By Melissa Larsen — Article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Freeskier
There are as many ways to tell a story about a person as there are days, or even minutes, in that person’s life. Where it starts, when it starts, and what relationship the teller has to the subject—all these have bearing on the tale. Were I a childhood friend from Alta, Wyoming, I might tell you a story to about how even as a mini-grom, it seemed like Sage Cattabriga-Alosa was born to ride a pair of skis. Were I a long-time summer companion, I might tell you about growing up hanging with Sage at his dad’s booth at the Oregon Country Fair, and how he can’t help but be an artist, because it’s in his blood.
Were I a roommate from Utah, I might start the story at the Pyramid Gap, fill you in on the origins of Sage’s pro-skiing career, and tell you about some of the insane things I’d seen him ski that never got captured on film. Were I one of Sage’s mountain biking buddies, I would regale you with tales of death-defying downhill runs, to illustrate the fact that he is a natural athlete with crossover style and the fact that his uncanny sense for creative, crazy lines down mountains has little to do with the toy he’s using to ride down them.
But I am none of these things. I’m not even a skier. So this? This is not Sage’s story. This is one of Sage’s many, many stories. But since it is mine to tell, I’m going to start it here:
The winter scene in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, swirls in a kind of fairytale Harry Potter world. Every once in a while a visiting stranger will find himself standing on track 9 3/4, boarding an invisible train out of Muggletown into the heart of the shred community without any effort at all. Most often, however, it takes people years to see and understand its true shape. I will try to describe it for you, since it is here, in this alternate winter universe, where I first met Sage.
Skiers and snowboarders co-exist in Jackson much in the same way that old dogs and cats who pledge allegiance to the same master live together in a house. You may occasionally find the two snuggling, but in the end, they will always be separate animals. The difference comes down to this: For skiers, Jackson is where TGR started, and where a significant part of the evolution of big-mountain skiing was, and is, pushed and documented. It’s like a little snowy Hollywood, where aspiring extreme skiers from all over come to get discovered.
For snowboarders, with the exception of Travis Rice, Jackson functions more like an Indian burial ground — it’s where old pros come to find salvation and simultaneously put their careers to rest. For many of us, the place is a safe haven from the madness of the shred industry. And so, it is from this position we sit, on the backs of proverbial armchairs, casting disdainful glances at the neon-clad labradoodles running noisily around the house in armadillo back protectors and helmet cams trying to catch TGR balls.
I might be the bitchiest feline of them all. So when the roving band of wandering tomcats I call friends came home one day with a bright-eyed, waggy-tailed pup named Sage, while I didn’t exactly hiss, I might have sauntered disinterestedly over to another room and pretended to find something fascinating to stare at on the wall.
That’s my bad. If I had a time machine I’d go back and recover all those moments lost because I was too slow to understand that Sage isn’t a labradoodle at all. In fact, he’s the opposite of one. It’s like he goes out of his way to not let you know what he does for a living. Of the, literally, countless people who know and adore him, I’d bet a significant amount of money that a large percentage would be hard pressed to name a movie he’s been in, or what the brand name of his skis is. And if they could call out a sponsor, it would be because The North Face also happens to make excellent tents, and many are the times we’ve been caught in a rain or dust storm in a group camping situation noting, enviously, how well Sage’s setup is withstanding Nature’s rage.
If he was a mountain animal, he’d be known as the Sagimal, and you’d never be able to track him because he moves so silently and gracefully through this world. And of his kind there is, truly, only one. Sage broke me out of my catty ways on a summer dance floor—or rather, he did it on a series of them, spread out over multiple locations and years. You may remember the song “The Riddle” from his part in TGR’s 2006 flick, Anomaly? I remember the moment he picked it, and I suppose that might be a better place to really start this tale.
Like most pro athletes, Sage is a bit of a nomad. Though he currently owns a house in Utah, and pays rent for a room in Portland, it would be foolish to assume that he could ever be found at any time in either place. You could attribute this to the demands of his profession, but it would be maybe more accurate to say that his profession makes it easier for him to live in a way that is in line with his true Zen-explorer nature. A mutual friend put it this way:
"He has a knack for showing up exactly where you wish he was — unexpectedly, like a ninja. Like, without any notice, he’ll fly across the country and be perfectly equipped to meet up with us at a festival and send it to the moon! I’ve lost count of all the times he’s pulled that move.”
Sage and I belong to the same tribe of music- and party-loving gypsies, who for a long period of time, have traveled the west of North America on a caravan route lead by our favorite deejays and electronic music producers. It’s car camping with subwoofers; multi-day micro festivals in the woods with banging music running on multiple stages from start to finish without pause. This is the scene from which ski soundtrack favorites Bassnectar and the Glitch Mob emerged, as well as the current douche-appropriated fedora-hat fashion trend. It is also where Sage decided to ask “The Riddle” creator, Random Rab, if he’d let him use a song for his movie part.
Rab holds reign over sunrise sets at these festivals. If you have heard his music, you’ll know it feels as if it was written specifically to be played at that magic hour when night meets day. The first time I heard one it was like someone had opened a closet door into Narnia. And yet, this is somewhat similar to the way some people have described the feeling of watching Sage ski — not some gnarly AK line, but just a mellow cruise down a poppy powder run.
It’s the beauty of a truly original style, expressed personally and creatively that people react to — some see it in his skiing, the rest of us see it through the way he lives his life. The end result is about the same. The poetry of the matchup of music and physical artistry is something close to perfection, but the best thing about it is I didn’t even know it at the time. I didn’t see Sage ski in a movie for another three years, and the only reason I went was because Rab was playing the after party. It was a TGR premiere in Jackson, and while the rest of the movie’s skiers sat in a roped off section at the front of the auditorium, Sage sat in the stands with a group of us and giggled as we screamed variations of the phrase, “Are you fucking kidding me?” during his segment. Then we all went partying and he never talked about it again.
A Rab sunrise set is tough to catch if you’re at a festival and have been out dancing for 24-plus hours beforehand. Most people have to sleep a little, set their alarms and brew a strong cup of coffee in order to make it. Sage is one of the few people who can roll up at dawn, not from his tent, but hot off another adventure. No matter what the time or circumstance, he’s always ready to get down, and always has a smile on his face. It’s like the lack of sleep doesn’t ever phase him. I’ve even seen him go mountain biking after dancing all night at a party, without stopping to take a nap first. There are so many moments his friends can point to and say, “There. That was when I decided he was truly all time.” That was definitely one of mine. If you could figure out a way to bottle that kind of energy you’d put coke dealers out of business. It’s awe-inspiring. Then there are the random things he gets into, like the Bay Area hyphy movement, for example. Almost everything that I love about Sage can be summed up by the history of a puppet named Danger Bee. Sage tells it the best:
“I just got into hyphy in the last year and a half. [My girlfriend] Annie and I had been listening to it a bunch, and just learning all about it. It was like, finally, gangster rap that I’m totally into because it’s all about having fun and partying. So Annie decided to make a hyphy puppet, and that he should be a bumble bee. And I was like, “Yeah, but Danger Bee needs a sidekick.” Because hyphy music is all about grills and sideshows and ghostriding your whip. So I decided to make a bobble-head muscle car, called Lil Whip, to roll around with. It’s modeled off a Ford Mustang.
We were trying to make Danger Bee hip hop, so he had a chain with a bunch of grapes on the end of it—hyphy music is always talking about purple weed, which is nicknamed grape—and gave him a gold tooth. Then we realized he needed a hat. So I made a mini b-boy-style trucker hat out of foam.
Danger Bee became famous at Burning Man because he’d party with people. He has a stick hand to gesture with and googly eyes, and at one time he had a blunt, so people would take him around and have little adventures with him. But everyone really liked his hat. And all these people at Burning Man wear these little mini top hats. So Annie started making them, little mini fitted trucker hats with graffiti arrows on and googly eyes, funny little things on them — kind of making fun of mini hats, but also making mini hats fun. You know that style?
And we’ve been selling them. We have a website and everything: dangerlandhats.com. We just listen to hyphy music and make like 30 hats in a weekend. They’re really funny, and it’s super fun to make them. People will probably think I’m crazy [laughs], but oh well.”
When The Playa is full of Burning Man participants, Sage cruises around in old suits, and goes by the name “The Playa Broker.” He’s even got a fake real-estate sign up on his (solar powered) air-conditioned tent. “Everyone always dresses up [there],” he says. “And I’ve never had a job where I’ve had to wear anything like that, so for me, it was like a costume. I had all these old suits, jackets that didn’t fit, weird old-man square-toed shoes. And my friend Patty was like, ‘What are you, a real estate salesman?’ And it just kind of stuck. That went on for a few years, and then people were like, ‘You don’t ever even work. You don’t ever sell any playa, and there’s other brokers out here with signs and shit.’ That’s how it evolved. It’s just fun style.”
And that’s the thing about Sage. He’s just fun style. The stories are endless. In a world of labradoodles he stands alone. So if you see the Sagimal out in the wild, don’t wind up your best ski story in an attempt to reel him in. Instead, honor the creature given to us by the gods of good times. Turn up the music and get ready to laugh.