October 27, 2020

Tanner Hall | Interview With An Icon

18 min read
“At this point man, there’s no regrets” Depending on who you speak to, the name...

“At this point man, there’s no regrets”

Depending on who you speak to, the name Tanner Hall is likely to get a very different reaction. For some, this legend of his sport and genuine mountain icon, will eternally be as much a marijuana spokesperson as he is a skiing one. A tired and overdone criticism, sure, but as Tanner points out during our Zoom conversation he’s aware that some of the labels he has these days he’s brought on himself.

Just before the release of his film ‘Tanner Hall Forever’, which is out now to stream on all good renting and buying services, I was fortunate enough to grab the man himself for a chat. Over the course of thirty minutes, we talked about everything from his switch from freestyle contests to competitive freeride, his mental and physical recovery from a string of brutal injuries, his wild party days, his handling of the ageing process, his co-founding of Armada and even the state of America in 2020.

This, right here, is (almost) the full transcript of that conversation

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Obviously the film [Tanner Hall Forever] is all about your switch into competitive freeride skiing. What is it about freeride skiing that called out to you and made you want to get stuck into it?

Well, I’ve been freeride skiing for a while now. I just had never done any contest form of it before. I’d been out of contests for a long time and, you know, I’m a competitive person. Contests bring me a good focus. When you’re out of contests, after being in them for so long it can be tough. Like, the older you get I think if you’re not competing and you want to stay at a high level you have to do so much more than the kids that are competing.

“Especially with that one run format. It really separates the men from the boys”

When you’re competing, and you know you’re competing, there’s a certain level of hunger and drive that it gives you and you don’t want to look like a fool in competition. You want to do your best, and you want to show people that you can do your best and not let the nerves get to you.

I felt like I was getting older, and I hadn’t been in a start gate or felt those weird feelings you get for a long time, and then when my skiing started getting really strong three or four years ago I was starting to think about it a little bit and then, two winters ago, it was just time [to do the Freeride World Tour]. Time in my body. Time in my mind.

I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to see how I would cope with being at a contest for a long time and entering a format of competition I’ve never done before. Especially with that one run format. It really separates the men from the boys.

Tanner-Hall-Interview
So, it was the that thrill of competition you missed?

Yes, exactly. If you’re a skier, you know what the Freeride World Tour is. You’ve seen it before. I really had no idea about what it would be like to compete in it though. I was just sort of jumping in blind but I’m really stoked that I did though. It was a whole lot different to what I thought it would be. But I guess things turn like that when you’re going into something for the first time, you don’t know what to expect.

Honestly, though, it was one of the best decisions I could have made for my skiing. In these later years, it’s just given me a hunger and a drive to stay in it and keep going.

You’ve had a number of pretty serious injuries during your career. I’m thinking, in particular, the one at Chad’s Gap Utah in 2005 but there’s countless others I could mention. What impact have those injuries had on you psychologically, and how do you cope with those mental scars when you’re skiing and competing? 

I don’t think people really realise how much pain I have to endure everyday, just to get the ball rolling. My knees and my ankles are just really bad. In 2005, I broke both ankles and both heels. And then in 2009, I broke both tibial plateaus and tore both ACLs at the same time. Those two injuries… well, they really sucked.

Through time I’ve managed to get pretty bad arthritis in my feet because my bones got really scrunched around my metatarsals on the top of my foot.

“I don’t think people really realise how much pain I have to endure everyday”

It’s just really weird, man. It can really fuck with my brain because some days I wake up and I feel like I never even had an injury. I’ll just have a great day, won’t crash, nothing will happen and then I’ll go to bed, wake up, and it’s like I can’t even walk. It might be a lot in my brain because I’ve developed a way for me to go about living my life and doing my skiing with my knees and my ankles anyway.

I think the main thing is that the older you get, you just have to get good with taking days off and taking time off. It really sucks, and it’s really hard, especially for me. I have ADHD, where it’s really hard for me to just sit when you have to.

“Nothing will happen and then I’ll go to bed, wake up, and it’s like I can’t even walk”

Especially in a sport like this, man, where there’s a lot of young kids and it’s like I’m getting hit up everyday by like jib kids, or pipe kids, or big air kids, or people who want to go ski tour, or people who want to go up and build some backcountry booters, people who want to go sled. So, you know, it’s like I’m surrounded by very active people all the time.

That’s been the biggest learning lesson in my whole career. Learning how to be good to my body and not go into overdrive all the time.

Tanner-Hall-Forever

Screenshot: YouTube (1091 Pictures)

Do you feel like you’ve got the balance just about right now?

I’ll be honest, I’m struggling on that one. It’s coming though, you know. Everyday it’s coming. I’m not fucking getting fucked up anymore. I’m not drinking alcohol, or doing drugs. That’s the biggest help for me right now.

“I’m not fucking getting fucked up anymore. I’m not drinking alcohol, or doing drugs”

Just keeping things on a consistent basis, with my training and with my stretching, and just knowing, with the injuries that I’ve had, if you’re not on a routine with even how you talk to yourself all throughout the day it’s going to end badly. Knowing that it’s going to get better, knowing you can come back. You’ve got to be really positive with yourself and that’s the biggest thing I’m learning right now.

Tanner-Hall-Interview
It comes to everyone at some point. It’s that inner kid wrestling with the older body right?

It would have been so nice, throughout all my injuries, to just not learn about the human body but that’s what separates the young ones from the older ones. When you’re older, you know how your body works. You know why it’s fucked up. When you’re young though, you don’t even realise it. You’ll be young and you’ll be like “Yo! What’s an ACL?!”

You know what I mean? But when you’re older and you have an ACL problem, you know exactly what that ACL is, what it’s connected to, how you’re going to get it back, what foods to eat, how much to ice, how many anti-inflammatories to take, how much to do this, how much to do that.

“I think the more you know, the more you can get yourself into trouble in life. A lot of people call me crazy for saying that but it’s true”

I think the more you know, the more you can get yourself into trouble in life. A lot of people call me crazy for saying that but it’s true.

When I was younger, I felt like I was skiing crazy lines because I just didn’t really understand how snow and mountains really worked scientifically. I could say that I did but now as I’m older and more mature, I realise that I definitely didn’t know. And, that’s what gave me confidence to go out and do some of the craziest lines I’ve ever skied. Just jump in with full confidence without really realising what was at stake.

Tanner-Hall-Interview
You mentioned that you’re skiing with a lot of younger people. Do you feel like a wise old guru these days? Ever find yourself passing on wisdom?

I don’t feel like I’m quite there yet. There’s still a lot of stuff in my brain that I want to take care of first. With skis on my feet and what not. Trick wise and line wise and project wise. There’s still a lot of stuff I want to conquer in my brain, and on my skis, so I don’t really have that feeling right there.

“There’s still a lot of stuff I want to conquer in my brain, and on my skis”

Being surrounded by skiers like Henrik [Harlaut] and Phil [Casabon], and a whole bunch of other kids is cool. We’re really getting to the stage where people look at me and kind of, you know, just give prop being like “Damn fool! After everything you’ve been through, how the fuck do you still want to do this?!”

It’s not even just the injuries, you know. The ski industry can be kind of a shitty place beyond injuries. For me, I never let that stuff get to me because the feeling that skiing brings to me, and the joy, that’s how I know I’m going to be healthy. That’s how I know I’m going to be happy. That’s how I know I’m going to be sane. That’s how I know life will go on – if I’m on my skis, you know.

Tanner-Hall-Interview
Do you ever envisage a time when you’re not going to be skiing?

I just bought a house up in the northwestern part of Montana, right below Canada, and I’m in the middle of nowhere. I can snowmobile out of my driveway. I’m, like, literally in the middle of nowhere dude. There’s no grocery stores, there’s no gas stations, there’s like fucking nothing around me but the beautiful thing is I can wake up every morning, put my skins on, and just walk out the driveway.

Or, I can get on my snowmobile and sled right out the driveway. Into a zone where I’m going to need five lifetimes to figure out where everything’s at.

Obviously the older I get, pushing the tricks and pushing the speed and pushing how big I can go on everything that’s probably going to start declining at some point. But, I’m going to try and make it not decline for as long as I can.

“The mountains are such a rad thing. They’ve taught me so much. I just feel like I’m going to be skiing until I’m in my fucking eighties, dude”

The best thing about skiing is that even if you just want to walk, with skins on the bottom of your feet, all the way up and just now snowplough down the mountain… just the fact that you walked up a whole mountain… you’re doing way better than most people in the later years of your life. With exercise and, you know, peace of mind.

The mountains bring such a serious peace of mind. I feel bad for people that live in tropical places or east coast where there’s not like these big mountains because you can get lost for days… years… decades! The mountains are such a rad thing. They’ve taught me so much. I just feel like I’m going to be skiing until I’m in my fucking eighties, dude.

Tanner-Hall-Interview
In your career, what’s the thing you’re most proud of? Is it all the medals at the X Games, or is it this switch to the Freeride World Tour?

Well, this might sound kind of weird but after I broke my legs and tore my ACLS I got in a really deep, dark, spot. It was fucking bad, dude. It was like really, really, bad.

“I got in a really deep, dark, spot. It was fucking bad, dude. It was like really, really, bad”

The fact that I climbed out of that hole, and then started skiing pretty good, and then right around 2014, 2015, I just kind of felt a switch in my injury and just… you know… sorry can you repeat that question again?

Yeah, man. No worries. The question was – 

Oh yeah, oh yeah. OK, OK, OK. I got it.

So when that stuff happened, I went through all the physical therapy, got back on my skis, and the very first day of skiing after that injury I was pretty much in tears. I couldn’t even click my feet into bindings, I had to bend down and pull my binding up because I had no strength in my leg to like get my foot into my binding. And so, that was really devastating. And, just, like… I really didn’t know what was going to happen.

To fight through a lot of shitty feelings, and fight through a lot of alcohol and a lot of pills, and a lot of crazy shit… to go through all that bullshit and to get to the other side with a strong body and mind. Those first few days of skiing when my body and mind felt right, after battling through all that shit dude.

“The fact that we’re still here, still doing it, it’s big man and I’m fucking stoked”

No contests, no X Games, no Freeride World Tour; nothing’s going to give you that feeling of like “Wow, dude. I did it.”

That’s a crazy feeling, you know. There was nobody there, nobody there to give me a big cheque, nobody there to do anything but that satisfying feeling I had of myself. I was like, dude, I’m not done skiing. And, that was the biggest thing because after that crash in Stevens Pass, in Washington, for probably about sixteen months I was just… done.

I didn’t fucking even think I was going to be like running, or anything, or being active anymore so the fact that we’re still here, still doing it, it’s big man and I’m fucking stoked.

Tanner-Hall-Interview

There’s this stereotype of who Tanner Hall is, and there’s those kind of stories where you’ve triumphed over adversity. Obviously, in the past you’ve been a big advocate for marijuana use. Do you think too many people still see you as this stoner skier? Do you feel like there’s a lot of misconceptions out there?

I mean, maybe. But also, back in the day, I was out of control. Like, at some points, I’d be really out of control and I would give people a sense of who I am with just that one run in. People might see me out drunk, at a bar or at a premiere or something, and so I sort of brought some of those misconceptions onto me I feel.

But, that’s just people seeing me in a bar and having fun one night. Maybe going wild. And then, they just base their entire judgements on who I am as a person and what I will always be off just like a three hour, or two hour, period of time. And like, those people probably didn’t even say a word to me that night. You know what I mean?

You’re wild when you’re young and now that I’m getting older, and what not, it is what it is. People are always going to have their thoughts about you, and that’s what I’ve learnt through this whole process.

“You can’t just be… this idiot… who gets fucked up every night doing blow, and drinking beer, and just trying to fuck everything that moves, and then go and be really good on your skis”

All I can do is just try to be a better person than I was the day before. And, just try to get better at skiing. And, how you get better at skiing when you’re older is by making yourself a better person. You can’t just be like this idiot, fucking, mid-30-year old who gets fucked up every night doing blow, and drinking beer, and just trying to fuck everything that moves, and then go and be really good on your skis.

For any athlete, as they get older, the more you have your shit together, the more you don’t lie, the more you don’t cheat, the more you don’t steal, the more you try to do everything you can for your friends, your family, and your community, and your sport… once you become really good with yourself, that right there is when you’re going to be someone who skis at the very, very, top level they’ll ever ski at.

And, it’s cool because someone like Henrik Harlaut I think has really embraced that. You can see, so many years in a row now, of him just being ‘that guy’. Because he is really good with himself, he is really good with his friends, he doesn’t lie to himself, he doesn’t lie to his friends, if he says he’s going to stop smoking tobacco and weed he stops smoking tobacco and weed. If he says he’s going to stop drinking, he stops drinking. It’s cool to see people internalise things, work through things, and be successful at the same time.

Tanner-Hall-Interview
Are there any moments you’ve looked back on and now really regret?

You know, at this point man, there’s no regrets. Everything I did, every decision, brought me to here where I am and I wouldn’t want to change it for the world.

Even like my injuries, right now I wouldn’t want to change that because that whole experience has brought me a true sense of “You gotta be strong, you gotta be smart, you gotta be on point if you’re going to keep pushing your body and your brain to the limits.”

“At this point man, there’s no regrets”

We grew up in a party lifestyle. Our party generation is different from these younger kids. These younger kids now they’re all on teams, they’re all getting drug tested, it’s all Olympics, it’s all structured. When we were young, there was no structure.

For people like myself, and people of my generation, I think it’s a case of if you want to stay in this, and keep pushing yourself to the top level, you just got to be good with yourself and your surroundings. And then, after that, anything is possible.

So, you’ve learned through adversity and the mistakes you’ve made?

Exactly. It’s made me a lot smarter about how I go about life. I’m making things easier on myself and not harder now, which is nice.

Armada-Skis
Back in 2002, you co-founded Armada. Did you ever think it would grow in the way it did when you started it, and has it grown in the way you wanted it to?

Yes. Yes. Yes, all across the board. It was time in skiing for something like that, you know. Skiing had been, and don’t take this wrong way – I’m not trying to make anyone mad, pretty corny. I don’t know what happened but snowboarding had such a push on the coolness factor and it kind of left skiing in the dust with that.

When Armada came around, and not even just Armada – when the Salomon twin tip came around I was like “Damn. This is pretty dope.”

“It was really cool to see just it blossom. And, it’s really cool to see it still killing”

It sparked things off in people’s brains and then it didn’t take too long for us to see what snowboarding was getting right with brands like Forum. We didn’t want to copy them at all but the fact there was a company “by the riders, for the riders”, that was just the smartest thing and it just made sense for skiing.

Right place at the right time. Armada was just fucking really cool to be a part of, and it was really cool to see just it blossom. And, it’s really cool to see it still killing.

Tell us about your favourite ever Armada ski

The Magic J, man. I just got to ski that for so long. That ski is just so nice, dude. Especially with the new Magic J that we’re working on right now, it’s going to have an ultralight core. We’re working on bevelling down the tips and tails, just so you can butter it around a little bit easier. We’re taking down the contact points, so it’s like you’re gliding on an even shorter ski.

That ski [Magic J] though. Dude, it took my skiing to where it was to where it is now. It’s pretty dope to know that just equipment alone can revolutionise how we skiers ski. You know what I mean. It’s been so dope working on that stuff.

“That ski gave me the feel”

My favourite ski has been the Magic J but then, you know, you’ve got the JJ Ultralight, you’ve got the Whitewalker, you’ve got the Stranger. There’s a whole bunch of skis that we’re coming out with right now that I cannot wait to get some more time on.

What the Magic J did for my skiing, outside of the park, it just means I’m really excited to try some other skis. Because that Magic J, I was skiing one way before that ski came out and then when that ski came out it was over. That ski gave me the feel.

Tanner-Hall-In-Ferguson

Pictured: Tanner Hall in Ferguson, 2014.

Following the death of Michael Brown [an unarmed black man, fatally shot by a police officer] in 2014, you flew to Ferguson where the protests were happening. In light of everything that’s happened in 2020, why did you make that journey then and do you think America has made any progress?

Let’s not beat around the bush. As skiers, we’re all fucking privileged. To be a skier, you’ve got to come from some ways and means.

At that point, there had been so much shit in the news. Like, everyday when you live here in the United States you see social injustice. We’re still trying to deal with racism, and shit like that, on a daily basis.

It’s amazing for me how people still really don’t get it. It’s amazing how everyone is going to watch the news, everyone’s going to watch social media, and then everybody in a ski town is going to give up their two cents about what they think about someone like Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, when they’ve never even been to Ferguson, Missouri, or places like Ferguson, Missouri.

“As skiers, we’re all fucking privileged”

They’ve never been to poverty-stricken neighbourhoods in the United States but they’re going to be quick to just start saying he shouldn’t have been doing this, he shouldn’t have been doing that. The cops wouldn’t have done what they did if he hadn’t, and blah blah blah.

But I’m like until you really go into those neighbourhoods or talk to the people that know the deal you can’t judge the situation. I’m just kind of over it how so many people in the States are so opinionated and it’s getting worse, and worse, and worse without any kind of knowledge being gained.

That was my biggest thing when Michael Brown got shot, I wanted to go out there and see what was happening with my own eyes in the United States. It sucks to know that was in 2014 and here we are in 2020, where not only has nothing changed it’s actually getting worse.

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