Over the years I’ve been lucky to work on many rewarding publishing projects, from the hallowed halls of Powder magazine to my own books and volumes like Whistler Blackcomb: 50 Years of Going Beyond. Whether writing, editing, creative direction or all three, each project came with a requisite deadline of a year or less from concept-to-print. In contrast, a recently completed project took a halting eight years to fruition.
I’m shilling for it not because I’ll make any money (my job is done and I’ve already been paid) but because I review books in this space before Christmas and can think of none more fitting for the coffee tables/bathrooms of keen skiers, followers of big-mountain freeskiing, or lovers of ski photography.
Eight Novembers ago, I met with my friend Chad Sayers, who had a book idea. I’d first met Chad as a wide-eyed grom at the Canadian Freeskiing Championships on Blackcomb in the early new millennium, a milieu on which he built a career before becoming a staple of global ski magazine galleries and covers, and a star of Jordan Manley’s award-winning film project, A Skier’s Journey. Later, I came to know him through ski trips and the images I regularly sorted as editor of sbcSKIER magazine. I was impressed not only with his solidity as a subject, but that he consistently worked with the best photographers, ensuring publishing gold.
Sitting by a window at Brackendale’s Watershed Grill in a downpour so fierce we got soaked just dashing in from our cars, Chad was typically friendly and humble, but clearly excited someone was hearing him out. He wanted to do a ski book: photos mostly, but also one in which he could tell his story. Well, what was that—him travelling the world to ski?
Not quite. It was also travel for his other passions of climbing, surfing and photography. Exploration and discovery, solitude and spirituality. Chasing the light. It was also about life as a ski pro, the difficulty of continuing, the constant uncertainty and inner struggles—competition and industry expectation, catastrophic injury and chronic pain, risk and reward, heartbreak and isolation.
Hmmm … this was all over the shop but intriguing. Light and dark. In an industry where people did little more than celebrate the last run then pat each other on the back, brah, this was new territory. On the couch now, Chad admitted that despite fame and fortune he was often a lost soul—and ready to bare it all.
“I’m not sure what it’s about yet,” he’d said finally, “but it’s all in here.” He reached into a grubby bag and plopped a stack of tattered travel notebooks on the table. I thumbed a few, finding an incomprehensible scrawl of drawings, revelations, self-doubts, wonder, introspection, and repetition. Oh boy. This was the point where one might size up the mountain before them and politely decline to scale it. But it was also the point where one might see the challenge as opportunity. Chad had a story to tell that put the lie to the visual persona his photos projected, and elements of this messy tale were the story of every traveller, every skier, and every pro who ever wondered what the hell they were putting themselves on the line for. I believed it could all come together in a way that made sense and looked great. I signed on.
Over the years, people came and went from the project. None of us were quite ready, and the time that passed as the idea moved incrementally along filled in some of the blanks; the elusive storyline assembling itself as if by design. By the time we really dug in, it was myself and award-winning design friend from Mountain Life Annual, Amelie Legare, with writer and snowboard pro Taylor Godber helping us out at the front end. Taylor parsed Chad’s thoughts, musings and stories into text that I could massage into a materializing storyline and pass on to Amelie for assembly. The concept was now a large-format photo book with self-contained stories on facing pages; readers could digest just one at a time, while they all assembled into a complete narrative arc. With mind-boggling photography from the likes of Mattias Fredriksson, Jordan Manley, Paul Morrison, Steve Ogle and others, choosing the right ones for Amelie’s brilliant design became a slow-motion Polish parliament that further slowed progress.
By the time Overexposure was published by Rocky Mountain Books last month, Chad had spent 23 of his 41 years inside the belly of the professional freeskiing beast, a two-decade odyssey of inspiration, self-discovery, loss and redemption. Success brought celebrity, sponsors, travel, and freedom, but living the dream was also a treadmill of daily risk that eventually set him adrift from family, friends, lovers—even himself. Somewhere, he crossed a line of solitude that only made sense in front of a camera. Eventually he left the mountains, only to fight his way back.
Though the story comes together in a miscellany of Chad’s recollections and thoughts, what makes Overexposure truly unique is that the reader can also see it through the eyes of some of the world’s greatest outdoor photographers, who captured not only the high-stakes gambits required by a pro skier to stay in the spotlight, but also the grandeur of the stage on which these play out.
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn’t like.