Chad’s Gap – the unofficial history: 1999
Skiers like to get drunk and take drugs. Often at the same time. This may explain why the primary sources of ski history are so often muddled and contradictory but always hilarious. One thing is for sure: there is no “true” history. Take the 120-foot Chad’s Gap in the slackcountry of Alta, Utah. Figuring out who did what trick on which day and with whom is like nailing jelly to a cat. A near-death experience can make anyone toe-y: after an adrenaline-soaked session on this monster you’re not going to be taking notes for the benefit of future generations. You’re going to get busy creating future generations.
Chad Zurinskas wasn’t the first to dream about taking this air (snowboarder Andy Brewer gave him the heads up) but he was the first to build a jump and send it. Bruised and beaten after a number of failed attempts Chad paused for reflection. A teenage Candide Thovex was filming further up Grizzly Gulch the same day and in the golden hour before sunset he politely asked filmer Kris Ostness if he could hit the jump. This is Candide’s second attempt with the fattest mute grab of the last millennium…
Chad’s Gap – the unofficial history: 2000 AD
The human mind is conditioned to linear progression. There are less people in the world who can explain a logarithm than have actually landed Chad’s Gap. Exponential change – real paradigm smashing disruption - is usually such a brain fuck that most of us can’t process what we’ve just seen. It’s the kind of WTF moment that can take years to fully understand.
In the year 2000 a D-spin was a super technical trick even when deployed in the park – there were probably only a handful of people in the world who had it dialled. Candide Thovex didn’t just take this trick to the backcountry – by the standards of the time he took it to the moon.
Today crews take up to five days to build the jump and in-run. Candide and the Collins brothers spent just a few hours. Chris Collins did a huge front flip deeper into the landing than anyone had gone before. Candide took slam after slam before nailing the D-spin the following day. To land a trick so far ahead of the game off such a hastily-prepared jump over a gap that still leaves pro skiers shitting veins – well hopefully you are starting to get an idea of why Candide Thovex is kind of a big deal…
Chad’s Gap – the unofficial history: 2004 AD
Some of my best friends are snowboarders. But I’ve never told anyone this before: I suffer deep emotional scars from that time in the 1990s when to click on your skis was simultaneously to be a social leper and a tool of the establishment. However Fat Cantab always gives respect when it’s due.
For the very best it is impossible not to grasp at cliché. There is no way to watch Travis Rice snowboard and not think immediately of a cat, always feet first to the landing. Even when Travis looks like he is going to eat shit he makes a tiny, last-second adjustment and rides clean out of a powder explosion.
When Travis and Swiss maverick Romain DeMarchi hit Chad’s Gap in 2004 for the movie “Pop” they changed the sport of snowboarding. Between them Romain and Travis nailed a backside 540, switch backside 540, cab 720, backside rodeo 720 and a backside 180 – each of them 120 foot plus. As Rice’s sponsors at DC declared in a celebratory advertising campaign, Chad’s Gap had been well and truly “shut down”. Overreach typical of the time, when every major snowboard company had a marketing manager whose job solely entailed snorting coke out of a pudding bowl and coming up with this hyperbole.
Travis’s first hit was 205 feet - right to the bottom of the tranny. He would have smashed into the uphill wall on the far side of the second gully had he started at his intended point – a couple of skiers who had hit it before pointed out that they had started lower. Travis moved 15 metres down the 300 metre in-run and just avoided accordioning into an unforgiving Grizzly Gulch terrain feature.
The Law of Unintended Consequences worked in full force. Rather than driving the sport to new heights of gnar this session scared the shit out of so many pro snowboarders that it ignited a new movement: minishred. This is the reason why so many late naughties snowboard movies focused on the playful, creative side of snowboarding. It also inspired a young man called Tanner Hall to meet his destiny – but that is a story for another time… Sequence – Stan Evans.
Below is the full movie POP with Travis’s initial hit at 0:14, Romain DeMarchi’s section at 2:47 and Travis’s full section at 42:53.
Chad’s Gap – the unofficial history: 5th March 2005
“It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” – Gore Vidal
The Internet is awash with schadenfreude over this crash – one of the worst in freeskiing. Tanner Hall got off lightly with two broken ankles: his horrific scorpion that occurs a few hundredths of a second later tests the limits of human flexibility. He was lucky to ever ski again. Few of us are cursed to suffer our greatest trials in the public domain. Tanner had the best riposte to any criticism – coming back the following year to win the X Games Superpipe and to long endure in one of the shortest career paths in modern employment; the pro freeskier. He also had unfinished business with Chad, as we shall see in a future post.
On this day Tanner had plenty on his mind. Tanner’s crew spent five days building the perfect switch in-run. Unless you are travelling over 51 mph you won’t clear Chad’s Gap but as the temperature changed during the day so did the required in-run length. Conditions were spring slush. Photographer Brent Benson believes that with a powder landing Tanner would have walked away uninjured. Tanner’s spectacular crash has come to overshadow the rest of his session – which is a shame given his lofty, ultra-smooth switch 5s and switch 9s are the highlight of his segment in ‘The Teddy Bear Crisis’…
Below is Tanner Hall's full segment from the Teddy Bear Crisis at Chad’s Gap including switch 900…
Chad’s Gap – the unofficial history: 2010 AD
Chad’s Gap is never entirely in the bag. No matter who you are or how many times you’ve cleared the knuckle. Tim Durtschi nailed this double early in the session but hit it again and again for that extra bit of smooth. It’s always that last run, isn’t it? Tim got buried in the landing hill and suffered a concussion as a momento of what he calls, “my biggest accomplishment in skiing”…
Below is the Tim Durtschi session. Mike Wilson busts one of the most ridiculous backflips of all time at 1:06…
Chad’s Gap – the unofficial history: 2017AD
There are many reasons why Tanner Hall is known as the SKIBOSS. Yes, this is always spelled with CAPS. As ski royalty with the most elastic career trajectory of any pro skier, Tanner has seen his share of ups and downs. I was going to write a brief precis of his life and times by way of introduction to this post – who was I fucking kidding? Anecdote and achievement tumbled onto the keyboard and I was 10,000 words deep before the kettle boiled. One memory will be enough:
Nursing a Sapporo Classic in the VIP section, Fat Cantab had the pleasure of seeing Tanner and his posse enter Wild Bill’s Bar in Niseko, Japan at the height of his pomp in 2007. The crowd surged forward and the man was mobbed by beautiful women and enthusiastic fanboys. Or perhaps it was the other way around. In a world where celebrity is granted on a whim it was pleasing to see a skier whose talent, drive and courage deserved every accolade.
Twelve years after smashing himself on Chad’s Gap, Tanner returned to cement his place in the ski pantheon and maintain the relevance that has always accompanied his skiing…