With the Freeride World Tour just around the corner, we thought what better way to get us stoked on the upcoming event than to chat to the 3x FWT champion Sammy Luebke, who has taken home the win an impressive three times, in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
“Landing his first sponsors before he was 10 years old, Sammy’s had a long and fruitful career in snowboarding”
Landing his first sponsors before 10 years old, Sammy’s had a long and fruitful career in snowboarding, yet still remains incredibly humble of the countless accolades over the years. He’s gone from filming video parts to competing in the FWT, balancing the job of being a world-class athlete with his role as a dad.
We caught up with Sammy Luebke just after Christmas. He filled us in on how his season has started, his thoughts on the FWT and how he’s been preparing for the tour midst a global pandemic.
Hey Sammy. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. How are you doing, how was your Christmas?
Christmas was awesome. Spent it with my two daughters and my mom came to town to spend it with us as well.
Where are you currently based? Have you got any snow around there?
I’m currently based in Truckee, California, in the Lake Tahoe basin. It has been a really slow start to winter out here. Got a good base early in the season but since then it has been very dry. We are at 12% of total snowpack for this time of the year.
That’s a bummer. Have you had a chance to get any splitboarding in?
I actually haven’t done any split days this year. With very little snow and the holiday season, I tried to spend as much time with my kids before the winter travels really start kicking on. Lots of resort days have been the norm. The groomers have been firing!
When you do get out, do you have any non-essential backcountry gear you always take on a tour?
I usually bring lots of underwear and socks, lol. Also, you gotta have a wireless speaker for every occasion, my flask, and my Opinel knife. Last, but not least, I always bring my skateboard for times in between contest travels.
You’ve had a very long and versatile career so far. How do you feel that the snowboard scene has changed from what it was back then to what it is now?
The scene has changed a lot from when I started. There’s a lot less budget for riders these days to get things done, which has really helped make snowboarders / me be more resourceful. Also, social media has been a big change, making riders their own producers and media outlets. Less hard copy videos and magazines mean it’s all instant gratification these days.
“There’s a lot less budget for riders these days to get things done, which has really helped make snowboarders / me be more resourceful”
In a way though, it has really helped people who are just coming into the sport to see freeriding instead of just the mainstream halfpipe and slopestyle side of professional snowboarding, which is great for growing our sport.
You got badly injured some years back. Want to tell us a bit more about what happened, it must have been quite a battle to get back to peak condition?
I’ve had a few big injuries throughout my career. The last one that really affected me was when I fractured my tibial plateau. I was trying to film a video part in between Tour stops on my second season competing. I was leading the Tour that year after three events before it happened. I wasn’t able to finish out the season.
It was a really hard pill to swallow because I had a large lead in the rankings. I had to sit out the rest of the season and ended up 4th overall I believe. Strengthening my mind and visualizing made me focus more on the Tour and my body the following seasons, which seemed to be the key to winning three years straight.
You grew up in Alaska and Tahoe. Do you think growing up in these two different environments has contributed to your success in the FWT?
I believe growing up in Alaska really helped me with my riding and board control. We didn’t have parks or pipes when I was younger so I rode the natural terrain the mountain had to offer.
“I believe growing up in Alaska really helped me with my riding and board control”
Once I moved to Tahoe they had everything I needed to hone in my freestyle skills. Also, the snowpack and the mountains here were very inviting to a newcomer learning backcountry skills. Tahoe is like a big skatepark with plentiful powder all packed into a small area.
What’s the FWT scene like in comparison to competing in slopestyle and halfpipe?
There’s subtle differences between the two but it’s the riders that make the difference – whether it’s pipe/park or freeride contests. We all love riding in our own way and that’s what makes snowboarding so great for me. We all want to do our best but we also want the other riders to do their best and get excited watching amazing runs.
I would say its more of a family vibe on the FWT, not only with our fellow competitors but also the whole staff who’s putting it together for us. We want to compete but I think the experiences, fun, and friendship that comes along with it is why I keep coming back.
Take us through a contest day – how do you prepare for your run, mentally and physically?
Preparing is different for me. Some people have a routine, going to the gym and whatnot. I just try to stay active doing the things that make me stronger personally. Skating in the summer, and hiking, and really just doing things that keep me in a good mental state.
“At the end of the day, I compete because I truly enjoy it”
Exercising and working ‘fun’ are good ways to prepare for anything. You do your best when you are having fun and truly enjoying the things you take time to do.
Contest days are always stressful and they usually start with restless sleep, followed by trying to put down some breakfast really early in the AM. It doesn’t work for me so I just drink a bunch of coffee. I think we are all a little nervous, but once you get to the top and you look down the face, every anxiety you might have had seems to disappear. The excitement, stoke and love takes over and you kick into autopilot. It’s a very zen, meditative state, that you will only understand when you are at the top of a mountain, about to drop in.
How does preparing for the tour in 20/21 look like?
Right now with the pandemic, it’s hard to know. Conditions, where I live, aren’t always great going into the season, so it could be a below-average snow year.
“Also just being true to your style of riding and not letting others sway your decision making when it comes to picking a line”
Riding groomers are great but when there’s snow and good coverage, and you can go full throttle before you start travelling, you are much more in tune with your board and body. I can say it’s always a lot of logistics but I usually go into it with no expectations. I want good conditions and not a bunch of complications that will put me off before we compete.
At the end of the day, I compete because I truly enjoy it. My results have never been the driving factor. The sport and the level are evolving so much, and I’m very grateful to be a part of it all and see something I love so much progress so quickly.
You compared the FWT to the Street League in one interview. Would you like to tell us a bit more about this comparison?
I compare the two because they showcase a part of the sport that a lot of people don’t usually see. A more raw side of the sport that gets overlooked. It’s so different in comparison to events like X Games, where experience plays as big of a part as skill.
What’s your best memory from the FWT?
That’s a tough question because I’ve been doing this 8 seasons now, so there are almost too many to count. If I had to narrow it down I would say the Haines, AK stop. The venue was by far the best face I have ridden on tour. We had all-time conditions, and it was like a 10-day family vacation. Down days were spent grilling, playing hackie sack, soccer, disc golf, hiking and doing abundant amounts of karaoke. Also, it’s where I helped secure my first tour title.
What boards do you ride on and off the tour?
I ride for Jones Snowboards. Mainly I like to stick to one specific board for comp day but also free-riding in general. I ride a 160 Jones Ultra Mountain Twin. For me, it’s like a Swiss Army knife. Perfect for steep and deep terrain, but also playful enough for freestyle, and cruising the groomers.
You’ve had plenty of different faces in your career. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned so far?
I learned a lot from competing on various faces. Ide not biting off more than you can, or getting into something over your head. Patience.
Also just being true to your style of riding and not letting others sway your decision making when it comes to picking a line. Everybody is different and that’s what makes the FWT different from the rest. I’ve made lots of good friends for life doing this and I would say a huge part of it is the sportsmanship and respect we all hold for each other. We root for each other and want one another to do their best.
The 2020/21 FWT will kick off in Ordino Arcalis in Andorra, with a weather window between 20th to the 26th of February.
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