“What he really did, that changed everything, was create community.” -Mike Douglas
Wow. 20 years! The Original Freeski Shop opened two decades ago and has been a hub of Western Canadian ski culture ever since. Fresh has influenced a lot of skiers over that time, so we called up a few pros, friends, and staff to get their takes on the shop and the mastermind behind it all, Steve Saranchuk.
The Godfather of Freeskiing himself, Mike D, remembers how the shop started and why so many skiers were excited about what Steve was building back in 2001, “He brought in this new look in a cool part of town, but what he really did, that changed everything, was create community. Instead of just, ‘I’m here to sell you skis,’ Steve fostered the freeski community with events and passion. Because of that, we Canadian pros made an effort to do things for him because we thought what he was building was really cool.”
“Steve’s a smart dude. He came to the Momentum ski camps and spent a bunch of time hanging out and chatting with people. And we all kind of hit it off with him.” This was before the shop even opened, and Steve was doing market research while laying a foundation upon which he’d build the shop. “He was figuring it all out and knew that getting the cool brands was important, so he went right to the source, the athletes.”
Marty Schaffer, the founder of CaPow Guiding, was just a teen when the shop opened, but he remembers it well, “Fresh has always represented the community. It’s not a large store, but it was always the most legitimate. Other shops are just generic. From the start, Steve had the most legit skiers in the world onboard. It was just so cool; you could feel it when you went in there.”
Another youngster when Fresh opened was Calgary-raised Chris Rubens, who went on to be part of the Fresh team and build a two-decade-long career as a pro skier with Salomon, “It was the first freeski shop any of us had heard of.” Steve introduced Chris to all of his original sponsors and helped him with industry advice. “He’s been a great friend and always supported the Calgary ski scene.”
“Brad (Stastook) was the reason I first got on the Fresh team, to begin with. I went into Fresh and asked to be sponsored, actually. The next week Brad came out to ski with RMF (the Rocky Mountain Freeriders, a Lake Louise club that Chris coached for), and we built a big jump. He went back and told Steve to put these guys on the team. Suddenly we were in.”
Brad was one of the first Fresh employees, so he remembers what it was like starting a new type of ski shop back then. “I met Sara Jane (Steve’s first employee, and years later, his first, and only, wife) at a halfpipe ski contest, so I think she told Steve I was a nice guy. I started at the shop a few weeks later.”
“We spent a lot of time explaining what a freeride ski shop was. It was like explaining to my high-school friends that this was just the type of skiing I enjoyed: all-mountain, some park, some powder, some Mach-10 groomers, some backcountry.”
“Some people in the industry thought we’d never survive and were generally jerks to us. It was thought that freeride skis didn’t sell enough to support a store.”
“It was interesting to get industry heavy-weights’ opinions. Jason Levinthal, the founder of Line Skis, would visit and talk about how refreshing it was to see an entire wall of freeride skis instead of a couple of twin tips in the corner.”
Senior staff from Salomon and other big brands would want to see the shop and discuss the future with Steve. It was more than, ‘how many pairs of skis can we sell you next year,’ it was, ‘we believe in freeride becoming more important. What do you see?’”
“Whenever someone would phone in asking for snowblades, we would direct them to call Ciro at the Ski Cellar, who we knew hated snowblades with a passion.”
“Steve’s sense of humour was always hilarious with all his practical jokes. Someone was always the butt of the joke, but it was fun, and he always took care of the staff, like going out for dinners or to concerts or having Christmas parties.”
“He opened a lot of doors for a lot of people in the ski industry. Henetiuk, Eric and Rubens, Justin Francis. But I feel like he just drew attention to skiers in Alberta in general, like the younger jibber kids. He hooked up a lot of kids!”
Drew Wittstock was another long-time Fresh employee and team member, “We were new and cool and fresh. Brands noticed and wanted to be a part of it. Armada and Salomon were the first. Then 4frnt and even when Arcteryx expanded into freeskiing.”
"Steve was really pushing it forward and building something."
"He catered to the local up-and-comers like us. He welcomed us and got us involved and treated us like the top pros. He allowed us to meet pros and brands and mingle and do the events. Those interactions helped us and helped build the scene in the Rockies. It was amazing what he did. It was a huge opportunity for us. Steve was trying to help in a big way."
One of Hoji and Steve’s favourite stories to recount is when they skied Westbowl at Lake Louise with JP Auclair and Michelle Parker years ago. Eric remembers it was a powder day and that skiing with JP, who was a complete idol of his, meant that, “We had something to prove and had good snow, so we skied really fast all day. We skied Maintenance Bowl and Oly Lift Line top to bottom over and over.”
“I remember being really impressed with Michelle and realizing that, ‘She’s not just a park rat!’” It makes you wonder what Steve, the only non-pro skier in the group, was thinking...
“I remember there was 30 or 35cm of fresh. I remember skiing really fast through Star Wars,” Steve recounts in the back of the shop. This was back when Westbowl was out of bounds and the sketchy trail back through the forest, Star Wars, was not marked or patrolled. Steve was also still pretty new to the mountains at that point. He was a good skier, but imagine tagging along with JP Auclair, Michelle Parker, and Eric Hjorleifson as they were proving themselves to each other.
“The whole time I was going, ‘holy shit, holy shit, holy shit,’ and just trying to keep up with them. And I had to keep up with them! If I didn’t, I didn’t know where to go, or how to get back to the resort.”
Of course, those three pros, or any number of other skiers Steve has helped over the years, would have happily lent him a hand or slowed down if he’d needed it. It’s pretty clear that a lot of us feel in Steve's debt for what he's done for the ski world and for the shop he built at the heart of it all.
Here's to another 20 years of FRESH!
Here’s a partial list of skiers who, at some point, listed Fresh as a sponsor. We are missing a few, so let us know who to add.
Chris Rubens - Salomon
Eric Hjorleifson - Dynafit
JP Auclair - Armada
Mike Henetiuk - Black Crows
Noah Bowman - Salomon
Rob Heule - Line