Skier’s Journeys

Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots

Noise, chaos, honking horns. Acrid decay replaces the dull roar of airplane noise and jet lag. Tired, with body language that is loose and unrushed, two guys with long hair heft ski bags over to their pile of duffels and camera gear. People stare and then look past them; they are no one special. They don’t belong. No one here is waiting for them.

“Some of the richest places on earth don’t have snow.” The voice is that of Chad Sayers, world traveler and skier. He sounds familiar, like someone you’ve met and shared a meal with. One of those memorable bonds that is absolutely fleeting. He embodies the vagabond in all of us, the restless soul and the bliss that skiing perfect snow drives us to keep seeking.

Or is perfect snow the quest? It could be simply the experience of mountains, searching, the motion, the sounds, cold, getting to know snow and people through their interactions with snow. What is a skier’s journey after all?

Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots. Westfjords, Iceland

Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots. Westfjords, Iceland

Chad Sayers in Terrace, BC

Chad Sayers in Terrace, BC

Chad Sayers, Chad Manley, and Forrest Coots in the Westfjords, Iceland

Chad Sayers, Chad Manley, and Forrest Coots in the Westfjords, Iceland

Chad: “A Skiers Journey (ASJ) was meant to explore places that were off the beaten path and document the ski experience in a way that might take people right there into that moment. People from all walks of life and ages. There was a curiosity for us to be alone and feel free from the normal ski experience and create our own unique one. One that would make others feel like venturing out onto their own skin track or expedition.”

The “normal ski experience.” Interesting, and true. Ski films typically portray only the dream: clean lines, silence, perfect snow. There is no grimy travel, fatigue, poor food and directions, boredom and waiting for conditions to line up. Chad: “Jordan and I started out skiing together shooting photos, capturing magical imagery and chasing light in some of the more classic ski destinations around the world. He had already won every photographer’s showdown out there and graced the cover of every ski mag. It was only a matter of time before he would transition into filmmaking.” And when he did, it was not to bring more of the same.

Chad Sayers in Tokachidake, Japan

Chad Sayers in Tokachidake, Japan

Chad Sayers dune skiing in Dubai, UAE.

Chad Sayers dune skiing in Dubai, UAE.

Chad Manley, Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots. Westfjords, Iceland

Chad Manley, Chad Sayers and Forrest Coots. Westfjords, Iceland

How does a project like this fit into an athlete’s career? It doesn’t pay bills, it won’t win on the film circuit or attract huge audiences outside the ski world. It is a personal story. Commitment and belief in a vision. At the time the project started, Jordan and Chad were at the top of the frame. Wunderkid photographer and the hardest working athlete in the business. All of that was set aside for months each year to achieve narratives about the celebration of skiing: where does it take us, who do we meet, why do people love this form of recreation.

Sayers: “When the idea to do these films came up, it took away the pressure of always pushing limits and being on the edge, rolling the dice day after day. To be in top ski shape all the time is hugely physically demanding. ASJ served a different purpose and brought out a whole new style and drive. Of course, I still wanted to ski my best but there was more to it than trying to be a rock star.”

Chad is the narrator on the first three seasons, talking us through the intricacies of each place. He is also a bonafide world traveler, changing locations like a chameleon, all year long. A photographer, he can be still and fit in anywhere. In a way, the filming is not an episode for him; it is how he lives his life, and he makes it deeply personal. “ASJ is a beautiful experience into the very heart of wild, unexplored landscapes/cultures with lifelong friendships. Where I skied from my heart and felt so passionate about expressing my love for climbing mountains, travel and hoping that it would inspire others to live their dreams and overcome their fears. The journey was my way of somehow giving back, with such incredible guys like Jordan and Forrest.”

Chad Manley, Chad Sayers, and Daniel Irvine outside the Mall of Emirates/Ski Dubai. Dubai, UAE.

Chad Manley, Chad Sayers, and Daniel Irvine outside the Mall of Emirates/Ski Dubai. Dubai, UAE.

Chad Sayers in La Grave, France

Chad Sayers in La Grave, France

Forrest Coots, Sayers’ partner in three seasons of ASJ, describes the experience this way: “Jordan has a mental plan in his head. He knows the shots he wants and he has a good idea of the story he wants to tell. And then he informs us about it.” The skiers don’t bring their egos into the equation. They make suggestions, they act as a team when invariably expectation does not meet reality. “At best, these are only conceptual ideas. Things develop along the way; it’s one part skiing, three parts travel. That is the essence of a journey— nothing is truly lost.”

Nothing is lost, yet it does come to an end. This is ASJ’s swan song. There are no further episodes. Forrest, a family man, is philosophical about it. “Jordan is an artist with a camera. It is an honour to be part of this series.” Other things will follow, or not. Every year, every season, every day brings different things to life. “It’s just good to have Jordan back. There is a whole new world yet to come from him.”
Having continually encouraged Jordan to complete ASJ, Chad finds himself wistful. “I have to admit that I wish it wasn’t over. While Jordan was out healing, we supported each other, finding new purpose and building careers in a different light. Things changed over those years, but he’s back in the mountains and we finished something we started together in true Canadian style, as a team.”

At the end of the day, ASJ is about skiing. As Jordan says this out loud, we can’t help but laugh. Our conversations have ranged from childhood to literature, fear and conflict to romance and growing up. Life is a strange and wonderful trip. So what is skiing, and where does it sit in all that?

Jordan: “I experienced this during my recovery —Skiing is a great feeling and when you don’t have it, it’s hard to access that sensation in any other way. Skiing is a mixture of gravity and a constantly changing medium that you move through. That is a very rare occurrence. And it becomes a community of friends and strangers who are united by that hook.”

Chad: “Skiing is me being completely alive and free in the moment. (It) has been my gift, my truth, my expression, my passion, my job; my life in many ways. (With Jordan) we see light and features in similar ways and if we were unable to speak to one another with words, everything we achieved, and our friendship, would remain the same.”

Forrest: “Skiing is fun. It’s flying, and it’s the sensation of being free and freed of everything. Jordan wants to capture that feeling and show us that this is a genuine expression of life. You can fake a lot of things in skiing, but you can’t fake that feeling.”

Jamie Bond in the Steward Valley, Baffin Island, Canada

Jamie Bond in the Steward Valley, Baffin Island, Canada