The Surfing Ski Nomad | Mattias Fredriksson on Chad Sayers

Words and photos by Mattias Fredriksson

Chad Sayers has skied in more than 20 countries all over the world, but his passion for photography and surfing inspired him to start exploring the world in the first place.

Chad Sayers is a modern nomad. Well, he is actually a professional freeskier but Chad is not a typical pro athlete. He loves to explore the world, with his skis – or his surfboards – photographing his journeys with old 35 mm film camera, while creating memories that last. He’s been based in Whistler for years, but that is just where his stuff is. He would much rather travel the world than build a dream house and settle down. At least that’s what he has been doing for the last 20 years or so.


This Canadian has travelled to 60 countries, winter and summer, and to describe him with the cliché world traveller feels a bit weak. Chad has skied in more than 20 of these countries and feels the most alive in places like Baffin Island, Patagonia and the French Alps but he has also explored the mountains in Iran, India and China.

You have most likely heard his voice in the early A Skiers Journey films, a project Chad collaborated  with the award-winning film maker and photographer Jordan Manley on. Chad appeared as a skier in all of the films and the project took the duo – and some of their friends – around the world on a real skier’s journey for many years.

Rappelling in La Grave.

Chad might as well have been a professional ice hockey player in NHL. In his youth, he was a very talented player and growing up in Ontario, it became very natural to pursue his passion for Canada’s national sport. “I grew up chasing the puck around on ice rinks that my father built in the back yard. I loved hockey, as most Canadian kids do, and I strongly believe my skating skills as a young boy have made me the skier I am today,” Chad says.

He put the skis on for the first time as a young kid but never hit the slopes until he was 15 years old. When Chad was 12, the family moved to the small town of Vernon, British Columbia. The short and fast Sayers kid continued to play hockey but also started to ski once seeing the snow fall hard and dry in the interior. Via the slopes of the local ski area Silverstar, he developed great skills and soon he was a podium skier on the free skiing circuit in North America, known for being a smooth technical skier not afraid to huck big cliffs.


Thanks to a near career-ending injury at 25, Chad was forced to change his style and motivation of chasing big movie screen exposure. Instead, he found his place as an exploring free skier which became a chance for him to breath. The competition scene was too intense. “Being an athlete all my life, I liked the free skiing competitions but my body could not take it anymore. Man, I was so broken – physically, emotional and spiritually. At one point, I thought I had to quit skiing completely but surfing gave me a sense of reflection and freedom, motivation to keep going and rebuilding my body over and over,” says Chad.


These days, the 38-year-old 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 an healing impact on his body – and it prepares him well spiritual and emotional for the ski season in the high mountains. “I need the time in the water, both for my body but as much for my soul,” he says. “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 important and it helps my motivation after many years in the game.”

Hiking in Sternoya.

After years and years of ski and climbing expeditions as well as free skiing competitions, the physically and mentally broken Sayers 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 come ski in La Grave and the first trip I made there in 2008, I traveled 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.”

Chad has traveled the world constantly since he was 18 years old. He writes journals on his travels around the globe: short stories or just notes about special days, people he meets along the way or reflections of life. Complemented by little 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.

La Grave.

  • 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. The best of the best over the past 20 years of my career together with the work of all the photographers I have worked with over the years are mixed all together in this book.

The book is called Overexposure and will hopefully be released during 2018.

Personally, I got to know Chad in late December 2011 when we met and skied together in La Grave for a few weeks. We skied hard every day and in the evenings, we talked about life. We were introduced by common friends in the ski world so quickly we got to know each other through these connections. I remember how Chad was really old school; not having a cell phone, no access to any vehicle and since there was no internet where he rented a place in a tiny village above La Grave, it was a bit tricky to communicate at first. We had to go back to deciding a time to meet in the morning before we went skiing – just like back in the day. Already around this time, I remember how it felt so relieving to not leave that open each day but say “let’s meet at the bakery at 8 am” or “see you at the lift at 8.15 am”.

Chad and I clicked right away so this trip to La Grave was just the beginning of an on-going friendship and many rad adventures in the mountains. Over the years, I have noticed Chads appreciation for life and for the opportunities he has got through his mountain lifestyle. As professionals in the modern ski world, traveling around exploring some of the most beautiful places in the world and get 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 also my job is boring and things goes sideways. Same for the skiers that has to wait for the light and their turn to glance in front of the cameras or for better snow to perform in. I have to admit that sometimes I almost feel ashamed when I get bored while being out in the mountains but it does happen and then I try to think of how Chad really lives in the now and appreciate the time out there no matter how the conditions are. Of course, he prefers really deep powder skiing, but after all the injuries and issues he has gone through over the years, the guy just loves it when his body feel good and the skiing feels smooth. I think that is something to have in mind for everyone when the ski season soon kicks off again.


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Check out Chad’s Instagram account.