Nicola Iseard meets the man behind the meteoric rise to fame
Nicola Iseard: So, Sam Kuch, so you were working as a full-time construction worker just a few years ago. Then in 2018 you stomped onto the ski scene winning a swathe of ‘Best Of’ awards and Matchstick Productions has even hailed you as ‘the best freeskier in the world’. From the outside it looks like a fast rise to stardom, did it feel like that for you?
Sam Kuch The transition from full-time construction to professional skier was relatively smooth. I worked construction in the summers in order to spend my winters skiing. I was already so dedicated to skiing that it felt natural to make it full-time once I gained the ability to do so. I’m just so grateful to have the support to be able to make a living from what I love doing most and I relish every experience I get from it.
NI: You grew up on the slopes of Whitewater Ski Resort [read all about it on page 52] and joined the resort’s competitive freeride team aged just 13. Did you always have aspirations of being a pro skier growing up?
SK: Yes, I’ve wanted to be a pro skier since before I even knew what it meant to be one! I was inspired watching ski movies when I was young and began manifesting this life right away.
NI: We heard that you attribute your technical air skills to your mum, who was a competitive gymnast and black belt in karate – can you tell us about that?
SK: My mum was a gymnast growing up and invested in a trampoline when I was young, most likely as a place for us kids to channel our energy. I ended up becoming obsessed with it and would spend entire days bouncing. Mum bounced along with me and would teach me skills she learned over the years – all the flips and spins. I give a lot of credit to her and that trampoline for getting me where I’m at.
NI: Is Whitewater still where you like to shred the most? Or do you have aspirations of riding somewhere else in particular?
SK: I spent my whole life riding Whitewater and will continue to as long as the lifts are spinning – I just love the energy there, it really feels like home. These days I spend most of my time skiing in the BC backcountry looking for unique terrain that has never been skied. I would like to explore more of what European Alps has to offer, the riding there is amazing.
NI: We heard you suffered a big injury last season (broken femur) – how are you doing now? What does rehab look like?
SK: Yeah I broke my femur last February pretty far back in the backcountry. I miscalculated the trajectory of a jump and landed out of control, going pretty fast toward a group of large trees. I managed to get my body out of the way of the trees, but had to sacrifice my right femur in the process. Once I realised it was broken, the crew I was with jumped into action and were able to keep me comfortable and coordinate a helicopter rescue.
It was a hard experience but I feel like I learned a lot and it was a good reminder that playing the way we do is in fact dangerous and we’re not indestructible, even though we can sometimes feel that way. I had so much support from friends, family and other athletes who have gone through similar situations. I got on a great physio program early in recovery and have plans to get back on skis in New Zealand this September!
NI: Did you still manage to get some footage in MSP’s new Anywhere From Here film pre-injury?!
SK: I had a short season before my injury but still managed to have a great early season with tonnes of snow and managed to get enough footage for a short but sweet segment in MSP’s new movie.
NI: Talking about MSP, you won a Powder award for your segment in MSP’s 2019 Return To Send’er film. What was that like? Did you know you had put together a good bunch of footage that season? Or was it totally unexpected?
SK: When I was younger I would go online and watch the Powder Awards, so a few years later, winning the ‘Best Male Segment’ was surreal. It was following an awesome season where I got so many amazing new opportunities and felt like I skied my best up to that point. It being my first time skiing for a big production company, I had low expectations as to how far my segment would send me – winning that award gave me lots of confidence and really helped kickstart my ski career.
NI: Did you get to see your buddies and fellow athletes ski this year, or their footage? Whose skiing most impressed you this past season? Is it a question of creativity, or technique/style, or gutsy stuff that you are most hyped about in a segment?
SK: I spent most of last season on the couch mending my injury and lots of those days were spent watching skiing. I’m excited to see what Cole Richardson has coming out this autumn with CK9 Studios, I’ve seen some sneak peeks of his new film part and it’s looking really good. Karl Fostvedt’s Brap Ski looks awesome too. I think creativity, style and gutsy stuff are all important to put out a quality segment. They all compliment each other so well – but creativity and style really stand out for me.
NI: Are you accessing a lot of these places on snowmobiles/heli? Or are you ski touring to any of them?
SK: Most of the places I ski are accessed by snowmobile. It’s the most efficient way to get deep into the backcountry quickly and is also really fun. Most often we’ll snowmobile out to a zone then ski tour from there to access the lines. On occasion I get the opportunity to use a heli. Using helicopters for access is wildly expensive, so it’s more of a novelty, but with a helicopter you can access lines that could be otherwise impossible to get on.
NI: What are your plans for this coming season?
SK: This season, I plan to not let last year’s injury interfere with my skiing. I think there’s a mental hurdle that all athletes who get injured have to get over. I plan to take the lessons that I have learned from the accident, but not allow that incident to instil fear into me when I ski. I had a project for Arc’teryx that I was working on with Cole Richardson and CK9 Studios that we didn’t get to finish filming last year due to me being taken out. We plan to get right back into filming for that, which will include lots of backcountry and an emphasis on creativity. I’m really looking forward to sharing this project with the world.
NI: How is it working with your sponsors like Head and Arc’teryx? Do they plan any of your year, or do they more support your plans and filming?
SK: I’m so fortunate to have sponsors that support my skiing. There are usually a few trips a year that I’m encouraged to go on for brand film/photo shoots, but all of my sponsors are really keen to support projects that I come up with which is something I really value.
NI: What is your idea of a dream day on the mountain – where, what, who with?
SK: My dream day on the mountain starts with waking up before it gets light out. It has snowed 30cm overnight and I’m drinking a coffee while driving out to my favourite Whitewater backcountry zone, listening to some psych rock. I meet Cole Richardson and the CK9 film crew at the parking lot to unload our sleds; we banter and joke for a bit before firing up the sleds and head into the backcountry. We roll up to the zone right as the morning sun cracks over the ridge, revealing a coliseum of perfectly stacked pillows. The morning of skiing goes perfectly and we bank some beautiful footage. Once we’re satisfied with the filming we eat a lunch of cheese crackers and good salami, swap into some snowboard boots and venture to a more laidback slope where we pow surf and sled for the afternoon. We get up on to a ridge as the sun sets and sip some beers that we have stashed in our packs while we watch the winter sky burst with colour. Once it starts getting cold we quickly sled back to the trucks, load up, crank the heat and get home to a warm bowl of ramen from my favourite ramen restaurant in town.
NI: What can we expect to see next from Sam Kuch?
SK: Next for me will be tapping into a big season of filming a new video that I’m looking forward to share with you all. I have some new sponsors coming down the line that will be announced that I’m excited about as well! I’m looking forward to creating more ski content that aligns with my style and vision in the coming years.