- Alyssa Roenigk, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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ASPEN, Colo. -- If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Unless, of course, you're 23-year-old freeskier Sammy Carlson. Coming off a 2011 season that included his first Winter X Games win in Ski Slopestyle, the cover of Powder magazine's annual photo issue and the closing segment in the Poor Boyz film "Grand Bizarre," Carlson made more changes to his unbroken program than Nick Saban when he bulldozed into Alabama. First, in November, Carlson announced he was leaving longtime ski sponsor Salomon and signing with Apo, a Swiss snowboard company that's only been manufacturing skis since 2007. That's like Lance Armstrong switching bike manufacturers in the middle of his seven Tour victories -- for an unproven, four-year-old company with no reputation in the cycling world. "Leaving Salomon was a huge decision," Carlson says. "But I'm helping Apo build their brand from the ground up."
On the heels of that announcement, last week, Carlson switched outerwear sponsors from Oakley to Nike, which launched its ski outerwear program in 2010. In 2008, Carlson was the first skier signed by Nike, but until now, his sponsorship extended only to shoes. He is retaining Oakley as his goggles sponsor.
So why all the fixing? "The change came from wanting to progress more as a skier and both companies are going to provide me opportunities I didn't have before," Carlson says. "And I'm going to be more involved than I was with the other companies." In Carlson's mind, nothing was broken, but it can always be better.
The first skier signed to Apo, Carlson spent a few months this fall working with designer Eric "Bob" Bobrowicz to create skis he says, "are super responsive, turn like a Lamborghini and have incredible flex." He has pro model park and powder skis coming out next season and was involved in crafting the design of the skis, as well as the graphics. "It's exciting to have 100 percent input into the skis I ride and once I tested them, I realized they are the best skis I've ever ridden," Carlson says. "A lot of snowboarders recognize the brand, but I'm honored to bring them into the ski world, the U.S. and the X Games."
At Nike, a company based 45 minutes from Carlson's home in Hood River, Ore., Carlson also will take a more active role in the development of their ski program. "Nike is one of the most dominant athletic brands, so they'll be able to do a lot of cool things for the sport," says Carlson, who grew up playing baseball (he was a shortstop), soccer and football (running back). I'm stoked to help bring them into skiing." Nike will reciprocate by helping Carlson continue to take his skiing beyond the park and halfpipe. "I have a dream to make a super high-budget backcountry ski movie in a few years and they're going to help me do that," Carlson says. "Travis Rice is a big influence on my skiing and is doing what I'd love to be doing. These sponsor changes were about doing more video projects and progressing what I can do on skis."
For Carlson, that means more than just learning new tricks to take to competition. In a sport where specialization has become almost as common as in mainstream sports like baseball, Carlson is as well rounded as they come. He spends much of the year filming in the backcountry, building jumps in the sidecountry and chasing as much powder as his competition schedule allows. He also spends a lot of time in the park progressing his rail riding and building jumps that allow him to learn innovative tricks. One of those tricks, the switch triple rodeo, could also win him Saturday night's Big Air competition.
"To me, any experience on skis, whether it's riding park, halfpipe or backcountry makes you that much better at the other disciplines," Carlson says. If I've been riding in the backcountry for a few months, I come back and put on my park skis and they feel like feathers on my feet. It feels effortless to rotate and get big spins around. Being comfortable on your skis is what's most important and you get that from skiing in all conditions."
To me, any experience on skis, whether it's riding park, halfpipe or backcountry makes you that much better at the other disciplines.
Carlson came to Winter X feeling confident about his skiing and ready to defend his Ski Slopestyle title, looking at Saturday night's Ski Big Air contest as, "just a bonus." But during Thursday's Slopestyle qualifier, he failed to make finals and his focus shifted. "I'm disappointed because of all the training I put in over the summer," Carlson says. "I wanted to represent a little harder in Slopestyle than I did, but that's life. I slipped off the takeoff on the last jump of my last run and didn't get the pop I needed to get the spin around. And I didn't get the score I needed on my first two runs. Now I want to go out and ride hard at Big Air."
Before Friday night's Snowboard Big Air contest, the athletes were questioning whether the jump was big enough to throw the triple. Then, in the final run of finals, Mark McMorris and Torstein Horgmo both landed triple corks, with Horgmo's earning a perfect score of 50. (McMorris won the contest, however, on the strength of his two-run score.) So now fans will certainly be looking to see the triple thrown on skis. Carlson is one of three skiers with the ability to pull a triple cork -- three off-axis rotations. In spring 2010, he became the first skier to land a switch triple cork and one of the first skiers to land a triple. In April of last year, Bobby Brown landed the first triple cork 1440 and that same month, Swiss skier Elias Ambühl became the first skier to win a contest with a triple cork. He landed a triple cork 1440 at the Jon Olsson Invitational, showing he has the ability to land the trick under pressure.
"When you start talking about triple corks, there is a huge risk," Carlson says. "For me, I have to be feeling it. Last year, I wanted to throw the switch triple, but the lip wasn't right and I knew it wasn't the right jump, so I had to ignore all the pressure and look out for number one. This year, if the jump is good, I'll test the jump a few times, throw a couple doubles and, if I'm feeling floaty, decide then and there it's time to sack up and throw one." If he hasn't proven it already, Carlson has no problem changing up his program.
If he hasn't proven it already, Carlson has no problem changing up his program