I’ve been trying to build the courage to write this piece for a couple of weeks now, but I’ve struggled to find it. However, I snuck away to Maui and found some courage on reserve. I only REALLY knew Sam Coffey for a year. In fact, almost a year to the day he left us was my first direct interaction with him. Of course, I slid into Sammy’s DMs (the DM slide was acceptable, because Sam was one of my boyfriend’s best friends) during my solo adventure in Maui when I had seen his Insta story from Maui. “Dude, you on the island?” I wrote. “Indeed! You?” he shot back.
That was my first real direct interaction with the legend that was Sam Coffey, however I had known Sam far before that. I had known him through his All-American ski accomplishments at UNH. I had known him as Wiley Maple’s best friend. I had known Sam as the ring leader of this bizarre and intriguing ski gang in Aspen called the “Freaks”. I had known him as one of my best friend’s best friend’s (Hadley’s) boyfriend who was a bit of a Peter Pan like my own boyfriend at the time. I had known him as a Salomon athlete who skied beautifully in the backcountry. Since that day, though, I knew Sam as my friend. I keep thinking Sam and I knew each other from another lifetime, but when I went to his memorial I realized that’s just the way Sam made people feel.
That was his superpower.
Now I know Sam as one of Coley’s best friends…one of his UNH brothers. I know him as a tall, lanky jokester who made everyone in his path smile and feel accepted. I know Sam as Wiley’s technician and hype man who did everything he could to support Wiley on the World Cup circuit this last winter; Sam’s last winter. He helped Wiley raise money at his fundraiser in the fall. I remember walking into that room…it was packed with Aspen supporters and Freaks. At the door was Sierra Rintel, Sam’s former girlfriend/longtime friend. I had never met Sierra, but Coley had talked a lot about her. I was immediately struck by her beauty and warmth. I believe the exact thoughts in my head when I met her were, “Well Sam really fucked that one up.” But seriously, he did. Across the room was Sam, dressed to the nines (well, for Sam anyway), working the crowd. He greeted us with a big smile and hugs, thankful for the support. Sam had a way of making people feel like they were the most important ones in the room at that moment. Of course, he had no voice, because Sam had been partying the night before. I remember Coley telling me that Sam had lost his father earlier in the year to cancer, and introducing me to his mother Cathy and his sister JoJo. I remember at that moment feeling like I couldn’t imagine what that must be like, and how hard it must be.
I know Sam as the kind of guy who doesn’t complain or have a bad thing to say about anyone (except for maybe Vail - sorry, guys). I know Sam as the guy who hooked me up with Strafe bibs that I love. I know Sam as the guy who fell in love with the word “SERVUS” and said it to everyone he could at every opportunity he got while traveling Europe on the World Cup circuit. I know Sam as the one who made friends with locals at every World Cup stop - more so than even myself - and even met a few ladies along the way. I know him as the guy who made a bed out of a few Atomic ski bags this winter in Kitzbuehel because he didn’t want to wake up Wiley, and woke up the next morning by of the coaches, saying confused, “Where’d she go?” I know Sam as the U.S. Ski Team family member that was up for anything and would lighten the mood and the room when he walked in. I know Sam as the guy who yelled “MEG!!!” in a way that only Sam could, and it would always make me smile. I know Sam as the encourager who told Wiley, “Dude - you ARE going to Nationals this spring. You’re not going to miss Nationals” while we were in Kvitfjell, and Wiley was feeling bummed about his season.
May 15th was my birthday, and I found myself unusually sad on that day. That sadness carried through the next couple of days, and I couldn’t really pinpoint its origin. It all made sense when Coley told me Sam had suffered a stroke while down in Mexico, and was in the hospital undergoing brain surgery. In Mexico. Sierra had let him know. I was shocked. A stroke?! What the fuck?? Around that time of year the outdoor/ski community is typically tragically rocked by news of loss, but it’s usually from an accident in the mountains. A 29-year-old who I had known as a guy full of life had suffered from a stroke?! No way. I cried. Coley cried. But at that point, I never thought it would mean Sam’s life would end and I would go from “knowing Sam” to “having known Sam.”
We found out the following Monday that Sam had passed. I just never thought it would happen. I was hoping it was a freak thing and the strokes were small and he’d come back. The news crushed the community. The outpouring of love was unlike anything I’ve seen. Social media is a weird and beautiful thing in times like these. It’s strange to see interactions Sam had on social - I find myself thinking that he’s still here with us. But, he’s not. I’ll scroll through Instagram, and go to his profile and think there will be a new post there. But there’s not. I looked back at my last interaction with him, from when he was in Mexico - it was in reference to Wiley’s girlfriend Addie, who had gotten braids in Mexico. He replied, “So good. I wish I had long hair just for that.” I sent him and Wiley and Addie hugs, and he liked that message. That was May 8th. That would be my last interaction with Sam.
This winter Coley came to the World Cup in Kvitfjell, Norway. It was a hard winter and I was bummed I didn’t see him for two months while I was on the road, but now I realize there was a reason for that. Coley and Sam spent a lot of time together in Kvitfjell, and hung out while I was working. It was the last time Coley would spend time with Sam. We didn’t get any pictures, but they shared beers and laughs and I guess that’s better than any picture could ever be. I am so thankful Coley came on that trip.
After we heard about Sam’s passing I sent a note to the American Downhillers asking for memories and photos. Tommy Biesemeyer replied, “Should we tell the Kitzbuehel ski room/bag story?” Wiley laughed. Scotty replied, “Legend!” and sent a pic of a sleepy Sam, covered in a puffy - he had his socks on, but not much else. Our physio, also named Sam, wrote to me about how when he thinks of Sam he thinks of the word “SERVUS!” A common greeting in Austria, Sam fell in love with the word and would say it every opportunity he could. He would even say it in Wengen, where it didn’t really make sense. “SERVUS!!” Sammy would say, with a big dumb grin. People loved Sam and Sam loved people.
The memorial in Aspen was perfectly Sam. It was on the top of Aspen Mountain with hundreds and hundreds of friends - some who Sam had touched literally, and all who Sam had touched figuratively. I was almost scared to go to the memorial. Coley had already gone to Aspen with the UNH guys, and I traveled a day later, as I was coming from a weekend with my family in the midwest. On the airplane en route to Aspen, a sort of fear I had not felt welled up inside me. What was the memorial going to be like? Were people going to absolutely rage and get blackout drunk? How were friends processing the news, and would the gathering be a healthy process for everyone?
It was a sunny day on the top of Ajax in Aspen on Memorial Day - the day of Sam’s memorial. At the memorial, Sam’s cousin spoke about how Sam would want everyone to really feel and process the grief. I liked that message, and thought about how important it was. And, Sierra and Wiley both blew me away with their words. So beautiful. “Sis’” tribute was real, funny, emotional…just perfect. I could almost hear Sammy laughing. And, Wiley…Wiley told tales from the road. Wiley was honest as fuck and it was incredible. Here’s what Sis had to say:
Tips how to live life more like Sammy:
#1. Don’t complain. Sam hated complainers.
#2. Be your own biggest fan.
#3. Tell your loved ones that you love them more than a powder day.
#4. Always wear a cowboy hat and cowboy boots to all occasions.
#5. Make family your biggest priority.
#6. Never say no to fun.
Quit your job, travel the world. ski with your best friends, set off fireworks on top of Highlands Bowl, go dirt biking, rafting, fishing, surfing, rip off everyones sleeves, pour a beer over your head, make ski season last 12 months, yell random sayings at random times, dance to every kind of music, be the biggest presence in the room.”
I’m so glad we had the chance to travel with Sam this past season, but I SO wish I wasn’t saying that. I wish Sam were traveling with us for another season, because he brought joy to the Tour. There’s this weird thing about loss where the celebration of life happens and then people just kind of stop talking about it. Everyone processes grief at different times and in different ways, but we don’t really talk about it together after the memorial, because it’s almost like we feel that we should be moving forward. It’s a strange, strange thing. We say things like, “Sammy would want you to go out and live…he wouldn’t want you to be sad.” That’s probably true, but perhaps if we did talk about it about it more and we assured ourselves that it was OK to be sad (because it is), then it would make a difference for everyone. It may not make it easier, but it may make a difference.
So, here goes - every time I say the word “coffee” (which is a lot, if you know me and my diet), I think of Sam. When Coley is quiet, I wonder if he’s thinking about or missing Sam. Loss sucks. It’s the absolute worst. Sure, time heals…but it never really gets easy. And that’s ok too. All we can do is our best. And we can attempt to have a bit more compassion for those around us (with the healing process through loss, and in general). Additionally, I urge you - never, ever stop sharing stories. Storytelling helps people heal, celebrates life, and cements legacies of lost loved ones.
Finally, it’s impossible to top Sierra’s list of ways in which to live more like Sammy, but after reflecting, and following the outpouring of love, I have a few thoughts about what we can learn from the way that Sammy lived and how we can carry on his legacy…whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.
Always travel like a local. Be open. Ask questions and be curious. Smile.
Be kind. If someone needs a hug, give them one. Spread good vibes.
Celebrate every moment…not just the big ones, but the small things too.
Live. Simply, and beautifully, and fully. Because you only have one chance on this earth.
I’ll leave you with two different groups of words that I love and return to often. First, a quote that my friend Selina shared with me a couple years back when I was going through a challenging time. I returned to this when Sammy passed away, and it makes more sense now than ever before.
Wise wretch! with pleasures too refined to please, With too much spirit to be e'er at ease, With too much quickness ever to be taught, With too much thinking to have common thought: You purchase pain with all that joy can give, And die of nothing but a rage to live. ― Alexander Pope, Moral Essays
Lastly, I am often comforted by the words of Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata - words I return to again and again. Here’s an excerpt:
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Servus, Sammy. Gone but never forgotten. Love you.