`Loco Sammy’ among locals featured by Warren Miller
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Last winter, when Aspen’s Sam Ferguson made the first-ever monoski descent of Highland Bowl, right down the gut of G-8, no less, he rated the run in the highest regard.
“Top three,” he said in March.
This week, upon returning from his first heli-skiing trip to Portillo, Chile, in late August, early September, Ferguson, 32, had to qualify that statement.
“That’s changed now,” he admitted. “It was incredible.
“Not only was the terrain steep and challenging, but being that there was a photographer with us, and having to ski for him, was even more challenging. It took quite a bit of restraint to do what he needed for the shots when there’s still a couple thousand vertical feet below just calling your name!”
One of the best skiers on the hill locally – monoski, snowboard, skis or otherwise – Ferguson may be the most unlikely star of Warren Miller’s 54th annual ski film, “Journey,” which premiers in Aspen this weekend at the Wheeler Opera House.
But it’s hardly a surprise to those who know him, or those just getting to know him. Take members of the German and Austrian National Disabled Ski Teams, for instance. While down in Portillo, Ferguson entered an FIS World Cup giant slalom race but crashed hard when his binding broke on the steepest section of the course.
“Three or four flips, landing again, and then going up again for a couple more flips – a pretty big wipeout,” he said. “Thankfully, I came away unscathed.”
Ferguson traded out his race ski for a powder board, went back up the lift and had friends lower him over a cornice into a narrow, steep chute known as “Garganta” (translation, “The Throat”). Then he charged down it.
“Afterward, I went to the bar and the Austrian team and the German team and the U.S. team, they all stood up and raised their glasses to me: `Loco Sammy,'” Ferguson says. “I guess they thought it was unusual to have such a wipeout and then go back up and ski one of the toughest chutes in Portillo.
“But they’re only just getting to know me.”
Without the use of his legs since a mountain bike accident in 1995, word of Ferguson’s “first descent” of Highland Bowl (and the sled-dog team of Highlands Ski Patrollers who hauled him up to the summit of Highland Peak for the occasion) reached Warren Miller’s crews. And so it is tonight that Ferguson makes his silver screen debut.
Ferguson will be joined by several other valley locals in the flim, including well-known stars like Chris Klug and Gretchen Bleiler, as well as a couple of up-and-comers, Carbondale brothers Peter and Michael Olenick.
The brothers Olenick, who grew up in ski school under the tutelage of the late Chuck Severy and later the wild Vince Lahey, have become something of a phenomenon in the new-school skiing world. Peter, 19, appears in four ski flicks this year alone (Warren Miller, Poor Boyz, Level 1 and Teton Gravity Research) and Michael, 17, is still only a senior at Colorado Rocky Mountain School.
While they both missed the cut for the X Games last year due to crashes at a qualifying event, it will be something of a disappointment if they are not wearing bibs, instead of spectating, at the X Games at Buttermilk this winter.
“What we do best is ride the park – always having fun doing it,” said Peter, who graduated from CRMS in 2002 and now attends Montana State University in Bozeman (except, of course, during the winter months). “The best part about it is that you’re hanging out with your friends all day long, doing halfpipe, jumps and rails.
“Vince [Lahey] took over as our teacher when Chuck [Severy] got sick and he taught me and my brother back flips,” Peter continued. “And that pretty much got us hooked on the whole new-school thing. Now, every time we go out skiing, even still, we’re always working on some skill or new trick. Anything, always. That’s pretty much what we excel at.”
Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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