X Games star Alex Hall’s Real Ski gold caps off another successful season
Hall is first male skier to win X Games gold in four disciplines
PARK CITY, Utah — In a video full of the gnarliest urban skiing imaginable, Alex Hall’s favorite shot was saved for the end.
The video shows Hall skiing backward before launching off a ramp of snow and spinning and twisting through the air. He lands on the very front of his skis hunched over and running parallel to the contour of the mountain’s decline. Hall uses his momentum to launch himself again in one, fluid motion to add another flip and a 360-degree spin before reaching the ground again.
“It was this idea, this jump idea, I’ve been thinking of a couple years now for a powder trick,” Hall said. “It ended up working out, which is really, really sweet.”
Hall spent three months working on a video submission for the Winter X Games’ Real Ski event, where skiers film the best 90 seconds of skiing they can put together before judges vote on the winner. The Real Ski experience was a big departure for Hall, who is more known for his competition skiing than putting together intricate video parts. Hall traded in the well-groomed slopestyle courses for the more rugged, urban settings of Real Ski videos.
Hall ended up taking home the gold medal in the event and became the first skier to win a gold medal in four disciplines, earning all four in the span of just three years. In 2019, Hall won the gold medal in slopestyle in Aspen and in big air in Norway and took first place in knuckle huck in Norway in 2020 before his Real Ski gold this year. Between that, his bronze medal at the world championships and another bronze in big air at X Games, it’s been a busy year for Hall.
The Real Ski video was arguably the defining moment of Hall’s 2020-21 ski season. On the surface, three months seems like more than enough time to shoot a quality skiing video.
But the truth is, a lot of work goes into just a minute and a half of skiing footage. While some may see a two-second clip of Hall flying over a fence, for example, Hall remembers the night-long shoveling effort to build the jump in the first place.
“The Real Skis are so tough, especially because a lot of the skiing we do in the cities is really hard because it involves so much kind of behind the scenes that I think people don’t really realize when they just watch the video,” Hall said. “We never had more than three or four or five inches to work within the city, which was really hard, especially on some of the bigger features we hit.
“We’d be shoveling all night to build this one spot and then we’d hit it in the morning and just hope that we wouldn’t get kicked out by people who didn’t like us doing whatever we were doing.”
French filmaker Etienne Merel has overseen “20 or something” skiing videos before, but the amount of effort that goes into a Real Ski video makes it a completely different beast. Something as simple as even finding snow became difficult. They would look through every highway camera across Utah in search of snow. Plus, Merel might only get one chance to film a shot, making it even more difficult.
“It’s just so much work,” Merel said. “It’s a lot of pressure on both sides, I think. I would say the difficulty is the physical and mental battle.”
Working with just one skier instead of a group was also a new experience for Merel. Fortunately for him, he’s been working with Hall since 2014, so they knew each other pretty well. Merel and Hall were around each other all day, every day for two months, meaning they had to work well together.
“You have to be good friends, otherwise you can lose your mind,” Merel said. “If you’re mad at the other person, you have no one to talk to. You have to be good friends to do this kind of project.”
Merel acknowledged that, while the other videos were really good, he knew deep down that ESPN would be shipping a gold medal to France.
“I will say that Alex was one step above the rest,” Merel said. “I was surprised a little bit, but not that much.”
Looking ahead to next season, one competition looms large for many riders: the Winter Olympics. Freeskiing is still a somewhat new event at the games, with 2022 being just the third year slopestyle will be an Olympic event along with big air making its ski debut.
But the Olympics also sit in an awkward spot in the skiing world. For some, it’s the most important event because of its larger scale and increased media presence. Others view competitions like X Games and the World Cup as the sport’s marquee events. Hall lies in the latter camp.
“Obviously, the Olympics is a huge deal just because it happens every four years, and it’s on this huge, international level and scale with all these TVs and cameras and media, which makes it really cool in that sense, especially for our sport that we can kind of showcase our sport in such an international way,” Hall said. “But personally, I think the X Games is the actual pinnacle of our sport in terms of the competition and the performances.”
There’s nothing special about Hall’s preparation for Olympic qualification because that’s just the way he wants it. Hall’s approach is to simply ski as much as possible leading up to it and feel as comfortable as possible when it comes to putting together the best run possible.
“Mentally, it’s always tough, like, you have to be really in the zone,” Hall said. “I think for me, the best I do is sort of in the zone, but I’m having fun and I’m just there enjoying the moment and not taking it too seriously, not putting too much pressure on myself and kind of be a little more loose, which can help me just enjoy it more and through that also compete better.”