With 47 winters under his belt since his mid-20s, Sam Masters has a thing or two to say about how to get the most out of your time on the snow.
What was your first experience with snow?
Falls Creek in Australia. I’ve got my parents to thank for that. Falls Creek was a great place to learn to ski. It’s super mellow and there used to be heaps of snow gums there; an incredibly beautiful endemic species.
The Falls Creek Ski Company has decided to remove most of them, which is a bit of a shame.
I had a helmet with SAM written on it. That was before most kids had helmets so if mum and dad wanted to know where I was they would just ask the liftie, “Have you seen Sam?” And they’d say, “He’s not here, he’s over on Ruined Castle.”
All T-bars and pomas at that stage except for the gully chair. You didn’t know anything different if you grow up skiing in Australia in the 1970s. You don’t think, “I wish I was skiing Japanese powder.”
Were you always a keen skier?
I wasn’t competitive or super-passionate about it. I would be happy to sit in the lodge and have a hot chocolate or play cards or read a book.
I think it was my last year in high school that I decided skiing was something I wanted to follow.
I don’t know. Who knows what occupies the mind of a teenage boy? Don’t even go there! Going back into the cesspool of my own teenage mind scares me.
But for whatever reasons - the innate beauty of the sport or the terrain in which you get to participate in - it draws you in.
I really started to get into it. I had a trail map of Whistler on my wall at school. If you were at school in the 80s and liked skiing, Whistler was the Shangra-la. Horizons weren’t that broad but it was regarded as a pretty cool place to ski. I’ve definitely come 180 degrees on that and now much prefer little resorts that have no one who skis better than me.
The worst thing in the world for me is to turn up at a ski resort and there’s a whole lot of super-hot skiers and snowboarders hopping out of their late model cars with all the latest equipment. I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach because I know that there’s less powder for me.
Did you get to Whistler?
I did. It was quite a bit later. Somehow my parents convinced me to go to university (which I can tell any readers is a complete waste of time). The day after my last exam, I hopped on a plane to Vancouver and I went to Whistler and I got there in November and it was chocker full of Ozzies and Kiwis looking for jobs without any relevant experience - and that was definitely me. I couldn’t find anywhere to live or anywhere to work so I ended up in Banff and lived there for a year.
For the next little while I skied a lot in Austria, in the Arlberg region in a place called Lech. I’ve probably done seven or eight seasons there.
When I gave up any attempt at having a regular career and chucked it all in to work in the ski industry, that was in Thredbo, working as a rental boot fitter.
After that I came to New Zealand and was still alternating with seasons in Austria - and that is still one of my favourite places to ski. Everything - the culture, the mountains, the lift access and just the amount of snow they get.
Did you ever count up how many winters you did?
Well, I missed one once - that was 98 I think.
You had a summer in 1998?
It was a long, long summer. Don’t do it people.
So, apart from that, you have skied in the Northern Hemisphere every year…
Some of those were quite curtailed. In 2015, on my third run of the season in Japan, I blew out my ACL. But they were three amazing runs.
Can you describe your most harrowing ski experience?
I think it was when I got buried in an avalanche in Austria due to my lack of knowledge. It was a definite chink in my armour. Getting the old washing machine treatment and thinking, “I’m too young to die.”
It’s a great run actually, skiing from the top of Steuben am Alberg to Langen. You catch the train back. It’s just a typical, awesome Euro experience. I was fortunate to be skiing with two good mates who were all over it and dug me out. Lost a pair of skis and goggles. I had one pole.
How long were you buried?
Not long. I worked one hand free and was able to dig a little tunnel to breathe after the snow locked up - which is the only way to describe it. It’s the most unpleasant sensation in human existence when something so soft sets - it’s definitely like concrete. But because I was able to move that hand, fairly directly I knew I wasn’t going to die.
Something like skiing that’s so enjoyable, I guess it’s inevitable that there’s going to be a downside. It’s the irony of human existence.
What jobs have you done in the ski industry?
All sorts - washing dishes, fitting boots, tuning skis, as well as writing and taking photos and guiding people around - not as a mountain guide but whatever an unqualified and un-knowledgeable person who takes people skiing is called.
I was a level three professional ski buddy.
How did you get into writing?
I was travelling with photographer Alex Guzman and he asked me to write down my thoughts for the winter of 1997 and he thought they were funny enough to start sending in articles so that’s what we did.
Yeah, so I did a lot of jobs in the ski industry and it took a long time to get to the glamorous end of that but it’s still no money.