"Oh yeah, I know who he is," nods every pro freeskier. He's Rasta, the black, dread-headed, Haile Selassie-worshipping musician and pro freeskier. But what they might not know is that Rasta grew up among the gangs and poverty of South Central L.A.
This skier didn't go to a privileged ski academy, and his parents never had a slopeside condo. Instead, he hung with fellow Bloods who sold crack and sometimes shot each other. Starting when Rasta was seven, his cousin -- older by eight years and "a real scary guy" -- took Rasta to money circles and bet on him against other kids -- like in a cockfight. "I wasn't gonna lose, because my cousin would've killed me if I did," reflects Rasta. "By the time I was 13, I'd beaten up every kid in the neighborhood."
Yes, it's safe to say that Chris Samuels did not grow up in a traditional skiing household. "My family was really poor," he says. "When I stayed in Kentucky at my pop's family farm, it was my job to take the pistol and shoot breakfast for seven people. I shot frogs, squirrels, turtles. We ate whatever was on the farm. The only time we left was to buy more ammo."
Rasta broke free of his ghetto existence (most of his childhood friends are dead now) through a couple of non traditional sports. "I started making a living through fishing," he says, "but my other passion was skiing." He was first given the chance to slide at age nine, when his parents drove to Big Bear to party with friends and sent Rasta and his sister off skiing. "I loved it," he says. "From then on, they took me whenever they could, and I also went night skiing a few times with friends. Eventually I got a job in a ski shop and met one of my best friends, Red, whose parents owned a condo in Mammoth. I'd only skied 40 days in my life when a band I was in, Urban Dread, played in Mammoth. After the gig, I stayed. That was 10 years ago."
Today Rasta skis better than most privileged white boys and makes a small living through sponsors. He's hosted events for The National Brotherhood of Skiers, organizes competitions, and skis hard for cameras. "I'm trying to get in a ski movie, but they blow me off," he says. "Then they show some white guy skiing in slow motion to Reggae music, and I'm like, 'Here I am guys. I'm the real deal. Give me a call.'"
Born: January 17, 1970 in Hollywood
Lives: Alternates between Mammoth, California, and the San Diego coast (for fishing).
Milestones: Can stick 1080s and floater back flips with a grab; was the K2 poster boy last season; skied for a McDonald's commercial and a Lazy Bone rap video.
Ambitions: "Skiing saved my life, so now I want to give something back. I want to be an ambassador to the African American community and show black kids how to find their potential through things like skiing, surfing, or fishing."
His Family: Recently, Rasta was driving and spotted someone on the street. "What up, blood!" he yelled. It was the cousin who used to take him to the money circles. He came and gave Rasta a big hug.