Cover Photo: Robin Lee

Wind back the clock the best part of a decade and, come summer, Saas Fee was the place to be. It’s definitely still a good training ground, but back then it was the undisputed best spot to be in summer with jumps rivaling those on any winter slopestyle course. With that came the corresponding comp oriented ‘clientele’ spending their days practising the various dubs that were becoming prerequisites for success at the time. But there was one young guy you’d see on the glacier every day, always doing things differently. He’d be carving up the backside of rail takeoffs, he’d be buttering onto rails from the side and using his obvious skill on skis to carve into lines nobody else would think of, especially back then. In a park dominated by slopestyle athletes, it seemed like nobody was paying much attention, but it was clear this guy was a unique talent. At some point, we ended up sharing a T-Bar and even taking some laps together as two of the only people riding rails in the whole park. That guy was, of course, Sämi Ortlieb. My first ever article on NS was an interview with him and since then, he's proved repeatedly that he can do it all, both on skis and off them, though he remains something of an unsung talent.

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As far as skiing goes, he’s something of an enigma. He isn’t one to self-promote, probably to his detriment as he’s tended to disappear from the public eye for a year only to pop back up with something mindblowing. It took too many years for the wider public to stand up and take any kind of notice of his skills. In fact, he isn’t exactly the big name that his prodigious talent and creativity would merit, even today. Sämi attributes his success to a few people giving him a chance rather than a more general recognition from the industry. "At first it was Shane McFalls and Erik Olson who let me stay with them and opened the door to a part of the US ski scene. A little later on it was Will Wesson and Freedle Coty who gave me the opportunity to film with Level 1”, he tells me.

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“I mean, I got to go on a trip to Japan with Garrett ‘G Funk’ Russell, which was definitely a dream come true.

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He actually appeared alongside Will in Ski The East’s No Matter What, but it’s fair to say that being picked up to film with Level 1 represented his first real ‘mainstream’ attention. Sämi is most stoked that it allows him the freedom to travel more. “The best thing about it is that you get to go on trips with amazing riders and people in general. It gives me opportunities and experiences I would never have had without skiing.” Luckily for us, the shots he has stacked on those many trips he gets to go on have been some of the most unique in recent years. In that, he’s mirroring Garrett, someone he’s looked up to since his early days. Much like Garrett he’s also never had the credit his genuine creativity, rather than the fashionable facsimile thereof, deserves. His shots in ZigZag are, in my opinion, some of the best and most unique in the movie but they are far from the most talked about. Like it or lump it, it does help to be marketable.

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Portrait: Rob Heule / Hiking at home. Photo: Felix Ortlieb

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Despite the wanderlust, Sämi is most at home at, well, home. For him, that’s Glarus, Switzerland. He may be far from your stereotypical Swiss native, but the saying that 'home is where the heart is' definitely rings true. “I guess the more you travel, it makes it more obvious where your home is and you start to appreciate it more. I love my home valley! It's extremely beautiful and has a good mix of everything: mountains, lakes, rivers, woods, glacier… and beer. I'm really fortunate to have such a good circle of friends there and pretty much my whole family lives within 5 minutes of my house.”

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Sämi can ski it all. Photo: David Ortlieb

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His skiing is a product of both his mind and his environment. With serious all-mountain skills born from an upbringing in the alps and a creative mindset to back it up, Sämi skis differently from literally everyone else. I keep returning to the idea of creativity because it’s so rarely seen in its genuine form, but in Sämi, it truly is. In a typically self-deprecating fashion he labels his own skiing “sophisticated use of the basics”, going on to clarify that he’s “basically not a very technical rider, but I’m able to figure out how to use and combine the basics. I feel like that’s how I do most things in life, not just skiing.”

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How's your Swiss German?

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I’d dispute the claim somewhat with his skiing, he’s actually got some pretty tech skills when pushed, but it does ring true for his artwork. Is he the most technical artist on the planet? No, definitely not, but he does manage to create something completely unique. You increasingly see snippets of his work here and there. It appears on Yoke Collection clothing and on the topsheets of last years Line Tigersnake for example. But nowhere is his creative flair more apparent than in his ‘Birds’ movie trilogy, the latest of which you can watch below.

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https://www.newschoolers.com/videos/watch/881390/BIRDS-BRIGADE----Full-movie

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His most recent production however, The Glacier Days Movie, he tells me, is “something else, absolutely EPIC! We finally had a massive budget, affording us heliskiing trips on the Matterhorn and that’s how we were able to find the true soul of skiing... Just kidding, it’s the same group of bums in the same park, just longer and with better shots.” The irony of the irony here is that to me, both his Birds trilogy and the Glacier Days series actually do portray what I see as the soul of skiing: fucking around with your friends, trying new stuff, seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s mostly working for Sämi now, and he’s slowly developing the film side of his endeavors, taking on both ski and non-ski projects. On the ski side, Glacier Days was nominated for best cinematography at IF3 as a result of Sämi’s incredible follow filming. He’s been working on music videos for local bands too, which ties in nicely with his own passion for music.

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My favorite genres are probably punk and hardcore. It's just the music with the best live shows. There's nothing comparable to a good hardcore gig. I also think the DIY additude behind it is what attracts me to the music.

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Sämi plays in a band with his local homie and source of inspiration Silvain Zweifel, also a co-conspirator on the Birds movie series, producing hardcore punk they describe as “more noise than music". His love for punk and hardcore is based on an attraction to “the DIY attitude behind it”. The same DIY attitude that led his local crew to create their own local skateboard, music and art festival in Naëfels. Something he describes as “not that hard, just a shitload of work”. What’s more, it’s a not-for-profit event, with proceeds going back towards the next year’s festival. That hard work incidentally, is something that defines Sämi’s skiing and everything else. In Zermatt, he sorted out our place to stay, shot the movie, edited the movie, did the animations, co-ordinated things with the resort, managed the budget and still found time to keep us all alive by buying the food and cooking most of the meals (along with Eric). Oh, and he was working on several other projects at the same time, it was seriously impressive. He’s always willing to go the extra mile to hit an awkward spot, hike a rail like a thousand times to get some never been done trick or indeed build something ridiculous from scratch.

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Photo: Daniel Loosli

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#zermattglacierdays. Photo: Laura Obermayer

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It’s all about a do-it-yourself mentality and a sense of community. Both things that define Sämi as a person, as well as in his skiing and his work. The projects he’s been involved in, Traveling Circus, Glacier Days, Birds Movies, Festivals and more, have all been about creating something greater than the sum of their parts, being part of a community Not necessarily the best strategy for blowing up in the industry based largely on individuality, but certainly making for fantastic viewing. Then again, Sämi attributes everything to Cat King Carl anyway, who he claims “eats my money, kills my dreams and feeds my thoughts.” So when it comes down to it, he's just a vessel and we’ve all got the Cat King to thank... All hail!

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‘Glacier Days: The Movie’ releases on 4th November right here on Newschoolers and all over the interweb. It’s the most inventive park movie I’ve ever seen so make sure you check it out.