Mention Sam Coffey ’14 to just about anyone who knew him, and chances are you’ll hear one of two things, seemingly contradictory at first blush, but ultimately in absolute agreement: Sam had a way of making everyone feel like they were his best friend. Sam didn’t have any friends — because everyone who met him immediately became family.
“He brought out the best in me and others,” says his sister JoAnna (JoJo). “He always took care of me and my mom and really took over after our dad passed away.”
Born in Aspen, Colorado, to Cathy and the late Joe Coffey, who was the longtime and much-loved housing director for the ski-town of Snowmass, Sam was destined for a life on skis. In high school, he skied as a member of the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s alpine racing program and co-founded a local ski gang known as The Freaks with close friends Baker Boyd and Wiley Maple. The trio, who referred to themselves as “The Stallions,” were known as standout skiers and good-natured troublemakers who lived for their days on the mountain.
Sam came to UNH after a year at the University of Denver, and raced slalom and giant slalom events under alpine coach Brian Blank ’95, earning NCAA All-American honors in 2011 and 2013. Blank recalls Sam as a powerful, graceful skier and a top student but says the thing that leaves the most profound impression is the type of teammate he was.
“He was a great guy and the type of person that just everybody loved to be around,” Blank says. “Whenever he was around, the world was better.”
After graduating from UNH, Sam made his way back to the Rocky Mountains, where he did PR for several outdoor apparel companies, worked in the summer as a river guide and skied every chance he got, nearly making the U.S. Ski Team. Last winter, he worked as a ski technician on the World Cup circuit for his childhood friend Maple, a 2018 Olympian.
Maple says that World Cup stop Wengen, Switzerland, was just one of the places where Sam’s larger-than-life personality asserted itself. “Walking down the streets to the bars, he knew everybody in the whole town,” Maple recalls. “They’re like, ‘Oh, Sam from Aspen! Come in here!’ I’ve been going to this race for 10 years and I know like five people and he’s met the whole town within the first week.”
Boyd’s take on the impact Sam had on others is similar. “It’s kind of hard not to smile and laugh thinking about spending time with him,” he says, “because he was seriously the best guy. Literally every moment I spent with that guy was the time of my life.”
Boyd was with Sam in Mexico on a May surfing trip when he woke up with a headache and subsequently suffered a series of strokes. Despite two surgeries he passed away Monday, May 20, at the age of 29.
At Sam’s May 27, memorial service at Aspen, Maple joked with the nearly 1,000 friends, family and UNH ski team alumni who had gathered that he hadn’t counted on delivering a eulogy speech for his fellow Stallion until he’d made “at least a couple of best man speeches” for him. “It’s fitting that Sam went first,” he added, echoing what Boyd had said to him upon calling with the news of Sam’s death, “because he always went first. We followed in his wake.”
After the service Sam’s family of friends, UNH teammates and more celebrated his life the most fitting way possible, skiing together on Aspen’s still-plentiful snowpack.