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Sunday, August 28, 2011
Updated: August 30, 1:58 PM ET
Sam Smoothy and the NZ freeski scene

By Olivia Dwyer
ESPN.com

Sam Smoothy recently won New Zealand's World Heli Challenge.

The name Sam Smoothy should sound familiar. He just won New Zealand's World Heli Challenge, after all. It was a satisfying result for the Kiwi freeskier, who was coming off his first season on the Freeride World Tour. His rookie campaign was a roller coaster ride of injuries, exhausting travel, and frustrating results -- he missed the cut for the tour's Verbier finals by one spot. He's determined to improve this year, starting this week at the big-mountain portion of the New Zealand Freeski Open, a Freeride World Qualifier event taking place in September. Smoothy is also catching up on school, but he interrupted a study session to answer ESPN Freeskiing's questions about the FWT, overcoming obstacles, and the New Zealand freeskiing scene.

What was different about the level of competition on the Freeride World Tour?
I felt my skiing was there, it was just more a case of being ready to give my all against these guys I've looked up to and seen in movies and in all these competitions -- just being in the right frame mentally and physically so it was a level playing field.

During the season, you injured your knee, neck and ankle. Did you ever feel like giving up?
I'm a stubborn animal, and despite it going badly I was just going to give it everything I had. I had put so much into it and I felt so strongly that I could do this if I gave it my all. I tried to keep a cool head, which didn't quite work at times, but I had my friends there as well and they were good at keeping me going and keeping me focused on what I really wanted.

What's next for you?
At the moment I've got a little tear with the cartilage in my knee, again. I got that landing my bottom cliff on the Extreme Day at the World Heli Challenge. But next on the agenda would be doing some filming for Volkl with all this good snow we have. We have two Freeride World Tour qualifying stops in New Zealand, so I'm pretty excited to get in there and compete. I'm looking to win those two. I'm sitting on the cusp of wildcard for the Freeride World Tour at the moment, so I'm trying to prove that I'm back to my best and that I can win on the World Tour.

Sheep always seem to play a starring role in ski stories about New Zealand. What else sets Kiwi skiing apart?
We're a well-traveled bunch of skiers. A lot of New Zealand people go away to ski, and we recognize that we get some pretty tough conditions [at home]. But everyone's super positive and we just try to make the best of what we have. We'll still be out there jumping if it's rock hard. It's real positive to the point of silliness. There's an attitude of just getting out there and having a good time.

Do you think the freeskiing scene in New Zealand is booming right now?
I think New Zealand has a pretty rich history for its size. There were a couple guys out there on the freeride scene when I was young -- Todd Windle and Geoff Small -- representing New Zealand. Recently it seems New Zealand has exploded talent-wise. We've got the facilities, we've got the attitude, and now we've got people coming down to compete against on our home turf, so we've got the ability to train against the world's best year round, which is pretty special.