Tanner Hall entered his first pro contest in 1999 on Colorado's Berthoud Pass. He was 16, competing against the likes of Jonny Moseley and Toby Dawson. In the two decades since, Hall has entered hundreds more contests in a range of disciplines. But at 34, he still has never dropped in at a big-mountain event.
That will change next winter, as Hall requested and was granted a season wild card entry to the Freeride World Tour (FWT). He becomes the highest-profile athlete on tour since Candide Thovex won the world title in 2010. Last week, FWT CEO Nicolas Hale-Woods, who has long tried to increase the tour's visibility outside of Europe, told me Hall "is probably our best promotion in North America that we can think of." Never mind that Hall has not entered a major ski competition in five years, or that he is best known for his park-and-pipe skiing, which earned him seven X Games gold medals, the last coming in 2008. "It's great to see that guys of his caliber are looking at [the FWT] as interesting," Hale-Woods said.
But beyond the publicity, can Hall actually compete? And why take such a risky plunge now? I reached Hall on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend. He had just pulled into Mammoth for 10 days. That morning, he arrived at Squaw Valley, where he'd been skiing park for much of the season, to learn his pass had been revoked for using foul language the prior day. Hall was slightly rattled but still floating from a recent run of good skiing. He was hoping to try a switch triple cork at Mammoth and had just finished working out at a gym in town--prep for what could be the last stand of his competitive career.
What got you interested in the Freeride World Tour?
[2014 and '16 FWT champion] Loic Collomb-Patton sparked my interest. I used to ski halfpipe with him, and when I saw him out in Alaska one year, he urged me to do it. At first, I was like, thank you, but no. But the last two seasons, something turned a corner in my skiing. It was basically when I stopped drinking alcohol 15 months ago. I'm skiing better than I ever have, and it seemed like the perfect time to just go…see what happens. I can't even say I'm going there to win or I'm going there to show the world something crazy. But I know I can ski big mountains very well. I know I can throw really nice tricks off of shit that you don't even need to put one shovel load on. And if I can combine those two, I think that could make a good run.
So this wasn't about proving something to yourself or others, you just want to see what happens?
Yeah, man. You've got to realize, I have zero pressure, nothing to prove. I've done all kinds of contests, but not this. I feel like I would sell myself short if I got to the end of my career and never tried to take a run at the tour just one time.
When did you stop drinking--and why?
March 13, 2017. I got in a little bit of trouble last year, and I was like, fuck, dude, if I keep drinking, I think this is going to start happening a whole bunch. Drinking alcohol is the worst thing in the world. It's totally asinine how poisonous that substance is, and it's so in your face, everywhere you go. Even at the gas station: "Take a little shooter! Five bucks!" And for skiers, and for your body and joints and mind, alcohol is nothing but poison. I'm living proof right now, because I got it out of my life at 33 years old, and it's insane how far I've come. I'm proud of myself for the first time in a long time, to stay true to not drinking and be in the gym every day and actually go out on the hill and ski every day.
Usually skiers use contests to launch their film careers, but you're doing the opposite. Why?
I've had a competition mentality before, and I know what that takes, but the reason why I haven't tried recently is because my brain wasn't ready. If I'm going to compete, it's because I think I can do well. I've been staying away from contests because I'm waiting to find the zone again. It's something that I've been searching forever since I broke my legs and tore my ACLs in 2009, and I'm starting to find it again. Just the fact that I could actually be in the start gate again is very exciting. It gives me a drive, a goal, something to work toward.
Do you know any of the FWT skiers and have you talked to them about what to expect?
No, dude. I ski around with Henrik Harlaut and Phil Casabon and B Devine and Taylor Seaton.
Did you watch any of Candide's runs when he won the tour and did his success influence your interest at all?
No, because in 2010, I was laid up with two broken legs eating an asinine amount of pain pills. So I didn't see anything. I've only seen the last couple years of the tour.
How are you training for it?
I am a madman right now; I look like a fitness dude, it's kind of funny. But my knees dictate my life. Before this season, I could not ski more than seven days in a row before my knees were the size of watermelons. But this year, I just hit 14 days in a row. I want to get so strong that I can literally jump off a cliff, land on a rock, and not get hurt. I ride the stationary bike for an hour in the morning and an hour after skiing, then I do two and a half hours of stomach and leg stuff. I don't really hang out with anybody anymore. I'm literally on the hill and at the gym until 9:30 at night, then I go to bed.
What do you think you can do differently on some of these faces that the FWT contests are held on?
Skiing is not about 360s, backflips, and 720s, anymore. And if those big-mountain skiers aren't watching how the tricks are evolving in the park, then they've got a big surprise coming next year. I have respect for both disciplines, and I think this is the coolest tour in skiing. But I hope I can bring a little flavor from the park side and have some of the big mountain skiers say, "Holy shit, we never even thought of that."