003: Sascha Hamm Part 1/Dealing With Catastrophe

Photo: Swatch Freeride World Tour

“I have to electrocute myself for an hour each morning”

My guest for episode 3 of the Looking Sideways podcast was Sascha Hamm, a UK snowboarder who has been at the top of European freeriding for the past twenty years.

You may have heard the name for another reason though, and that’s because on 9th March 2016, Sascha’s life changed for ever. He was competing in the Freeride World Tour Event in Fieberbrunn, Austria, when he took a fall that, by rights, should have killed him. As he describes in detail during our conversation, he half-backflipped off a 100 foot cliff and landed on rocks.

The list of injuries he sustained makes grim reading:

  •  Torn left knee ACL
  • 10 broken ribs
  • Broken left elbow
  • Broken left humerus
  • Broken left collarbone
  • Broken left acromion
  • Broken left shoulderblade
  • Collapsed left lung
  • Ripped out nerves C8 and T1 from spine and tore nerve C8 in his brachial plexus.

Photo: Sascha

What’s even more remarkable is that, throughout it all, Sascha remained conscious. In today’s episode of the podcast, part one of a two-part special with Sascha, recorded almost a year to the day since the accident happened, we talk about how he’s coping with the injuries he sustained that day.

It’s a part of action sports that is very rarely explored, and Sash is very open about the physical and mental toll of this life-changing experience. Topics covered include:

  • How the accident happened
  • His relationship with risk and danger
  • How to deal with the mental scars
  • The 2008 avalanche that almost killed him
  • The modern consensus on avalanche safety

Its wide-ranging and thought-provoking stuff, and I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Sascha describes the accident

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Show Notes

  • Freeride World Tour – how it works
  • His accident – what happens when you half backflip 100 feet onto rocks.
  • The full injury list and immediate aftermath
  • How it felt to wake up after two weeks in intensive care
  • The various stages of nerve damage
  • Sascha’s current physio regime – which involves electrocuting himself for an hour each morning, acupuncture and hand therapy
  • How to manipulate a frozen shoulder.
  • Dealing with the mental scars by focussing on work and physio
  • What Sascha’s accident says about the mechanics of risk
  • Rewatching the footage of the accident
  • Sascha’s cosmopolitan Anglo-Austran upbringing
  • Growing up in London
  • Skiing from aged 4 – and discovering snowboarding in 1990
  • Discovering the UK dryslope scene through Hillingdon
  • The camaraderie of the early snowboarding community.
  • Working with Nick Hamilton
  • Sascha’s five year period at the forefront of the late 90s UK scene – and his favourite memory from those years
  • ‘Dragging British freeriding forward? It’s always just been about enjoying yourself.’
  • Sascha’s highly individualistic attitude to avalanche safety
  • The importance of experience in making good judgement calls.
  • The danger of backing off and getting scared.
  • Sascha talks me through the 2008 avalanche that almost killed him.
  • Buried four foot under the snow
  • The audio from Sascha’s headcam
  • Playing hot and cold with a rescue helicopter
  • Waiting to die or be rescued
  • The fallout
  • The lessons Sascha learned
  • Sascha’s forthright views on the pros and cons of the modern avalanche safety consensus.
  • Xavier de la Rue’s avalanche
  • …and the pros and cons of wearing a helmet.
  • On not changing your views no matter what happens to you.

PLACES/EVENTS/PROGRAMMES/MEDIA MENTIONED

PEOPLE MENTIONED

  • Drew Tabke
  • Felix Wimmers
  • Tosh
  • Ed Leigh
  • Nick Hamilton
  • Lolo Besse
  • Chris Moran
  • Rhys Crabtree
  • Paul Moore
  • Schmitty
  • Rob Needham
  • Joe Rackley
  • Duncan Carr
  • Will Hughes
  • Spencer Claridge
  • Steve Bailey
  • Xavier de la Rue
  • Minh Becker