Is freeskiing’s face a good one?
ASPEN ” The face of freeskiing is a 21-year-old with long, curly blonde hair, an unmatched competitive drive and a will to stump for the sport for as long as it takes. The face of freeskiing is also an outspoken whiner, a high school dropout, and, all too often, a black mark.
Nobody questions Tanner Hall is the shining, recognized star that defines freeskiing’s image. Perhaps we should. Because for every positive from Hall these days there seems to be a counterproductive negative. The act is wearing thin.
In the last two weeks alone, Hall won the U.S. Freeskiing Open pipe title and took second in both the U.S. Open and Winter X Games slopestyle competitions. For many, that’s a season’s worth of results.
During the same period, Hall was arrested at a bar in Vail for accosting the staff, and blamed a judging bias for losing the X Games slopestyle on Sunday to Canadian Charles Gagnier ” who ended the competition with the day’s coolest trick, a 1080 with a 900-degree grab.
Hall told me one of the guys scoring the event didn’t like him, and that was why he lost. Then he called Gagnier’s winning run an example of “Rollerblade skiing.”
After winning, Gagnier answered questions for the next two hours on how it felt to beat Tanner Hall, who had won the previous three slopestyles at the X Games.
A native of Kalispell, Mont., Hall has a large fan following among his fellow competitors, most of whom revere him and confess they think he’s “good for the sport.”
This perplexes me, because he represents them with everything he does, including the questionable stuff. They can’t control him, yet they have to live with the fact that if freeskiing is only one person, it’s Tanner Hall.
When Hall got arrested the night of his runner-up showing in slopestyle, so did every other freeskier, at least in a small way. The same goes for his now-famous line in Freeskier magazine last year, when he said Bode Miller and other ski racers don’t deserve their fame, because they only have to ski down “one icy-ass run.”
When he complains time and again about his sport’s scoring system ” subjectivity ” everyone suffers.
That’s how it works, like it or not. The world lives by stereotypes.
You get mixed reviews when you ask other competitors how they feel about Hall.
“He’s paid his dues, he’s earned that top spot. For him to make those comments, he’s earned the right to say that,” said Dan Marion, an 18-year-old from Maine who took seventh in last year’s X Games pipe contest.
But Marion watched Sunday’s slopestyle on TV in the X Games athletes’ lounge, and got “really pissed off” when Hall complained to the commentator about losing due to poor judging.
“Everyone just thought that was ridiculous,” Marion said. “He should just be stoked for Charles.”
Both Marion and Sweden’s Jon Olsson ” a perennial challenger of Hall, who has won more Winter X Games medals than anyone ” said Hall’s extreme competitiveness often gets the best of him. It taints his image and overshadows his “good guy” personality away from competition, they said.
Jonny Moseley, who won the gold medal in moguls at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and is in town for the X Games, has known Hall since Tanner was an 8-year-old bumps skier. (They shared the same coach, Cooper Schell.)
Moseley has watched the young “rebel” grow up, and though he said he disagrees with Hall’s criticism of judges, he backs him overall.
“Tanner’s being a punk, but I’m in his court,” Moseley said on Monday. “I do think he’s a good face for freeskiing. Most importantly, because he’s candid. People know he parties. They know he does this. They know he does that. You’re living it with him a little bit, and in the long run that’s good.”
I think you could poll the world’s best 200 freeskiers, and you’d be lucky to get 10 who say Hall is a bad face for their sport. I also think Tanner Hall is a large reason the sport exists the way it does, and it’s silly to bite the hand that feeds you.
Freeskiing isn’t golf, or ski racing, for that matter. So until Hall’s actions start cutting the food supply, he’s as good a representative as he wants to be.
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