Les Arcs, 1997
Sascha Hamm Drags British Freeriding Forward
Words: Chris Moran
Photo: Nick Hamilton
In November's White Lines David Benedek frothed over how good the British snowboard scene had become. “The vibe is so much more fun and mellow," he stated, “it’s the coolest scene I’ve ever witnessed." Not a bad accolade from arguably the best snowboarder on the planet right now.
We owe a debt of gratitude then to the people who have created this scene. From its arrival on our shores, each passing generation of UK snowboarders have added a fantastic new layer to our collective sporting heritage. From Team Gnat’s Chuff back in 1989 in their pink dressing gowns and fantastically anarchic attitude (they famously emptied a hotel’s function-room furnishings into an adjacent river), all the way through to Lockdown Project’s forthcoming Terminal Ferocity (perhaps the best snowboard parody ever made), there is a lineage in the UK that celebrates diversity, champions individuality, questions authority and above all, seems to capture what snowboarding is all about. Somehow, against all odds, the British snowboarding scene has managed to distil our sport down to its composite parts.
At some point in the mid 1990’s, a group of riders from a diverse background converged in a twenty-two square metre apartment in Avoriaz for the first of several seasons. They smoked far too many bongs, invented way too many games to pass the bad weather days, they laughed long and hard, avoided the washing up, and took the piss out of the French. We wouldn’t know any of this if it wasn’t for the fact that White Lines photographer Nick Hamilton was on hand to document their antics. Thus, their lines and cliffs graced many a covershot and double page and their musings filled interviews and articles in the mag. In effect, they were the voice of British snowboarding. Strange then that their leader was a foreigner.
Sascha Hamm was born in Austria to Italian and Croatian parents. It was long after he moved to the UK that Sascha caught the snowboarding bug, which is how he came to be involved with the Hemel Hempstead scene. By 1998 he had found his true calling – big mountain freestyle riding. Johan Olafsson had just graduated to Alaska and was showing people what was possible with an open mind and heli budget, while over in France, Sascha and friends were opening up routes and pushing their own boundaries. “I’m a freerider," Sascha admitted in an interview. “I like to ride everything on the mountain. I’ve got nothing against halfpipe but to me it’s just a routine. I’d rather be on the hill and do whatever pops into my brain there."
For some reason, that 1997/8 season seemed to be about straightlining couloirs. Perhaps the most famous and respected of these was one underneath the Transarc lift that his contemporaries named ‘Sasha’s Couloir,’ a steep, super-dangerous line that involved two critical rock-ollies at the narrowest point, before opening out into a nasty, often mogul-ridden bowl if you could handle the windlip compression on the exit. After shooting Sascha putting first tracks down the line, Finnish rider Jarkko Kauranen famously scored a White Lines contents page by hitting the exit-lip and rag-dolling through the bowl.
The shot printed here, however, is a tamer couloir made famous by Regis Roland in the Apocalypse Snow film. Here Sascha pays homage to the 80’s legend by nonchalantly gunning the famous line. I don’t doubt for a minute he was laughing at the time, and saying in his head “but it’s sooo easy!?".
Sascha routinely laughed at the danger such lines posed. “I like what I’m doing and every day I’m on the mountain I’m trying to progress ‘cos there’s always room for progression. Even if you’ve got a banging headache because you’ve drank too much the night before." Photographer Nick put it down to a genuine love of riding. “He’s sort of mad for everything. He’s always first off things because he doesn’t want to land in anyone else’s bomb holes. He’s also highly competitive in everything he does other than snowboarding, like tennis or whatever, but with snowboarding I think he truly is doing it for himself. Which is extremely admirable."
What Happened Next?
After winning the British Championships in 2000 (the only foreigner allowed to do so), Sascha put his winnings towards pursuing a career in motorcar racing, funding two seasons in Formula Ford. While his driving style matched his riding prowess, the cars didn’t seem to be up to the job of taking Sascha’s lines, and he wrote off enough cars (including one on the way to the circuit) to earn the nickname ‘Sascha the Basha’. When the money dried up on that dream (although we hear he still has intentions to get back behind the competitive wheel), he moved into the international property market, and now co-owns Real World International (realworldinternational.com) from London. Sascha still goes snowboarding as much as possible, and although a long-term knee injury curtailed his freestyle career, his big mountain freeriding is as top notch as ever.