The story of Fresh Skis starts with the man behind it all, Steve Saranchuk, how he fell in love with skiing, and his vision for a different kind of ski shop.
A version of this article appeared in SBC Skier Magazine in 2004. By Kevin Hjertaas
How does a guy from Manitoba who’s never skied a day in his life end up owning and operating the most influential freeski shop in Western Canada? A better question might be how it even occurred to a young pension mathematician working in Philadelphia to try skiing in the first place?
Every skier’s story has a beginning, and Steve Saranchuk’s is classic ski bum material. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Steve played baseball growing up and like many young easterners, he felt the pull of the mountains—or at least the East’s large hills.
But skiing is a rich person’s sport. It takes hard work or great cunning for poor young men to get started. So Steve leveraged his charm and was able to attract a girlfriend not just willing to take him skiing for the first time, but generous enough to pay for the endeavour. With his girl’s money, Steve rented a pair of Salomon 1080s that first day, and the hook was set. When it came time to move back to the Great White North, the mountains pulled him west to Calgary, where he immediately bought a pair of 1080s—this time with his own money—and started skiing any chance he could. It was the birth of not only a lifelong skier but a skier who would give back to the sport and its culture.
In Calgary, Steve and his partner to be, John Sanges, had been toying with the idea of starting a small business. Steve’s newfound love for skiing helped crystallize the vision that would become Fresh Skis. A self-proclaimed “big kid”, Steve loved checking out new gear, talking to skiers, or just watching ski movies so he figured he’d make a career of it. Steve didn’t start skiing until his twenties and never even considered competitive racing or freestyle; freeskiing was the only skiing he knew. In Steve’s mind, 80 percent of the skiers out there are freeskiers, so he created a shop that catered exclusively to them.
“Freeride skis are Alberta skis. People here want to be able to ski powder, groomers, and park all in the same day. Race skis just don’t let you do that,” says Steve. If the shop’s instant popularity is any indicator, Steve’s absolutely right.
Regardless, starting a successful business is not the part of the story that has made Steve so popular with skiers. Long hours behind a computer or on the phone don’t excite most of us. Living in an apartment across the street from the shop displays a work ethic that would make most skibums cringe. What endears Steve and Fresh to local skiers is how he has impacted the Calgary ski culture. The Calgary and Rockies ski scene is thriving, and Steve and his shop are one of the major reasons why. In three short years, Fresh has managed to become a major hub in the otherwise fragmented Alberta ski scene.
This article originally ran in SBC Skier Magazine.
Steve in the shop window.
By connecting organizers, ski resorts, and sponsoring companies, Fresh has encouraged the recent increase in Rockies’ freeskiing contests. Steve has also sponsored local movies, skier friendly rail parks, and freeskiing clubs. In fact, Steve and his staff have sponsored, organized, or competed in almost every competition or ski festival in the Rockies in the last two years. The big kid himself even has plans to compete in a contest or two this season.
After helping other events for a few years, Steve decided it was time to have his own. This fall’s first annual FRESHtival brought all the major movie companies, their athletes, and the athlete’s sponsoring companies together for three days of ski movies, autograph signings, product giveaways, and even a made for spectators rail jam. The goal was to stoke the local audience and point the freeskiing world’s spotlight on Calgary for a weekend. On all points, it was a huge success.
Meanwhile, Fresh has amassed a ridiculously talented team of sponsored skiers. Aside from convincing non-Albertan skiers like Mike Douglas and Sarah Burke to be part of the Fresh team, Steve has signed almost every sponsored skier between Calgary and Golden, including Eric Hjorleifson, Rory Bushfield, Jon McMurray, and Colin Puskas. Steve has also taken talented unknowns and connected them with companies willing to become their first sponsors.
Through all his efforts, Steve has turned Fresh into an invaluable triangle connecting the ski companies, the pros and media, and the general buying public. All ski shops work between the consumer and the manufacturers, but few have worked as hard as Fresh to connect top athletes and the companies. To Steve, the ski industry seems to be “fighting itself in a lot of ways.” The companies often don’t listen to the skiers, and the skiers rarely listen to the companies, which is why Fresh works so hard to mediate and help the two get together.
Steve’s next chapter is a relatively predictable one. Like most skiers, he wants to enjoy powder days with friends and improve to the point where he can do a few cool tricks and rip any terrain. On the business side, he’s just looking to “keep on rockin’” and growing the Calgary ski scene. Though he was poor back when he started skiing in Philly, Steve, like most ski business owners, could make more money at his old job. But for a big kid, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as playing with new gear, hanging out with skiers, ripping with friends, and contributing to the sport he loves.
Steve atop Yamnuska with Marty Schaffer and Eric Hjorleifson