On the one hand, Sami Luhtanen is your classic Finnish snowboard pro. He stomps his tricks like a machine, is very quiet, and has an entirely different personality when he is exposed to booze.
On the other hand, though, he shies away from the contest scene, works with various film crews, and has a unique style that makes him stand out from the crowd. These attributes paired with his remarkable development over the past three years have lead to this feature. Read on to find out more about the ‘silent killer’…
It happened back in February, at the official Winter MÄSH after party in Saalbach-Hinterglemm. It had been a long day of heavy snowfalls and good contest action. Old-time friends Janne Lipsanen and Sami Luhtanen were already celebrating their contest victory for a while when the latter spotted the Onboard crew across the room.
He ran over to meet us and shouted a cordial “Hi guys, how’s it going?” our way. He told us a little about the contest, and then more about the Send Off Session in 2012 – where he had been one of the standout riders. Damn, we thought, that kid talks! It was the first time ever we had heard him say more than one or two words at a time. Up until then he had lived his snowboarder life the Finnish way – “let the riding do the talking.”
DISCOVERING ANOTHER PERSON
Indeed, his riding does speak for itself: In only a short time he has filmed good parts with all-Finnish KBR Productions and has just completed another part with the European heavyweights Pirates. And whoever has seen him ride at shoots or contests knows that he oozes style and amplitude.
No wonder a lot of people refer to him as the ‘silent killer’. Among them is his Dakine team manager Marco Zucchetti. “At the beginning he was reserved, almost timid. But actually one of the main reasons was just the language. In a couple of months he improved his English drastically.
After the first trips together we definitely discovered another person.” Seeing him ride and not hearing him talk immediately conjures up another Finn – contest slayer Peetu Piiroinen. Sami laughs when we ask him about the other quiet guy from the North: “I hope some day I learn to speak. So many guys say I look the same on the slope, maybe because we are the same size.”
The older readers among you will remember that it was only in February 2012 that we ran a ‘Talent’ page on a then fairly unknown Sami Luhtanen. The fact that it is only 18 months later that we are running this feature is impressive testimony to his skills.
For Marco, this is all down to one thing: “Sami is a really good skater, and it makes the difference. The way he tweaks his grabs, his posture when he spins, the way he approaches the urban features… all the tricks he stomps look easy, even when he goes big or technical he never seems to force it.” Being a really good skater is a bit of an understatement. In 2004 he won the Finnish skateboarding championships in his age group.
THE FEELING WHEN LEARNING A NEW TRICK
As so often, it was his older brothers who introduced an eight years old Sami to snowboarding. “My brothers always built kickers and small rails at our home. I always fell down before the kicker because I had a really shit plastic board. When by chance I reached the kicker it was the same feeling I still have when learning a new trick.” The following winter, he already had a season ticket to the local resort Vihti, where he was mesmerized by the skills of the Trulli Clan, and Jari Tuoriniemi’s “mellow steezy style” in particular.
Fast forward a few years and entrance of Teemu Takamäki, Finnish distributor of Ride Snowboards and Sami’s first sponsor: “I met Sami at our local ski resort when Sami was eleven years old and one meter tall,” Teemu remembers. “This kid did some backflips and his riding was looking great even though Sami was sooo young and small.” Sami usually rode with kids a lot older than him, and he was easy to spot on the hill.
Teemu hooked him up with a few boards and took him to some snowboard contests. And then, while competing at the skateboard championships in 2004, he met Roope Tonteri. “Sami was a small kid,” Roope remembers, “but what he lacked in size he covered with talent.” The two started riding and doing snowboard contests together, which helped both get better quickly.
But while Roope boarded the contest train for a long ride, Sami felt more at ease with the filming side of things – first with Wannabe, then with KBR. “I got my first taste of the KBR crew about 2008 at a new year’s eve part in a chalet in Ruka,” Sami tells us. “Damn was that a good party!”
He filmed a full part for last year’s movie Snake Bite, and another with the upcoming flick “Golden Years”. However, last winter he also became a member of the Pirates crew. “The first time I met Basti ‘the boss’ Balser it was last autumn together with the Dakine European team manager in some coffee shop in Innsbruck,” Sami recalls. “I think after the meeting Basti thought ‘who is this guys who sat in silence at the table and only listened?’ But then came the winter and I got the chance to go to Luleå in Sweden and film with Kalle [Ohlson].”
He borrowed a friend’s old Mercedes and made the drive in one night from Helsinki, “directly to the spot and I got a couple of shots and Maurino [Pirates filmer] said ‘now you are part of the Pirates family.” Overall, he liked the experience, the people he met and also the chance to hang with an international crew instead of the usual Finnish posse.
A PLACE IN THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE
Still, every now and then Sami does make a contest appearance, for example at the Burton European Open in 2011. That’s where he caught the attention of Marco from Dakine, who decided to put him on his new outerwear team. Marco is happy to tell us why: “When I saw him riding I did not have any doubts. He is a natural talent. I knew we could have a great potential, he just needed someone to support him properly and help him make the right choices.”
Now Sami is travelling the world filming with the Pirates, mags like us want to have his pictures and interviews and he has some decent sponsors – all in less than three years. “Dakine and Sami have a great chance,” Marco continues. “We just have to keep in mind what we want and how we want to get it. I think we want the same thing: a place for Sami in the international scene. But we have to make it ‘properly’. It means Sami should never lose the fun on his board and Dakine will have to support him in the best way possible – without pressure.”
If there is any pressure to speak of, it is Sami himself who puts it on: “Last season I filmed two different video parts with the KBR guys and the Pirates, but they are not complete. We have a plan to go film a park kicker or backcountry next week but I fucked my leg a little bit.” Hence Sami missed all spring sessions – unfortunately including the 2013 Onboard Send-Off Session, having earned his spot through his stellar performance the year before. “I hope people are not too angry because I don’t have any kicker shots. That annoys me a little bit, but maybe next year!”
HOW COOL ARE TRIPLE CORKS?
When talking about 2014, conversation naturally gravitates towards the upcoming Olympics in Sotchi. Does he sometimes feel he is missing out on something? “It is such a tough thing to get a place in the Olympic team. I think I try to keep my focus on filming net year. Or I have to start now training triple corks.” And then he continues ominously: “Snowboarding sometimes looks weird!” Would he agree then that a lot of snowboarding the general public gets exposed to is not particularly cool anymore? “How cool do triple corks really look?” And then he laughs: “Maybe I have to try, haha!”
Sometimes, though, we do think that he needs to practice his English a little more. When he was in negotiations with Dakine, Peetu’s little brother Petja Piiroinen had to translate for him. Also, without our photo editor Sami he would have been stranded at Ispo. And some of his answers in this interview were hard to decipher to say the least. No wonder then we were flabbergasted when he approached us at the above-mentioned event and started to blubber away. Marco hits the nail on the head when he tells us: “I think he is an easy cool guy but always motivated to party… even better with a couple of beers and pretty girls around!”
Sami rides for Dye Snow and Dakine