings started a charity during the pandemic, can you tell me a little about that?
SS: My siblings and I founded GO BIG, a 501 (c3) certified charity, during the spring of 2020. GO BIG stands for Giving Opportunity By Inspiring Gratitude. Through the charity we aim to make a positive impact on less privileged youth in our area. We have been so fortunate to grow up the way we have, we want to help those who haven’t. We work to provide these kids with mentorship, as well as resources to help them – like books and other educational tools, and sporting equipment.
Our goal is to inspire a sense of gratitude in these youth because science has shown that those who experience a sense of gratitude are more likely to feel good about themselves and pass that feeling along to others, thus helping spread good through the community and beyond.
FS: You had some pretty exciting results at World Juniors in Lygna Norway this winter, can you talk a bit about the contributing factors/support system that helped you achieve those results?
SS: I owe a huge thank you to my coaches in Sun Valley, especially Rick Kapala, because he and I made a really thorough and thoughtful training plan going into the Championships. I think having such a detailed plan allowed me to come in more prepared, and in better form than I could have imagined.
I was fortunate enough to have Paul Smith as my wax tech who worked a lot with me on ski selection, and taught me what to look for in a pair of skis throughout the season, and how to decide between them when it seems like the glide is comparable.
Going into World Juniors, I had a lot of new skis from Salomon, and I didn’t really know a lot about them, but fortunately Paul was incredibly helpful. I relied on him heavily to help me test and decide how to organize my fleet before I left. And once we were in Norway, he made sure I was testing the appropriate skis, and helped me choose which pair I was racing on each day. I’m incredibly grateful for Paul’s help, and the support from Salomon.
In addition, the U.S. Ski Team support system was unlike anything I had ever been part of before. Our pre-camp was designed perfectly to help us peak for our races, and once we arrived in Lygna, we had access to even more resources. It truly was a trip designed to help young skiers have the best races of their lives.
FS: What excites you most about being named to the U.S. Ski Team?
SS: I’m most excited about the incredible opportunities that come with being named to the U.S. Ski Team. Being able to train with the best skiers in the country, and some of the best in the world, is an unparalleled opportunity for growth and development. I think when you are put in an environment where you are surrounded by people who share a common passion and common goals, naturally you improve. I can already feel the great sense of community and support from the more experienced skiers and it makes me so excited to train and race alongside them in the future.
I also think the U.S. Ski Team has invaluable resources and tools to help all the athletes become the best version of themselves, and I love to compete and am always looking to improve, so that’s really exciting to me.
FS: What are some of your goals for the upcoming season?
SS: I was really fortunate to have some great results at last year’s World Juniors, and I want to continue to build off of that for next season. So, my primary goal for the season is to finish top three at World Juniors.
FS: Will you be able to join any upcoming USST camps this summer/fall or will you be primarily focused on your other sports until winter rolls around?
SS: It is certainly a priority of mine to get to some of the upcoming camps, but it’s always a balance, so right now I’m trying to figure out scheduling for both soccer and skiing.
Growing up in Washington’s Methow Valley, Ella was immersed in skiing and the ski community from a young age. From early days bundled in the pulk, to learning to ski as soon as she could walk, to junior racing, a few seasons of collegiate racing, and then to coaching, she has experienced the ski world in many forms. Now, as a recent graduate from Dartmouth College, she finds herself living in France splitting her time between teaching English at a university in Lyon, avidly following ski racing (and now writing about it!) and adventuring in the outdoors as often as possible.