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Chad Sayers: From hockey in Oshawa to life as a nomadic freeskier, surfer & photographer

Chad Sayers grew up on the hockey rinks of Southern Ontario and didn’t even see a proper ski hill until he was a teenager. Now, he is something of a living legend travelling the world surfing and freeride skiing in the backcountry, while chronicling his nomadic journey through photos, video and wise words. 

At last count, Sayers had travelled to some 60 countries to ski, surf and generally explore exotic locations such as Baffin Island, Patagonia and the French Alps to more unique outposts in Iran and India. 

He’s competed as a professional freeride skier on the world tour and starred in a series of films called A Skier's Journey. Right now, he’s working on and has already inked a deal to publish a coffee table book of his photography and travel stories. 

So how did a hockey kid whose dad worked at the General Motors plant make it happen? It all started with a picture in a magazine. 

“He (Sayers’ father) was working in General Motors, and he was like, on a night shift. And he, he was looking at ski magazines and saw, you know, just how beautiful things were,” Sayers says. “ There was a lot of opportunity at the time. And so yeah, it was an inspiration through a picture in a magazine.”

Chad Sayers, photo by Jordan Manley

 

Everything changed for Sayers, who was born in Oshawa and grew up in the even-smaller Newcastle when at the age of 12 his family moved across the country and settled in the B.C. town of Vernon.  The Sayers family landed on the doorstep of steep-and-deep Silverstar Mountain, a far cry from the very flat Ontario landscape of his childhood. 

“I was a small-town kind of country boy. And, yeah, my dad moved us out west and then up to Silverstar Mountain. And at that point there was just kind of like a turning point, where I had to decide whether or not I was going to keep playing hockey, or if I was going to be a skier,” Sayers says. 

Sayers began the transition from ace hockey player to a skier at the age of 15, and, according to him, it was a fairly easy transition given the nature of the two sports and the movements and strength required by both. 

“I just fell in love with skiing, you know,” says Sayers, from his current home near Whistler. “Of course, there's a lot more to it than just, you know, but there was a moment where I was like, hey, this is pretty amazing to be hanging out in the mountains.”

Once Sayers was hooked on skiing, competing wasn’t far behind. But, it wasn’t downhill or cross-country, it was freestyle and then on to free riding. 

“It was probably a little more affordable at the time to be on the freestyle club rather than on the race team. But I really took two mogul skiing and kind of just exploring the mountain on my own,” Sayers says. “So initially, I was a freestyle skier, and I loved being in the air and skiing bumps and then very quickly I got a little taste for the big mountains. And I was obviously super inspired through magazines and different role models or people that were in that whole freeskiing world. And I knew that if I wanted to be a professional skier that was the way for me.  To prove myself through the freeskiing tours, you know, like, through the competition.”

Chad Sayers, photo by Guy Fattel 

 

The Freeride World Tour is the pinnacle of competition for freeskiers, and Sayers got his foot in the door by competing on the Canadian tour before graduating to the World stage. 

“Eventually, it became a pretty big thing for me. That was what I was really, like, focused on for a long time,” he says. “And then I got really injured. I had a career-ending injury eventually in competition.”

Sayers migrated south to Whistler and started exploring beyond the lift lines and bump runs and embraced his desire for big mountain riding and exploration. 

“I just wanted to start exploring more and I didn't even really know what that meant, or what that looked like because I was very grassroots,” he says. “Backcountry skiing back then if you went out ski touring you were on like alpine trekkers, you know, it was kind of a new thing.”

From there, his yearning for travel and more mountain adventures grew and he started travelling the world. 

Chad Sayers, photo by Guy Fattel 

 

“I went on this really big expedition when I was well, I guess I was 25,” Sayers says. “I was really inspired to go to Patagonia. I ended up planning a trip and went on this, like, big 30-day adventure. And, even to this day, it was probably let’s say one of the biggest trips I’ve ever done for a lot of reasons. And it was my first one. That's where it came from. There was just that one trip in Patagonia. I guess I got a taste for it. And then I decided to invest in these kinds of trips.”

In addition to skiing, Sayers fell in love with surfing, climbing and other active pursuits that come with travelling and a life of outdoor adventure. He says he’s also come to appreciate the spiritual side of the equation, being especially open to ecstatic experiences that big mountains and wilderness provide the soul. 

“It's pretty easy. I mean, if you open your heart to it, it's pretty easy to have a little glimpse into the spiritual self,” he says. “ I was really cracked open over the years going on these big trips, and you learn about having faith and having just a deep appreciation for kind of creation and nature. I was always kind of a spiritual person from when I was pretty young. And I just kind of kept building on it and evolving.”

Chad Sayers, photo by Guy Fattel 

 

Although Sayers cites trips to Baffin Island, the Himalayas, Patagonia and Mt. Logan as being particularly memorable, he says there is really no way to rank them or choose favourites.

“There's been a lot of memorable experiences for sure. It's hard for me to say one because they're all so different,” Sayers says. “And they all bring out something different in you, you know, whether it's a success, or whether you lose a friend or whether you get buried in a tent, or whether you make the summit and freeze your feet off, you know.”

Reflecting on his career in the interview is a coincidence as he’s been doing a lot of it lately as he finished up a book about his career. 

“It's a coffee table book, and it obviously talks a lot about my progression and how I was evolving from competitive skier to more of a backcountry skier,” he explains. 

Lead photo by Jordan Manley.

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