“I felt deflated. That was a turning point. I didn’t know if I wanted to compete anymore,” Kuch says, looking back. All that work, just to fall short? The Freeride World Tour was supposed to help him get into ski movies—was that path erased too?
Toward the end of that 2017 season, with Kuch conteplating what life after competition might look like, a serendipitous break came in the form of an invitation to show established pros Alex Beaulieu-Marchand, Anna Segal, Mike Riddle and Stan Rey around his home mountain on closing weekend. But Kuch didn’t just show them around Whitewater—he showed out for their film, clocking a handful of high-octane, freestyle-meets-freeride clips that made it into Forecast’s Beyond the Powder Highway.
“Sometimes, there’s an obvious line that’s yelling at you,” he says, describing his approach to beyond-the-ropes skiing, one that made an immediate impression that spring. “But for me, I like to look for good-sized transfers and landings—I love being in the air—transferring back and forth through the mountain. I like to jump things people wouldn’t normally see.”
Come fall 2018, when the movie was released and the ski world got a taste of Kuch’s air-oriented big mountain vision, his performance earned him the Discovery of the Year award from iF3, igniting what can only be described as a meteoric rise. Within a year, Kuch had a Matchstick Productions ender under his belt and a Powder Award for Best Male Performance on his shelf. In a flash, he had solidified his place among the stars of big mountain skiing.
Nearly half a decade later, Kuch remains one of the best in the business. Even after a catastrophic injury a few years back threatened to take it all away, Kuch has battled to maintain his standing as one of the ski universe’s brightest stars. Today, his brand of backcountry brilliance is more unmistakable and electric than ever—an envelope-pushing blend of creative freestyle and hardcore, pedal-to-the-metal charging. Perhaps more importantly, K2’s newest poster boy has done it by remaining true to his roots, establishing himself as a genuine, kindhearted, humble and hungry man behind the mirrored lenses.
Born in Canada’s Northwest Territories and raised in Nelson, BC, Kuch started skiing as a 2-year-old. His aerial acumen developed early, courtesy of a gymnast and black belt mother and an education featuring trampolines and tumbling mats.
Whitewater, that hidden gem of the Selkirks that prioritized powder and freeriding over cell service and terrain parks, was his childhood playground. “There’s a local energy to [that place],” says Kuch, who loves days spent charging after homies as much as he does skiing in front of a camera. “You’ll run into people you know every time you go up there.”
As a grom he followed the lead of his buddies, joining the freeride team at 13 years old. Competitive freeriding became the core of his ski identity, but he dreamed of making it onto the silver screen, either by skiing at home or elsewhere.
When crashing out of one led to the other, Kuch went from dreams to reality at the drop of a thin paycheck. After the release of Beyond the Powder Highway, he turned a flow deals into a real contracts and earned the coveted invite to film with MSP after locking in a few more deals. But affording the transition from ski bum to a cash-intensive ski-film lifestyle was no cakewalk. “I was roofing that summer, making decent money,” he says. “But once winter hit, between traveling and getting a sled, I quickly ran out of all of it. I was flying by the seat of my pants on an empty bank account.”
Penniless powder chasing had its perils. Filming with Blank Collective in 2019, Kuch rolled up to the trailhead on a lopsided $500 sled. As soon as he fired it up, it emited a huge cloud of smoke in stark contrast to the rest of the crew’s brand-new machines. With Kuch bringing up the caboose, Mark Abma, Stan Rey and Alexi Godbout rolled out at dawn. They stopped to ogle a moose that had been clearly torn apart by wolves, only to be met by the pack responsible. “From below and above the trail, probably just a couple of meters above us, a couple meters below us, a pack of wolves started howling,” Kuch says. “The sound was bone-chilling.”
“I like to look for good-sized transfers and landing—I love being in the air—transferring back and forth through the mountain. I like to jump things people wouldn’t normally see.”
Spooked, the crew fired up its sleds and took off. “About a kilometer down the trail, my sled blows up. I saw Stan go around the corner, and I was just left there by myself, yelling on the radio, freaking out, thinking about the wolves that were a couple of hundred meters behind me,” Kuch says, chuckling. “After that, I thought, ‘OK, I need to get a tighter kit.’”
The wolves didn’t make a meal of Kuch, but the ravenous British Columbian did go on his own feeding frenzy that season. His high-speed, trick-laced big mountain skiing shone in both Blank’s The 7 Stages of Blank and MSP’s Return to Send’er. Kuch punctuated the latter with a spicy Selkirk two-piece, linking a hand-drag three off a cliff to a rodeo seven off a windlip.
Going broke to film was a gamble, but it started paying off. “On the drive to the MSP premiere, I got a call from Arc’teryx,” says Kuch, who signed with the BC-based behemoth shortly after. “And on the way home, I got a call from an agent.”
Skiing had turned from a passion into a proper career. Suddenly, he had access to financial support, heli budget and a new sled (ideal for outrunning apex predators). But there were pressures, too. Kuch now says they were self-inflicted, but their effect was very real. “Once it becomes a job, there is a lot of pressure we put on ourselves. And there’s a distinctive line between whether pressure is a good thing or a bad thing for me,” he explains. “Honestly, if people are watching me ski and I’m feeling confident in myself, pressure can be really positive. I’m good at being under pressure while performing the craft.”
The negative pressure he puts on himself can be damaging, especially when the stressful business side of skiing influences his time on hill. That pressure caught up with him in 2022, when he says everything just felt “off.” The prior season had been a banner filming year, which resulted in Here Goes, a must-watch solo project produced by CK9 studios that earned Kuch the 2021 iF3 Male Standout Skier of the Year award. “Every day we went out, we got A-grade shots,” Kuch says.
The success of Here Goes helped Kuch line up Arc’teryx budget for a CK9 project with friend, teammate and fellow rising star, Cole Richardson. But adverse conditions during the first few months of the season in the Whistler backcountry had the two former junior freeriders and their film crew feeling tense.
“We weren’t getting what we wanted for the video and the flow didn’t feel quite as organic as it had in the past,” Kuch says. “There was this pressure to create something special, and every day we were going out, I wasn’t thinking about having fun—which is when I ski my best. Instead, I was thinking, ‘OK, what zone is going to create the best shot?’ I was thinking more in a filmmaking, production perspective than a ski perspective.”
So, when a rare day of favorable backcountry conditions lined up in February, Kuch wanted to make the most of it. After stacking tricks all afternoon, Kuch hucked a last-hit-of-the-day rodeo seven—coincidentally the same trick that announced his arrival as a marquee pro—and drifted, slamming into a one-and-a-half-foot-wide larch in the landing. In the clash between bark and bone, his femur snapped.
“Once it becomes a job, there is a lot of pressure we put on ourselves. And there’s a distinctive line between whether pressure is a good thing or a bad thing for me.
— Sam Kuch
“Sometimes, I’ll be laying in bed in the dark—maybe it’s a level of PTSD—and I’ll tap into this feeling, recollecting,” he says. “What I remember most is the speed—I came into that tree so fast—and flying through the air, chunks of bark flying past my face.”
Richardson and the CK9 crew helped stabilize Kuch and keep him warm for two-and-a-half gut-wrenching hours until a helicopter arrived. The crash was traumatic, but the break was straightforward. “Kuch says he was also lucky in that his bent and mangled cell phone quite possibly bore the brunt of the impact. “Maybe it would’ve been a shattered situation instead of a nice, clean break,” he says.
Kuch’s initial reaction after the accident and the surgery that resulted was unexpected. “I was grateful for the rest,” he says. It had been an action-packed few years for Kuch, and as potentially devastating as the injury was, it gave him a much-needed moment to breathe.
In the months that followed, Kuch purposefully distanced himself from skiing. He started by avoiding social media and committing to physical therapy, but progressed into less-healthy distractions. A spring spent healing spiraled into a blurry summer of heavy partying. “Once I was off crutches and on a cane, I was missing an outlet for my energy,” he confesses. “It was just this backwards phase of recklessly abusing my body. I was still doing physio, but just completely tuned out.”
He credits his partner with pulling him out of the spiral, saying that a mutual decision to pivot away from partying may have saved his career.
Back on snow the following winter, Kuch quickly regained his excitement for skiing and refocused on his return. Using his unspent travel budget, he and Richardson took off to New Zealand for a feel-good comeback tour last September. They made a casual edit from the trip—no pressure, all passion–a throwback to Kuch’s formative years spent lapping Whitewater’s low-key slopes. “Coming back felt so good,” Kuch says.
The duo had big plans for 2023, hoping to turn their one-year project into a two-year film, but their roles sadly reversed when Richardson slammed into a tree in Japan last January, lacerating multiple organs and sustaining severe nerve damage. While Kuch helped to support Richardson during his recovery, he focused his 2023 season on a solo project with CK9. The result puts the “stellar” in “interstellar”—with a space-themed project that spliced Kuch’s out-of-this-world ripping with grainy, archival astronaut footage. Themed projects have their risks, but in truth, it seemed perfectly fitting subject matter for the meteoric man. Fresh out of the crater of his injury and following a move to K2, Kuch combined pillow fields, windlips and big backcountry terrain into one of the most exciting edits of the season.
You wouldn’t know it by watching the film, but Kuch faced difficult conditions last season in British Columbia, and the crew was shut down left and right due to instabilities in the snowpack. “Every day, we were scratching for it,” he says. The challenges were much like those he’d encountered in 2022 leading up to his injury, but Kuch met them as a skier who’d been to the brink and back. For the 25-year-old, that meant being transparent with sponsors and managing expectations in order to ski another day. “I told them I was feeling the pressure and it messed with my head a bit in years past,” he says.
Those conversations were a salve for Kuch’s stress. When he returned to snow, he was able to leave the negative pressure behind and embrace the butterflies that come with exploring the outer limits of big mountain skiing. The joy was back and so was Kuch.