Matt Sweet is a 21-year-old freeride skier from Christchurch, New Zealand. Freeride is a sport where skiers choose a line to ski down a mountain face, jumping off cliffs as they go. Skiers and Snowboarders try to land their best possible run and are scored by judges. They are not aloud any practice on the face before the competition - only a visual inspection from the bottom of the mountain. Matt competes on the Freeride World Qualifying Tour with the intent of Qualifying for the Freeride World Tour, the top tier freeride competition on the planet. He is also currently studying towards a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
What was the path that lead you to today?
I was never very good at sports as a kid. I was unfit, slightly overweight and had pretty bad asthma. However, the one sport that I did find a passion for was skiing. My parents have always loved skiing and first took me to the mountains when I was two years old. One of my earliest memories is my father dropping me off at the ski field creche, I was in tears because all I wanted to do was ski with him instead!
I started ski racing in New Zealand when I was eleven, I always knew that I eventually wanted to get into some sort of freeski discipline as it was just too much fun. This eventually resulted in me shifting my focus to freeride when I was 15. I now compete on the Freeride World Qualifier series and am currently in my last year of studying towards a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.
Who inspired you to do what you do?
I find it hard to pinpoint it down to any one individual. The New Zealand ski community is an inspiring environment to grow up in. There are very few places in the world where you can ski and hangout with world class skiers every day on your home mountains - from slopestyle and halfpipe Olympians to Freeride World Tour veterans and everyone in between - they all come to Wanaka and the Southern Lakes region for more training in their off season.
What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered?
Injuries are a pretty frequent obstacle and draw back in our chosen sport. To date I've had a broken arm, a broken collar bone, a suspected shattered kneecap and a suspected broken back. The last two turning out to be false alarms thankfully, but still put me out for some time.
My biggest obstacle at the moment is trying to juggle getting a university degree with skiing - I am writing this in a lecture theatre right now! It can certainly get a bit frustrating seeing all my friends training and competing when I am back at university, but I have learnt that I can still do a lot of off snow training back here to get me stronger and more prepared for the next season.
Successfully navigating both a demanding Mechanical Engineering degree and training as a competitive freeride skier is certainly up there.
My biggest competition triumph is placing 3rd at the New Zealand Frontier 4* FWQ back in 2017. This was my first important competition after graduating from the Junior Freeride Tour the year before. I, along with many other professional athletes, struggle with doubting myself and thinking that I'm not as good as others. This was a really important result for me as it re-affirmed that yes, I can do this and I should give it absolutely everything I've got.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Life is a marathon, not a sprint. It can be hard to see the success of others happening all around you when you feel you are putting in just as much hard work as your peers and not getting anywhere. I have learnt that if you are passionate enough and willing to put in the hard work, success will come your way, even if it does take a little bit longer. In my three years in the Freeride World Qualifier events I have had many ups and downs, including last New Zealand season, where I crashed every single competition that I entered. Moments like these can be very hard to come back from mentally, I had to take a big step back and remind myself why I do this and to create a plan to come back from my biggest failure in a long time.
What are the things that help you get through each adventure and why?
I would give the exact same answer for both my competitions and general adventures. Preparation is key. If I know the line I will be skiing really well it becomes a lot less stressful for me. This requires a lot of preparation to get to this point - hours of studying features and markers on the face and visualising how it will look when I am at the top of the face, about to ski down it. The same goes for adventures, if I know what I'm getting myself into and the gear I will require, it becomes a lot more fun and less stressful.
What scares you and how do you deal with fear?
Fear and freeride are synonymous with each other. Fear is sometimes a good thing, it keeps you in check and stops you from biting off more than you can chew. At the same time, it can also seriously impair performance - how can you expect to ski the run at your best ability if you let fear take over your mind. Hitting bigger cliffs, trying new tricks or skiing bigger lines often makes me scared. If I'm particularly scared about something, I find it quite good to take a step back and ask myself why I'm actually scared about that thing. Often this can take out a large amount of the fear as you realise much of it is illogical and you are relatively safe. Of course, sometimes none of this matters and you just have to buck up and send it!
Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life?
After a particularly tough week of university, my brain feels absolutely fried. Getting into the outdoors is a way for me to recharge. Even if I'm not on some sketchy climbing or skiing adventure it feels great to leave the city behind and just relax. Also, pushing yourself physically in the outdoors is a lot more fun than any gym program you could conjure.
Amongst all the adventures you have been involved with, which is the most unforgettable and why?
The most unforgettable adventure I've been involved with actually has nothing to do with skiing. Last year my flat mate and I decided to climb a mountain on the edge of the Southern Alps of New Zealand. A series of bad decisions, including drastically underestimating the time it would take us and not bringing the correct equipment (including sleeping bags) resulted in us spending a very cold night up there, wedged in a crack in the rocks between a large cliff and a glacier. It was a huge learning experience for both of us and we came out wiser for it. Again, preparation is key.
Who has been an unsung in your life?
100% my parents, they have been my biggest supporters from day one. I can not overstate their unshakeable support for me, through all my highs and lows with this sport they have always been there to encourage me and spur me on towards greater things.
What's next for you?
Right now, I am in my final year of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury. An exciting new chapter of my life is about to start and I have no idea where it will take me! My biggest goal right now is to qualify for the Freeride World Tour, the top tier of competitive freeride skiing. However, I am keeping this goal flexible and am trying not to become too fixated on it. This sport we do is about so much more than just competition, it is an incredible lifestyle filled with amazing people and many adventures to get involved with. All I know is I want to put absolutely everything I can into chasing my passion.
Do you have a motto you live by?
Give it your best nudge and see how it turns out!