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Keep an Eye on Up-and-Comer Sammy Smith

Sammy Smith in the classic sprint at the 2023 FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in Whistler. [Photo] Courtesy USSA/Steve Fuller

Last year, U.S. Ski Teamer Samantha “Sammy” Smith competed in two World Cups. But not two cross country World Cups. The 17-year-old Idahoan competed at the World Cup level in two entirely different sports. 

First, Smith competed in soccer for the U.S. at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in India last October—scoring two goals in group play against Morocco. Then, in March 2023, she skied in nine FIS Cross Country World Cups in Scandinavia, finishing in the top 30 in two individual freestyle sprints. “Just to be able to be there and represent my country on a world stage is such an incredible feeling,” she says of both experiences.

And to think cross country skiing isn’t even her favorite sport.

Smith comes from an athletic family in Boise. Her mom swam and rowed at Stanford University, her dad played soccer at Duke. The Smiths raised their three kids—Logan, Sammy and Tucker—to be active. When older sister Logan started cross country skiing, says Smith, “I was like, I want to do exactly what she’s doing.”

But her favorite winter sport turned out to be freestyle skiing. She finished sixth in moguls at the 2021 U.S. nationals. That fall, however, Smith suffered a tibial fracture after being hit in a soccer game. Unable to handle the impact of moguls, she focused on Nordic skiing instead. It went so well she stuck with it.

Running has also gone well for Smith. In the fall, in addition to playing soccer, she runs cross country for Boise High School (she’s a senior this year). Smith won the state 5A cross-country title her freshman year and was runner-up in 2021 (with that leg fracture). In 2022, after a 42-hour trip home from India she finished seventh. It was enough to help her team win their fifth consecutive state championship. “I wasn’t happy with my result,” Smith admits, “but considering I hadn’t run in over five weeks and was incredibly jetlagged, it could have gone a lot worse.”

Then came the 2022–2023 cross country ski season (Smith lives in Sun Valley in the winter and attends Sun Valley Community School). Her goal was to ski well at the FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in January and perhaps even earn her first World Cup starts. Those close to her questioned how realistic the latter goal was. “But I still was like, you gotta go for it,” she recalls.

Sick before junior worlds, Smith recovered in time to finish sixth in the 10km freestyle, eighth in the classic sprint and ninth in the 20km classic mass start; those results, combined with solid finishes at U.S. nationals and some Super Tour races did, indeed, earn her a World Cup berth. Six weeks later, she was in Scandinavia and scored World Cup points in every race (awarded to the top 50 finishers). 

This coming winter, she declined World Cup sprint starts in Period 1. Smith and her coaches decided it was not worth five weeks in Europe for just three guaranteed races, each about three minutes long. Instead, she is focused on making the podium at junior worlds and U.S. nationals, where she can earn additional World Cup starts—including, she hopes, at the Minneapolis World Cup in February.

Next year, Smith plans to attend Stanford, where she wants to play soccer with Logan and remain on the national team’s radar. Her dream is to compete in the FIFA Women’s World Cup one day—and hopefully lead the U.S. national team to another title. Her soccer idols are historic figures like Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Michelle Akers, “because they were so lethal,” she says, and Brazil’s Marta, for her out-of-the-box, creative play. 

Smith intends to keep a foot in the Nordic world as well. The agility, explosiveness and ability to maneuver in traffic—all part of soccer training—benefit her skiing, she says, while skiing’s endurance clearly helps in soccer. But so far, the Stanford coaches are not aware of the level at which Smith skis. She hopes to sell it as, “I get all my fitness stuff from Nordic. I promise I’m not getting out of shape.” 

After college, she hopes to pursue both sports at the highest levels. She realizes at that point, “I won’t be at the level I want to be at. I’m hoping after college, I can pick up on lost ground and get back to where I want to be.”

As Smith says, you gotta go for it.

Update: After a successful 2023–24 ski season, including eight top-30 World Cup finishes and a silver medal at the World Junior Championships, Smith was named the winner of the U.S. Nordic Olympic Women Gold Rush award, which celebrates exceptional achievement, versatility and the embodiment of grit and grace.

This story first appeared in the Autumn 2023 issue of Cross Country Skier (43.1)