Freeskier Chad Sayers has been on and in magazines , films and ads for more than 20 years
Story and photos by MATTIAS FREDRIKSSON
Chad Sayers is not your typical pro athlete. He’s more of a modern-day freeskier, a nomad who loves to explore the world with his skis—or surfboard—and along the way, photographing his journeys on 35mm film. Though based in Whistler for many years, the Blizzard, Arc’teryx, Hestra and POC-sponsored skier would still much rather travel than settle down—and that’s exactly what he’s been doing for more than half his life.
The 40-year-old has travelled to 60 countries and skied in more than 20 of them. He feels most alive in places like Baffin Island, Nepal and the French Alps, but he’s also explored the mountains of Iran, India and China.
His voice and skiing would be familiar if you remember A Skier’s Journey, a film project that Chad collaborated on with filmmaker and Ski Canada photographer Jordan Manley, which took the pair—and their friends—around the world on an enviable skier’s journey.
In his youth, he was a talented hockey player while growing up in tiny Millbrook, Ontario, near Peterborough, where he pursued his passion for the sport. “I grew up chasing the puck around ice rinks that my father built in the backyard. I loved hockey, as do most Canadian kids, and I firmly believe my skating skills as a young boy have made me the skier I am today,” says Chad.
He put on cross-country skis for the first time as a young kid but not alpine until he was 15, three years after his family had moved to Vernon, B.C. The short-and-fast Sayers kid continued to play hockey, but also started to ski once he saw the big snowfalls of the B.C. Interior. On the slopes of nearby SilverStar, he developed excellent skills and soon became a podium winner on the North American freeskiing circuit. He’s known for being a smooth technical skier who’s not afraid to jump big cliffs.
Following an almost career-ending injury in a freeskiing comp in Snowbird, Utah, at 25, Chad was forced to change his lifestyle and motivation for chasing big-screen exposure. With the competition scene intense, he instead found his place as an exploring freeskier, which gave him a chance to breathe. “Being an athlete all my life, I liked the freeskiing competitions, but my body couldn’t take it anymore. Man, I was so broken—physically, emotionally and spiritually,” recalls Chad.
After years of skiing and climbing expeditions as well as freeskiing competitions, the physically and mentally broken Chad found liberty in La Grave, the mythical little mountain town in the southern part of the French Alps.
“I was inspired by the late Doug Coombs to ski in La Grave, and the first trip I made there in 2008 I travelled by myself. I immediately felt a strong connection to the mountains and the people there. Since then, La Grave has always had a special place in my heart, and I try to return every year.”
These days, Chad is surfing waves all over the globe as many days as he is skiing, if not more. The surfing lifestyle and all the time in the water has had a healing effect on his body, and it prepares him well for ski season in the high mountains.
“At one point I thought I had to quit skiing altogether, but surfing gave me a sense of reflection and freedom, and the motivation to keep going,” says Chad. “I need that time in the water, both for my body but as much for my soul. It teaches me how to be right in the moment with my eyes and heart wide open. It also complements my skiing; the balance is essential, and it helps keep me motivated after many years in the game.”
Chad has travelled the world consistently since he was 18 years old. Along the way he’s kept journals, written short stories or just taken notes about special days, people he’s met along the way or reflections of life. Complemented by small illustrations or paintings as well as his own photography, these journals became the embryo for a book idea, which now, many years later, is in the works and will hopefully be published in 2020.
“I have always been interested and inspired by photography. Chasing light and documenting these beautiful moments I was experiencing was my motivation. I started to photograph during my travels mainly to have some memories and kept doing so. This book will include my best photos as well as some of the material of photographers I have worked with in my career.”
Chad and I got to know each other in 2011 when we were introduced by friends in La Grave and ended up skiing together for a few weeks. We skied hard every day, and in the evenings we talked about life. I remember thinking at the time how old school Chad really was. No cell phone or access to a vehicle. Since there was no Internet where he lived in Ventelon, a tiny village above La Grave, it was a bit tricky to communicate. Instead, we would simply split the evening before saying, “Meet at the bakery at 8:00 a.m.”
Chad and I clicked right away, so that trip to La Grave was just the beginning of an on-going friendship and many rad adventures in the mountains. Over the years, I’ve noticed Chad’s appreciation for life and for the opportunities he has had through his mountain lifestyle. As professionals in the modern ski world, travelling around, exploring some of the most beautiful places in the world and getting paid to do so, perhaps we sometimes forget how privileged we really are.
Personally, I have been a photographer and journalist in this industry for 25 years, and most days I love it. Of course, there are moments when the job is also tedious and things go sideways. I have to admit that sometimes I almost feel ashamed when I get bored while being in the mountains, but it does happen. Then I think of how Chad really lives in the now, and appreciates the time out there no matter how the conditions are. Even if you’re not skiing as hard as Chad, holding just a little of his love of the sport will make you a better person.