Hundreds gather atop Aspen Mountain to remember Sam Coffey and his larger-than-life character
Sam Coffey was a man without friends, for anyone who met him instantly became family. Standing atop Aspen Mountain on Monday, Cathy Coffey looked at a crowd estimated at near 1,000 people as she talked about her son. Sam’s sister JoAnna, or JoJo, stood at her side.
“He was the world to me,” Cathy said. “My heart and JoJo’s heart is shattered and severed beyond belief without Sam here on Earth, but his spirit will live on and because of our family, the ski group Freaks, and this wonderful community and friends, JoJo and I will save a piece of our hearts for all of you.”
Monday’s memorial service on Richmond Ridge was more of a family reunion where each person came to say goodbye to their son, their brother, their cousin. Sam Coffey, the tall, friendly, larger-than-life skier from Aspen, was all that and more to anyone who crossed paths with him. He was the sort of person who existed to make everything around him better, and it was his overwhelming joy for living — and especially for skiing — that brought so many to the top of Ajax on Monday.
Coffey unexpectedly died May 20 after suffering a series of strokes while vacationing in Mexico. He was 29.
“I was not supposed to make this speech until I had made at least a couple of best man speeches for Sam,” Wiley Maple joked while trying to hold back tears, Baker Boyd there next to him. “When Baker called me with the news, I collapsed on the mountain. He said, ‘One of us had to go first. It’s fitting that Sam went, because he always went first.’ First to kiss a girl, first to win a race, first to drink a beer. We followed in his wake.”
Maple and Boyd were Coffey’s best friends from childhood. They found each other through the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, where the trio called themselves the “Stallions,” a friendship formed from chasing girls, joyful shenanigans and, of course, skiing. Maple may have been the one to eventually make the World Cup as a ski racer, which included competing in the 2018 Olympic downhill, but even he spent his years looking up to the magnetic character who was Coffey, as did most others.
“It’s safe to say I’ve been obsessed with Sam since I first met him. I don’t think there was anything Sam, Wiley and Bake did that I didn’t try to copy at one point or another,” said Aspen’s Bobby Moyer, who was four years younger than Coffey. “Sam taught me, more than anything, that if you are going to do something, do it all the way and never, ever stop having fun. He made us all into better versions of ourselves. Being around Sam made you better. His lust for life and his frantic desire to enjoy every pleasure of what it means to be alive is contagious and has infected everyone that knew him.”
Coffey was himself an accomplished ski racer, having been a two-time All-American at the University of New Hampshire. He even served as Maple’s ski technician on the World Cup circuit this past winter. An avid traveler and adventurer, about the only thing Maple loved as much as his family and skiing was Aspen itself. Alongside Maple and Boyd, he co-founded the “Freaks” ski gang and never missed a chance to heckle the likes of Vail.
A talent in the world of ski marketing and public relations, Coffey left that life behind soon after his father, Snowmass icon Joe Coffey, died in January 2018 after a long battle with melanoma. This past year was the best of Sam Coffey’s life, according to Maple, and while it was a life cut short, it was a life lived to its fullest.
“Sam’s family is his best friends, and his best friends are his family,” said Sierra Rintel, a close friend of Coffey’s who attended UNH with him. “It’s insane to think about how many people Sam knew and his impact on them. He did such a good job of making other people feel special. It was easy for him, because he truly loved everyone. His contagious smile, laugh and personality made us all want to be around him.”
Cathy Coffey hinted that her son was maybe ready to turn a new page in the coming years. Surely he would have returned to Maple’s side on the World Cup next winter, where he made quite the impression traveling alongside members of the U.S. Ski Team these past few months. But after that, he may have settled down, although his vivacious approach to life certainly would have remained and it certainly won’t be forgotten.
“Sam had an exuberant personality full of gusto that can never be suppressed or duplicated,” Cathy Coffey said. “I have no regrets with how Sam didn’t waste a moment of his life. He told me after one more ski season coming up in Europe, he would be ready to venture back to more marketing in the ski industry and sometime have a family. I replied, ‘You have lots of time for that,’ but he didn’t, because God had much greater plans for Sam. Sometimes God picks the undoubtedly good guys.”