Athlete Profile- Sam Elias

We are so excited to have one of our own Michigan boys presenting at this years ice fest!  An accomplished all round climber, Sam placed second to Josh Wharton at last years Ouray Ice Fest Competition.  Check out his finals route here!

The following is a brief interview from Black Diamond Equipment, one of Sam’s sponsors.

I was born on August 25, 1982 in southeastern Michigan, where my family still resides. I currently live in the state of Colorado. Climbing is a driving passion for my life. I have been fortunate to feel an innate connection to its practice from the beginning, and I have structured my life so that I can be dedicated to it.

Before climbing, my life was consumed with alpine skiing and ski racing. I have skied for nearly 25 years now, since I was 2 ½ years old. I began racing at the age of 12, and when I was 16 I moved from Michigan to Salt Lake City, UT to attend a ski racing academy. After that, I was recruited to ski race for a small liberal arts college in Idaho. I still ski frequently, both on and off piste.  It is such a pleasure to be outside and in the mountains, and I experience a great sense of freedom and peace there.

I was introduced to climbing through sport climbing, and it is my main pursuit. However, I enjoy many styles; traditional climbing, bouldering, deep water soloing, and most recently ice and winter mixed (M) climbing/dry tooling. The quest to understand myself through climbing has deeply enriched my life, and for this I am eternally grateful. As a result, I feel a responsibility to continue to explore within the pursuit for as long as I am motivated and capable.

In addition to practicing as an athlete, I have had many fortunate employment positions within the climbing and greater outdoor industry. I have worked as an instructor and manager for a climbing gym, a retail sales floor employee, a ski shop manager, an inventory buyer for a specialty outdoors store, and now as a tech rep for Black Diamond. I have found that these opportunities bring a balance to my climbing life. They have allowed me a way to contribute back to the sport and the industry. I am a very strong advocate for not only climbing, but the outdoor industry as a whole. I believe firmly in the necessity of its function, and I am very proud to be a part of it.


August 25, 1982

Year you first started climbing?

Well, it’s a long winded answer…The first time that I ever climbed was in 1995, from then until 2000, I went climbing only a handful of times. In the Spring of 2000, I began climbing slightly more consistently with increasing frequency until the Spring of 2005, when I moved to the Red River Gorge to work at Miguel’s Pizza and climbing became my lifestyle.

Three climbing achievements you are most proud of?

I am proud to be a pretty good rock climber, a pretty good ice climber, and a pretty good drytool/winter mixed climber.

Memory/story of the first time you ever went climbing?

I was 12. It was at a summer camp somewhere in Colorado. My parents had sent me there from our home in Michigan with a couple of my friends. I remember having to wear a helmet, and thinking that was so uncool. They set up topropes and tied each of us in when it was our turn. I remember being on the wall. I didn’t understand what I was experiencing, but now, looking back through my memories, I can describe it. I wasn’t scared, I wanted each climb to go on forever, I did not want to come down. It just felt so natural.

Favorite climbing area and why?

The Red River Gorge, Kentucky. I moved there in the Spring of 2005 to climb and work at Miguel’s Pizza. Climbing was not necessarily a priority for me at that point. I was a decent climber, but I was inexperienced. I moved there primarily to slow my life down, and to reconsider things, to find something. I learned so much about myself and I changed my life in that place. Climbing was an integral part of that transformation, and from then, I have tried to continue along that same path.

Best climbing experience?

There is no one “best” for me. I try to understand that all of the experiences I have ever had exist within me, at this moment in this day, thus I try to focus on the positive and try to make each day out the best.

Worst climbing experience?

Ha ha. Though I try to make each day the best…sometimes I fail. In 2001, I took a small fall off of the bouldering wall at my college. My left foot caught the edge of a pad enough to roll it, but not catch any weight. I landed with all of my weight on the rolled left foot, and broke my ankle, as well as tore cartilage and ligaments. I have had 2 surgeries, but there is little cartilage left in my ankle. It affects me everyday, and it seems that not much can be done.

What’s your dream trip? Where? With who?

Simple and slow paced climbing trip anywhere with rock and beaches with expansive water. Only with the closest friends, who know some of the faults and subtleties of my personality, but still keep me around despite them.

Guilty pleasure?

Red wine, dark chocolate, Avery beer

BD gear you use every time you go climbing?

Spring, Summer, and Fall: Ozone harness, Livewire quickdraws, Survivor Chalkbag, Gorilla Chalk pot, BD Brush set. Winter: Xenos harness, Fusion and Cobra axes, Cyborg and Raptor crampons, Express Ice Screws, Firewire Quickdraws, Tracer helmet.

Something that annoys you while climbing?

Rock and/or Icefall. Barking dogs, Crying babies, or the sound of my belayer’s voice carrying on a conversation with some one on the ground.

What/who inspires you in climbing?

I am most inspired by those that are of middle to old age that have had longevity within the sport. Those that have transcended the need to feel improvement or progression, or rather they have reverted back to a child-like appreciation for simply moving over rock or ice. It demonstrates true passion and devotion, and sacrifice as well. I hope to be among them in the years to come.

Favorite aprés-climb meal?

Beer, then pasta with meat sauce, a salad, and red wine, then dark chocolate with almonds in it.

Favorite climbing flick?

Hard Grit

What’s in your iPod?

Ambient, Down tempo, Electronica, Techno, Trance, Hip Hop, and Rap.

Strangest place you’ve ever woken up?

The ‘White House’ in the Red River Gorge. It is part of the land that Miguel owns, just up the road from the pizza shop. It is really old, and there is no running water and marginal electricity. I lived there for the climbing season in 2005. Some say it is haunted, some say that they have seen ghosts in there. I love that house, but it is strange for sure.

Strangest person you’ve ever woken up with?

Chamo in Mira Flores, Venezuela. He is an old, very short Venezuelan farmer that would wake up every single morning when the rooster started crowing, usually around 4. He’d grab his machete, and head off to the farm. He allowed us to sleep on his porch, so that we could climb in La Puerta, an amazing canyon of paper white limestone with tufas and stalactites. (See “Low Hanging Fruit” in Rock & Ice magazine #180)

Three things you’d never roadtrip without?

Wallet, contact lenses, and clothes (enough so that I’m not naked)

What’s your dream job?

I always wonder what it would be like to be an artist, or a chef, or a surgeon.

How are you training when you are not climbing?

I campus and hangboard. Indoor bouldering as well. Some yoga/stretching. Some weight lifting/oppositional muscle training…and of course rest.

If you could steal one thing and not get caught, what would it be?

The Hope Diamond

If you could have dinner with three people (dead or alive) who would they be?

Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, The Buddah, and Osama bin Laden. Sorry, that’s 4.

Which would you prefer: power of flight or invisibility?


Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

Yes. 3 tattoos.

For more information, and to see what’s going on with Sam check out the Book of Sam.