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Skiing the Sky Piercer

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September 2018 Issue

With one five minute descent, Kiwi freeskier Sam Smoothy achieved the goal of a lifetime.

One of New Zealand’s top freeskiers has carved down the east face of the country’s highest mountain in what he has called the highlight of his career.

The daring descent of Aoraki/Mt Cook features in the film The Sky Piercer, directed by Jason Hancox. The film premiered at this year’s New Zealand Mountain Film Festival and won the Hiddleston/MacQueen Award for the best Kiwi-made film.

Sam Smoothy achieved the feat with world-renowned big-mountain snowboarder Xavier de la Rue and Austrian pro freeskier Nadine Wallner. The trio made an early morning ascent to the summit ridge,  where they exchanged crampons for skis and rocketed back to Plateau Hut. 

Smoothy came second in the Freeride World Tour in 2014 but says skiing Aoraki’s east face was his greatest achievement to date.

“Mt Cook isn’t just our highest mountain, it epitomises the whole Alps,” Smoothy says. “As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to get up and down it and to do so in the style I like   to ski, at full speed, makes the wait worth it.”


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Sam Smoothy racing down Aoraki's west face. Photo: Mickey Ross

While the route has been skied before, Smoothy says making the descent in about five minutes was “easily the fastest”.

“I spoke to other ski-mountaineers who said it took them an hour-and-a-half to ski down.”

After competing on the world tour for six years, he has taken a break from the circuit and now spends more time working on films. He says New Zealand offers some of the best exploration and adventure in freeskiing and he wants to work on films that showcase this.

“New Zealand’s got two main issues: the mountains’ exposure to the elements means the weather can get really bad, really fast, and because the snowline is at 1200m, but the valley floor is often close to sea level, often you have to scramble through rainforest, which is awful when you’re carrying skis, or you’re heading up moraine walls that are falling apart. But I see this as a positive – it means there are so many parts that haven’t been skied.”

Smoothy’s descent came just before three international skiers skied Cook’s revered Caroline Face – considered one of the trophy descents of freeskiers around the globe. Smoothy says it’s next on his list.

“It’s regarded as one of the best descents of all time and is something I’ve always wanted to ski.”