Hall taking a pass on Winter X Games
Tanner Hall is sick of waiting. He’s sick of talking, too. It’s been seven months since the biggest name in freeskiing has been on a pair of skis following the aftermath of a disastrous crash in early March. Hall broke both ankles and heels after undershooting a 120-foot gap jump near Alta, Utah.Now, after surgery and months of rehab, the 21-year-old Hall said his body feels “basically 100 percent perfect.” It’s time, he said, to get back to doing the one thing he seemingly was put on this world to do: reinvent skiing by destroying its wholesome image.If only winter could get here sooner.”My cell phone has had the message mailbox full for the last five months,” said Hall, who was in Aspen last weekend screening his new film, “Pop Yer Bottles,” which he co-produced and helped direct. “I’m over [talking]. Once it’s on, it’s back to normal.” Here’s what’s not normal about Hall’s plans for the upcoming season: He doesn’t plan on entering any contests, even in the Winter X Games. It is only September, and a lot could change between now and late January, but Hall said he’s pretty firm in his decision not to compete.”The X Games, it’s a good thing, but skiing is at a point where it really needs to be pushed outside of contests,” he said. “We need to take all this stuff that we do in parks and begin really progressing it to stomping natural terrain and cliffs and making our sport just what it used to be. … If kids like myself, we get out of the contest scene and try to push the backcountry and the big lines, more or less, it’s going to change things.”
Hall said the decision to not compete hasn’t affected his relationship with his corporate sponsors. Yes, they would prefer to have him at events like Winter X because of the exposure it gives them, he said. They support his decision, however, to go in a new direction.Going his own way”There’s not too many people who could go up to their sponsors and ask them if they can take a year off of competing and just go for a good [film] segment,” Hall said. “Thank God that I’ve got good relationships and I’ve kind of proved that I should be able to do what I want to do. They think whatever I’m going to be doing, it’s going to be progressing the sport, and that’s all I’m out there to do.”In conversation, Hall says “You know what I mean?” nearly once every 30 seconds. Interpreting what comes out of his mouth, however, can prove difficult. This latest news is sure to raise a few eyebrows. There will be speculation whether Hall is just trying to grab more headlines – something he did plenty of last winter before his injury – or whether his intentions are genuine. What appears to be genuine is that when Hall says he is ready to have things in his life “back to normal,” he means he wants to get back to a position where his skiing does the talking for him. Since he’s been hurt, the only way he can answer his critics – and there are plenty of them – is with his mouth. And that mouth is the one thing that got him in the most trouble last year when he drew headlines for, among other things, saying American World Cup skiers Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves didn’t deserve their seven-figure incomes, or that he was robbed of a fourth consecutive slopestyle gold at the Winter X Games because a judge scoring the event didn’t like him.Hall’s mouth also led to him getting arrested at a bar in Vail two weeks before the Winter X Games. A verbal argument with some bouncers turned into a scuffle, which turned into the Vail cops coming to arrest Hall and some of his friends. The incident led to some in the media questioning whether freeskiing’s biggest star was helping his sport or hindering it.Whatever beatings Hall took in print, however, were arguably overshadowed by superb skiing. Hall won the halfpipe competition at the U.S. Freeskiing Open in Vail on the same day he was released from his overnight stay in jail. He also finished second in the slopestyle at the U.S. Open to go with his slopestyle silver at Winter X.
Hall said he knows he “screwed up” last year at times, but he doesn’t feel that all of the harsh things written about him were deserved. He was cast as a “gangster” or a “punk” or a deadbeat “high school dropout” by a number of people who didn’t even know him – people whose words, he said, were written with the intent of bringing him down.Misunderstood?”Whenever something got a little out of hand, or a little crazy, there was always some photographer there to take a picture, or some newspaper there, or some policeman there,” he said. “It was just my luck, you know what I mean? I’m a good kid man. I’m not out there causing trouble my whole life. I’m just like anybody else. You hang out with me for one day and you’ll see what I’m like.”In light of all the controversy, Hall doesn’t plan on revamping his image or being less candid in interviews. He is who he is, he said. Some things don’t deserve an apology. Some of his critics don’t want to admit that they have an inherent bias against freeskiing in general, but to avoid scrutiny for singling out a whole sport they pick on him. Most importantly, Hall said, the negative criticisms aren’t hurting freeskiing. If anything, they’re doing the exact opposite.”It just seems like everyone is looking for a reason to talk s—, you know?” Hall said. “For so long, it’s been so mentally stressful, but now it’s like, ‘Anybody can say anything they want about me, and anybody can take as many cuts as they want at me. Because you know what? Every year I’m going to be back, and every year I’m going to be in magazines, and that’s just motivation for me to put it back in everybody’s face that thinks I’m just a screwup. Obviously I’m doing something right, you know what I mean?”
Gauging Hall’s impact on skiing in general, it’s not a stretch to compare Hall to rapper Eminem. Yes, Eminem, and not just because both have the same color hair.Both have ignited controversy by doing the same thing: changing the accepted norm in their respective career fields. Both have used controversy as a propellant to widespread celebrity. And both have thanked their critics for providing extra motivation. In Hall’s case, he still believes the ski industry at large is scared to accept him and those who prefer his type of skiing. There are traditionalists who believe that skiers who ride rails and drop in on halfpipes have taken the sport in the wrong direction. They hate the baggy pants and the slick attitudes. They hate that Tanner Hall has become one of the biggest names in the industry.The division can’t last forever, however, Hall said. He believes people will eventually come around – it might just take another five to six years. Until then, he plans to continue being himself. In short, Hall is still going to spark flames, even if he doesn’t compete.”Everyone is scared in this industry to see a change. They’re scared of The Bigger Picture [Hall’s production company] coming in making movies. They’re scared of Armada Skis. Everyone is tripping on our industry because everything is changing. But it’s going to go. It’s already been going, and there’s no stopping it.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado