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Alta Is For Skiers
Alta Is For Skiers

Sam Howard Podcast
An AltaCam Exclusive!

Sam Howard Part 1
Sam Howard Part 2
Sam Howard Part 3
Sam Howard Part 4

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Why Ski Alta?
In February 2007, Johnny B sat down with long time Alta ski patroller Sam Howard at him home near Alta. Read the contents of Johnny and Sam's discussion or listen to the MP3 podcasts which are segmented in four parts.

Johnny B: Hello powder skiers, welcome to My name is Johnny B and today I'll be talking skiing and life with Alta ski patroller: the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Sam Howard. Good to see you Sam! How's it going?

Sam: Good to see you Johnny B!

Johnny B: Alright. How's the family doing?

Sam: Everybody's doing great.

Johnny B: Alright.

Sam: It's a great year of riden.

Johnny B: Good, good. I see the boys out there ripping. I guess my first question would be, did you ski like that at their age?

Sam: I don't think so. Things were a little more primitive then. In that nobody was throwing 900s at ten.

Johnny B: [Laughter] It's amazing how far they've come now huh? Where did you grow up skiing Sam?

Sam: I grew up in a little town in Northern Vermont, St. Albans, Vermont. It was a depressed railroad town when I was a kid. The railroad was on its way out. My dad was a pediatrician there for years.

But one thing they did right to St. Albans, was that they had a little piece of land, that someone donated to the town. And it was about a 300 foot vertical hill that they cut a ski run on and put a rope tow in, probably 1965 or so. And we would ski there as kids every night till 9 at night, must have made a thousand runs on 300ft.

Johnny B: All right. So that's where it all begin.

Sam: That's were it all begin. I didn't really begin there but that's where it really formed.

Johnny B: I see. Well tell us about your fondest memory from that place.

Sam: Well, probably the best thing about that place was, 9'oclock at night, they would run the last few kids up the hill, and turn off the lights.

If your parents were parked in the parking lot, maybe ski to the base and then left in the car. But for us we could ski home off the back of this. And it was Vermont Hardwood so there was a cut trail through down the back about 20-30 ft wide. And it would come out on the street I lived on, or at least close enough that we could ski home.

And so after you skied under the lights till 9, you'd ride up the last bit of the rope tow, let go at the top, the lights would all go off, it would be jet black. And you have a half a mile ski through the woods home in the darkness. That was probably the best thing that ever happened there.

Johnny B: That's a great story there Sam! I guess the next thing we want to know is, coming from there, when did you end up in Alta?

Sam: Well, all through college and high school we probably skied something like 60-90 days a year in Vermont which is pretty hard to do. And I knew, I really wanted to be a skier but my father told me I'd get sick of that if I did it everyday. And so I went to college like everybody and got a degree in Geology. But I made an agreement with my Geology buddies to take a motorcycle trip across country.

And most of my buddies were a year younger than me so they wouldn't graduate for a year. So during the year of '79-'80, I worked for Dynastar Skis, saved enough money, bought a motorcycle, did this motorcycle trip across country with all my friends. But I actually laid my motorcycle down and had to put about a thousand dollars into it. And I left town with less money than anyone else.

And when I left, I realized I should probably try to stay in the West, try to get a job in Geology and in the end, I was down to about 75 dollars. I knew some girls from Vermont that lived here in Salt Lake, and I told my friends in Lake Tahoe that I was going to Utah.

I was going to spend 3 days looking for a job. If I didn't have a job in 3 days, I'd meet them in Jackson Hole, and one of the kids was going to and credit card me home. And on the third day, and this was probably late June of 1980, I got a job at the Rustler Lodge as a dishwasher, and since it included room and board since I only have 75 dollars, I took it and I never left Alta.

Johnny B: Talk to us about your scariest moment on patrol. We know you must have one.

Sam: Well, I suppose my scariest moment was a slide I cut on Supreme where I was a greenhorn, and I skied a pocket. We'd ski cut across the pocket. We were out of shots and I was with a guy, Peter Allen, and I said, "Boy, this feels rotten to me. "And he said, "I don't feel a slab."

I thought it felt weak and so we ski-cut across and we ski-cut back and it released to the ground on me. And I grabbed a tree and the whole thing peeled out around me and I was able to just hang on to that. You know, lost my ski poles and some other stuff. But, there's a lot of times when avalanches make you scared and it doesn't necessarily mean being involved in it.

If you're on a rescue, on the road, you can be threatened by avalanches and realize that you have a moral duty to go try to rescue other people and going and coming, you're under some threat and therefore, scared to about the same level as kind of getting caught.

Johnny B: I see. Kind of, jacked on adrenalin and knowing that you're going to put yourself in danger for somebody else.

Sam: Yeah.

Johnny B: Sam, Neil and Grant have many influences and mentors here at Alta. Who were yours, growing up?

Sam: Oh, when we were in college, we met a guy by the name of Peter Spawn. And Peter was a kid from south Burlington. We called him Teach. But he was one of the first people I ever saw that would really just let it run. And this is Vermont in the 70's. So it's a little different than letting it run, say Nobis.

Johnny B: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: But he would go full blast at everything. And I was very impressed in the way that he didn't hold back. And Teach took us through a lot of stuff. I'd lost touch with this guy after I'd gotten out of college, but I've run into him a couple of times at Snowbird, and we've had a couple of laughs but, Peter really was inspirational.

Johnny B: All right. Sam, jeez. Like many great athletes, you've passed on your skills to others, making them better skiers. It's evident in your kids, your peers here at Alta. Tell the world, Sam, what's your best advice for skiing down a mountain?

Sam: Well, I have to say, look where you want to go, don't think about how steep it is. Don't get drawn away by focusing on what you want to avoid. And kind of pitch yourself ahead mentally of where you are and where you want to go. And stay over em, don't get thrown.

Johnny B: There it is, folks, to the world, from the world. All right. That's good advice, Sam, it's good advice for anybody. Sam, clearly you're a true veteran in the great sport of skiing. As a sports fan, I've always admired and respected the cagey veteran. Tell us, what keeps you focused? How do you recover day after day? What is your secret to longevity?

Sam: Well, I think the secret to longevity is what goes on off the hill. And at this point in my career, coming home to a nice warm fire I can stick my feet up in front of, a nice cold beer, and a good meal, and a long night's sleep would pretty much do it for me. But that wasn't always that way.

Johnny B: Uh-huh. All right, I'm going to take that advice. I'm no spring chicken myself. My next thing, Sam, we know you're recognized among the top 50 skiers in North America. Obviously you're killing it. Talk about the level of skiing in Alta today as opposed to twenty years ago.

Sam: Well, there's a lot more people now pushing the limit than ever was going on before in Alta. Although I may be mis-quoted here, but it seemed like a handful of skiers were pushing the limit, or maybe the limit was a little bit different at the time. But now things that used to not get skied are skied daily..

I can remember setting eights on Devil's Castle Apron, and seeing them the next day, or skiing the secret chute which the locals call Tongue-my-chute now, and having your tracks there for a week. And never having to worry about having somebody side slipping through, things like that. Nobody would go to that steep stuff.

And now, and I don't know if it's advent of gear, or the advent of the ski movie genre, but people go places where it used to be only you going.

Johnny B: Uh-huh.

Sam: And it seems like a lot more of them. And so I think people are pushing the limit quite a bit more. But the people they pushed the limit back then, pushed it just as big. Guys like Dave Cheketi and Darwin Stoneman, they flew off the same cliffs we're flying off now. And yeah, maybe they didn't send a 110 footer, but they were going 60, 70 feet and they were landing it in Scott boots and Spademans and Pre skis.

Johnny B: Before we go skiing, Sam, tell us what Alta means to you.

Sam: Well, for me, Alta's really been the place where I knew I wanted to be all my life but had never seen. And so now it's definitely home. But it's more than just home it's.. All the things I hated about skiing as a kid in Vermont, watching it snow all week from Monday through Thursday, and Friday night laying in bed and hearing the south wind kick up and rain hitting the side of your house.

And just going, "Well, I was in school all week, why am I missing the snow?" The steepness and beauty of it all, and the ability to ski and bounce or to walk off fairly easily to some out of bounds shot. It's just home to me. It means a lot in that it's been the birth of a lot of things in Alta, birth of avalanche control, birth, kind of, in a way of the big mountain riding, birth of powder skiing. To me it's the center of skiing, and it's the center of my life.

Johnny B: Sam Howard, folks. Sam, I never saw Alf Engen ski, I never saw the great Gretzski, or Elway or Bird or Mantle or Jordan do their thing. But I'm proud to say that I saw Sam Howard ski in his prime, and I can honestly say that means just as much to me. Thank you for your time, you're a true Alta icon. I appreciate it Sam, appreciate your time. Good to see you.

Sam: Good work, Johnny B.

Johnny B: All right.

Sam: Glad you came over.

Johnny B: All right, you heard it here, folks, This is Johnny B With Sam Howard. See you on the slopes for some powder snow ski riding. Check us out for my interview with one of Alta's smoothest female skiers. We're going to find out who. Thank you very much.

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