Back in 2018, Sam Zahner and Calvin Barrett turned heads with the release of their raw, all-street movie “Banged Up!” Since then, they’ve combined forces with a gang of fellow Colorado-based skiers to create the film crew Strictly. This summer I caught up with the street half of Strictly—Sam, Calvin and Pete Koukov—to talk about their new film project with Strictly, and the tough but rewarding business of urban skiing.
Ethan Stone: Let’s do some brief introductions. Tell me your age, where you’re from and where you’re living.
Sam Zahner: I’m Sam, I’m 25, from Sparta, New Jersey, living out here in Denver, Colorado.
Pete Koukov: I’m Pete Koukov, 24 years old, from Denver and living in Denver.
Calvin Barrett: I’m Calvin Barrett, 25 as well, and I live in Denver over on Grove Street with Sam. That’s kind of the main hub. All of our gear, the cameras, the winches, the lights, it’s all over on Grove Street.
Scoping the shot somewhere in the hard streets of the American Midwest.
What’s your current guilty pleasure? An app, a video game, a musician, a banned substance of some kind?
Pete: It’s definitely TikTok, 100 percent. I literally told my girlfriend this morning that I should probably delete TikTok. It would save me hours every day. When I wake up, if I open TikTok, I’ll know I’ll definitely be staying in bed for the next 45 minutes.
Calvin: I’m going to have to say TikTok as well. TikTok and Reddit. I can go into holes, deep-diving into accounts and articles. It’s a mess. We should all delete TikTok.
What are the origins of the Strictly crew? How did you guys get together?
Calvin: So, Andrew Mildenberger basically started Strictly. At the same time, Sam, Pete and I were doing videos under Jiberish, like Banged Up!
Pete: Andrew wanted to film a ski movie, and we were all still in college so we had time. That was “Strictly Business,” the first movie before the crew got labeled as Strictly. That same year, Calvin and Sam were filming Banged Up! The next year it was like, we’ve got all these sick pow skiers and street skiers, we all live in Colorado, we’re all homies one way or another, so why not just pull it all together? That’s how Strictly started, and we made “Welcome,” the first Strictly film, which was also with Gavin Rudy. It was Andrew and Gavin filming and editing, the Jiberish crew and the Strictly Business crew, all kind of meshed in.
So You guys have already made two movies as Strictly, and just filmed your third one over the past season.
Pete: This year we ran it a little different. Instead of doing one big film, we’re doing three separate projects under the Strictly umbrella. So the one that the three of us produced, directed and skied in is all street.
That arrangement must have freed you up to do more of what you wanted to see in your own project.
Sam: Yeah, getting back more like when we did Banged Up! with more of our own personal flavor on it. We’re still going to have higher quality production that’s going to fit more in line with Strictly. I filmed a lot of the street stuff with them for the last movies—when I wasn’t skiing, I’d be filming. Working alongside Gavin definitely helped Calvin and I to get our filming skills up to a higher level, which made us feel more confident about being able to handle our own content from the filming side.
Calvin: Andrew was definitely on the fence at first. He was worried before we sent him the first clips from our first trip. So we sent them to him and he was like, “Hell yeah.” He was pretty worried for a bit there that we would be botching the angles or that the shots would be shaky. If we get good feedback from Andrew, then that’s a plus. Strictly is his company, it’s his child. So we don’t want to put anything that’s not worthy of the Strictly name. So he was hyped to see what we had done this year overall.
Pete: And the skiing’s good, too.
"The skiing's the easy part. Everything else is hard," says Pete.
Calvin: The skiing’s always been at a level that’s worthy. But for us to go out—like, we had to buy all this new camera gear, and we were doing it all on our own without Gavin or Andrew overseeing everything on the filming side. So they were stoked to see that we had actually pulled through and filmed well, and it’s something that they’re proud of and we’re proud of. We’ve been behind the camera for years now, but like Sam was saying, last year being the B filmer for Bermuda under Gavin definitely helped.
Sam: When we did Banged Up! we always had a vision for the angles and stuff, but we didn’t know any of the camera settings. All I knew was ISO. I just cranked the wheels on the camera and said, “OK, it looks pretty good.” I didn’t know about shutter speed or anything else. I had no idea.
Calvin: We were literally just cranking wheels until it looked alright, then we’d film it. Now we’re familiar with the cameras, we know what’s going to work well on the editing side with frame rates and all that. That was not a thing in Banged Up!
Pete: Way more thought goes into everything now compared to three years ago. We’ll spend a good thirty minutes just walking around filming out how we’re going to film at a spot. Sometimes we overthink it, which is probably a good thing that maybe sets us apart in terms of production value. We put a lot into the actual thought process of the clip in addition to the skiing itself. The skiing’s the easy part. Everything else is hard.
Calvin all business on this hefty lip 2 on to close out his Most Gutter segment.
It’s easy to go out and hit something, but to come out of it with a shot that really looks good is a different ballgame.
Sam: If you don’t get the angle right, you can make the whole trick not look as risky as it is, or as good as it could look. We’ll usually have at least two cameras, if not three, just to make sure we’re getting the best angle, because you don’t always know which angle will look the best in the end for a certain trick or a certain spot.
Pete: You might have a vision for how the skiing’s going to look, but then you do the trick completely differently than you envisioned it. And then you’re glad you have that other angle, because you wouldn’t have caught that little detail without it.
Calvin: On that note, shoutout to Jack Pepper and Patrick Ring for pulling through and helping us film this year. Those two guys came on trips with us, and they really pulled through and made those trips extra special because we got those third angles, and it made a huge difference.
Where did you film last winter?
Pete: We did a good bit of filming in Denver, probably a little more than usual in the past two years at least. We went to Iowa, we went to Omaha, which is funny because it’s so close and we’ve never skied there before. And we did one big trip to the midwest, where we went to Chicago and Milwaukee.
Sam: It was Des Moines, Davenport, Chicago, Milwaukee, Omaha and Denver pretty much.
Pete puts some public artwork to good use.
Are you stoked on what you got done?
Pete: I think we are all hyped that we’re going to make another all street film. That’s what I’m most excited about. The skiing is always on a good level. I think we skied just as well as we did last year.
Sam: It’s always hard to tell. I always have trouble with having a vision for how I want it edited and put together. But usually once it’s all put together, it looks so good compared to seeing these random clips and trying to envision in your head what you got done. Seeing it all put together makes a world of difference.
You guys are out there sacrificing your bodies in the streets, and then putting out the movie online for free. Mad respect for that.
Sam: That’s how it should be. I never paid to watch a ski movie. Maybe a couple of times, buying a Stept movie back in high school, but now if someone puts a movie out, I’ll just wait until it’s for free online.
Pete: It was up in the air in the beginning. Some of us wanted to sell it, some of us didn’t really know. But Gavin and Drew definitely didn’t want to sell it. We figured that it works better to pitch to sponsors that we’re not going to sell it, because they like that. Maybe you get a little more money from sponsors not to sell it, and that way you get ten times as many eyes on it, if not more. There’s a balance between selling it and making money versus making it free, getting more money from sponsors, and then way more people get to see it. It’s more accessible. At the end of the day, whether you’re selling it or relying on sponsor money, you’re not making much money regardless.
Calvin makes short work of this double-kink C rail.
Who were your skiing influences growing up? Give me three each.
Calvin: I was always a big fan of Parker White growing up. He was just so well rounded in street, in backcountry, in the park. I also was a big fan of John Ware and all the Clown School guys. That was kind of what got me into skiing in the park. Also any of the Stept crew—obviously we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from them. Shea Flynn’s stuff has always been great, Charlie Owens, Clayton (Vila)… maybe not specific people, but more the group as a whole.
Sam: Clayton for sure, in terms of street skiing and in the park too. I remember watching him and Seany J (Sean Jordan) in their “Welcome to Jiberish” edit and seeing Clayton do a cork 9 double japan. I saw that and then went out and spent a few days just trying to learn that trick. I didn’t start skiing till I was 12, that was around 2008, and back then I was watching Nick Martini’s King of Style edit on repeat. Besides that, Henrik (Harlaut) and B-Dog (Phil Casabon), Muddy Winter, all the B&E edits. That was my favorite skiing back then for sure. And Tom Wallisch when it comes to rail skiing.
Pete: Growing up I was so obsessed with Traveling Circus. Will (Wesson) is the GOAT for sure. His street stuff definitely holds a lot of inspiration for the stuff that I do. I love watching The Bunch ski. Doing something different is how I view skiing, as much as possible. LSM, Peyben and Magnus—Magnus has done some of the most insane shit. In recent years, Mango (Jake Mageau) and Hackel, their Real Ski edits the past years are probably the best street skiing I’ve ever seen. And like Sam and Calvin said, Stept and Clayton for sure. It’s not a style I emulate, but that’s definitely worth some hardcore respect right there. Clayton’s Mutiny part, that’s absolutely timeless. That will forever go down as one of the illest parts.
Pete coming in hot to this down rail.
You guys ski the streets pretty much exclusively. Do you ever get out and ski powder and backcountry as well?
Sam: I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. I’ve knocked myself out cold once a season for the past three seasons now. I’ve got I don’t even know how many concussions, and it’s all from head to pavement. So I’ve been contemplating it a lot recently, switching over, doing some jumping. No concrete all around, you know. It’s hard, man. That stuff changed my whole life, it switched my whole mental game when it comes to skiing street, and not for the better. I might be psyched to ski some powder.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that once you hit a certain age, you stop skiing street and start skiing powder.
Calvin: It’s not safer, though. Those guys take knees to the face all the time, hit their heads on tree branches and shit.
Sam: And get in avalanches. At least in the street when I get knocked out cold, I’m laying on the ground with a hospital ten minutes away.
Calvin: I think that backcountry is way gnarlier. It freaks me out so much more. It’s like being in the middle of the ocean or something. If you’re miles deep and you break your ribs or your leg, its like, “Why am I not at a street spot with a Dunkin’ Donuts right here, and the hospital a block away?” And there’s something to be said for the affordability of street skiing. That’s the biggest thing. If you want to go out with Drew and those guys, at the bare minimum you need to buy a truck and a snowmobile, do your avy certs (avalanche certification) and know what you’re doing, because they’re not trying to bring out some scrub-ass snowmobiler who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
Pete: If you want to go ski a street rail with the homies and film it on your phone, you can do that as long as you’ve got a pair of skis and some kids with vision. If you want to go to the backcountry it’s like, say goodbye to twenty grand.
Calvin: If you want a shitty truck and a nice sled.
Pete: Either way, you’re spending more on your sled than on your truck.
Sam up 'n over at Chow's Gymnastics and Dance in Des Moines, Iowa.
It’s also really difficult to get anything done in the backcountry. Even just going up for another hit or getting to a good camera angle—it’s all more complicated.
Calvin: Once you leave your Airbnb, you’re not going be warm until you get home. At least we can go to the gas station to warm up. Although we’ve had some really cold days and nights in the streets, too.
Pete: This season was actually the warmest we’ve ever had it.
Sam: We were scraping up piles of snow in Chicago and Milwaukee. We went there after a storm and we got a lot done, but we had to move a lot of snow.
Calvin: I literally hit a jump that was made out of hay.
Pete: At one spot we built a jump out of mud and just slapped some snow on it.
Sam: I built a jump early in the season that had, like, 20 palettes inside it.
Calvin: We’ve just been building jumps out of trash this whole year. Not even snow. Just a bunch of trash with a little snow on top of it.
Don't have enough snow to build your sketchy step-down gap? Just stack up some hay bales and send 'er. Calvin flipping out on the shore of Lake Michigan.
You guys are so dedicated to something that doesn’t make a lot of sense to people who aren’t into the scene. A lot of people don’t understand what you guys are doing in the streets.
Pete: We don’t either.
Calvin: We question it the whole time.
Pete: But it’s just what we do. That’s just how it goes.
Why do you guys keep skiing the streets?
Sam: I don’t even know. It’s mostly the end result. There’s something to be said about just doing it—going on the road with the boys and doing this shit. But it kind of sucks the whole time you’re doing it. It’s hard work, and then you’re scared to hit something. You’re like, “Fuck, I don’t actually want to do this.” You drove here, you built this spot and then you almost never even want to do it. But it’s rewarding in the end.
Pete: It’s always worth it, but while you’re doing it, you’ve definitely got some questions about what you’re doing. But then you look around, and you’re with the homies. At the end of the day I like to think that we’re making people really hyped on what we’re doing.
Sam: Just the other week driving around, I saw three kids who got all hyped when they saw the van. The kids are hyped on it, for sure.
Pete: At the end of the day I still love this shit. I always wanted to be a professional skier. It might not have panned out to be what I dreamed of, but we’re out here doing it, and it’s sick.
Calvin: I just like to go on trips and watch your homies. I like to build big-ass shit for my friends to hit. And then I remember that I still have to film my own segment.
Sam: That sums it up pretty well.
Pete navigating yet another improvised street drop-in.
Is street skiing a dying art?
Sam: I think it’s getting bigger and bigger. I see more crews and kids people doing this now than before. In the past it was Level 1 or Stept pretty much, I never saw anyone else hit street. Now you’ve got those Zootspace kids, the Child Labor kids, and I’m sure there’s more out there.
Pete: I bet this year there are going to be way more little crews you’ve never heard of that put out a ten-minute movie. Maybe as far as doing a full production, sorting out budget and trying to do it big and spending a whole winter doing it, maybe that’s dying. But going to hit a down rail with the boys, that’s growing. And shoutout to all the sponsors. This year they pulled up and helped us to be able to do exactly what we set out to do, and that’s huge.
Calvin: Otherwise we would have to take breaks between trips and go and get jobs. We used to do that. Once Sam and I had no money, and we went and cleaned houses for four days. Then we went to New York, spent all that money and came back broke again. It was fun, but it’s nice to not be in that position after every trip.
Not many Street crews have a binding hook-up. How did you guys get on board with Tyrolia?
Sam: In 2019 I reached out to them and they were all for it. I’d been using their bindings for a while, they legitimately were my favorite bindings. Tyrolia backed my vision from the get-go. This year we got Pete and Calvin riding on Tyrolia too.
Sam on the Tyrolia Attack 17.
You were stoked on the bindings even before you were getting hooked up with them?
Sam: I had a pair of Attack 16s that I used for like three seasons, skiing street and everything. They still work! I think I have them on a pair of park skis now, and they’re still going. They’re probably five or six years old at this point and they still work.
Pete: They’re one of those sponsors I never thought I would get. I thought it was a myth that people got binding sponsors. And now we get bindings sent out.
You guys have been doing this a long time. Do you do anything differently now compared to back in the day?
Calvin: We didn’t give a shit back then. We just did whatever, and we didn’t really think things through. It’s not like we’re hitting anything smaller or doing less heavy or gnarly things. But we definitely put in a lot more thought into filming angles, and speed, and whether or not it’s actually a good idea at all. We’re still figuring it out.
Sam: Shoveling more snow is the biggest thing. Maybe you think you might fall somewhere where there’s a big drop to pavement. I just don’t want to half-ass it anymore. Back then we were like, “Whatever, I don’t care. Let’s run it.” We’d have, like, an in-run over pavement into a little sketchy jump, patches of snow missing everywhere, and it was like, “It’s all good.” Now I want to make it good so I don’t fuck up and crash.
What are your goals with Strictly in the future?
Sam: Every year, we’ve always said that this would be the last year, we’re not doing this anymore. But I don’t know. I could down for a plan, just keep making movies. It’s hard to say.
Pete: There’s definitely a cap on it—there will be a point where we can’t keep doing this anymore. Maybe we’ll turn it into something else. Strictly doesn’t always have to be filming skiing. But that’s a different conversation.
Calvin: We could just recruit new players.
Pete: Yeah, just bring up the JV team and make them varsity, and we’ll just produce and direct and we don’t even have to ski (laughs). There are definitely some kids who want to come film with us. That’s definitely an option when we grow out of falling down the stairs and eating sidewalk. But I’m still doing it for a little bit more.