A seven-time gold and four-time silver medalist at the X Games, Tanner Hall started skiing at the age of 3 in his home state of Montana. He joined the freestyle ski team at age 10 before moving to Utah with his family when he was 15. At 16, Hall went to Vail, Colorado, to compete in the US Open for freeskiing—and from then on, he was hooked on life on the slopes. He openly uses cannabis: Even his clothing line, the Tanner Hall Collection, is a THC reference. Following his storied career as a competitive freeskiier, and his recovery from several gruesome injuries, Hall is working on a new film documenting his exploits, spending his winter months going hard in remote places at the top of the world. HIGH TIMES met up with the freeskiing legend to chat about weed, the rebel spirit, and taking the time to think before you speak.
HT: When did you first smoke weed?
TH: I first started smoking weed around 9 or 10 years old. I’ve got an older brother; all my friends had an older brother the same age as my brother. It’s just a natural thing for the younger kids to try to follow the older crowd. I remember seeing my brother leave his stuff out and thinking I was kind of scared of it—but then, after that first time smoking, I was like, “Okay!” I got knocked into a reality where it was really nice, you know what I mean? It was great from the start.
Did you ever run into drug testing when you were competing?
I stopped smoking for a long time, actually, for the first-ever Halfpipe World Championships event in Ruka, Finland, in 2005. Right before that contest, I hit this jump called Chad’s Gap in Utah, and I ended up breaking both my ankles and both my heels. Right when I crashed, I knew that I was done. A lot of my buddies from Alta ski patrol were watching it. When I crashed, Dave Richards, one of my good buddies—he knew I hadn’t been smoking. When he saw me crash, it wasn’t hard to see that I wasn’t going to be skiing for a long time. First thing he did, he took his one-y out, packed it up, and he’s like, “Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news—you’re not going to go to world championships anymore, but at least you can smoke. So here you go.” And that was a big thing for skiing: I had stopped [smoking] for a contest, and it’s just funny that God had a different path for me laid out.
It was a double-edged sword, but it was like FIS [the International Ski Federation], USASA [the USA Snowboard and Freeski Association] and the Olympics—we all started this sport to get away from that type of stuff, so we could be free spirits. I’m a skier first and foremost, because that’s my culture. When I got hurt, that was a big thing when I took that first puff. I exhaled out, thinking: “Why listen to these dudes that are 70 years old, that are French, that are so overweight, that have never skied in their life, that put rules and regulations to the sport that we give our lives to?” And that’s when I was like, “You know what? Maybe this whole drug-testing thing, and trying to go to the Olympics and all that stuff, might not be the best idea.” Because it’s just basically regulating people to be robots—and if you have to listen to somebody tell you how to live, then it’s not really living life.
How did you make the transition from competitive skiing to mountain skiing?
It was easy for me, because for a while there, I had at least five years of competing and winning contests where there were no drug tests. But then when they saw our sport getting more and more press, the X Games and ESPN and the bigger halfpipe events, all those people got scared. It was like, “This is unconventional, but more people like this are downhill ski racing. So how are we going to take control of this?” That’s what happens when a big corporation moves into something.
I give so much props to skateboarding, because they will never allow, I feel, [organizations like] the Olympics to come into their sport—because they’re so proud of the culture they’ve built and what they’ve done in their sport. There’s a lot of skiers like that—but then there’s a lot of skiers out there, too, where you realize that skiing is a rich white sport. That’s what skateboarding has over a lot of sports: You don’t need a lift ticket. You don’t need bindings. You don’t need snow. You basically need a skateboard and a pair of shoes. When it’s that easy, the whole world can connect with it.
Skiing is really expensive, and it’s hard to get a core audience connected to it. But me and a couple of my friends, that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re looked at as rebels, but if you look at our sport in the ’60s and ’70s, marijuana was like a platform for skiing. There’s a movie called Winter Equinox that traveled the whole 1970s freestyle world tour. Those guys just got flown around on Learjets; they were smoking weed the whole time. Then stuff got structured and the “athlete” came into it—[the idea] that you should be this model athlete. In our sport, I just don’t think we’re athletes. It’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle. We just want to do our thing and live our life and have a sense of peace, and marijuana brings that to us in a world of chaos.
What relationship does marijuana have to skiing for you?
When you’re going hard trying to learn a trick, you’ll feel yourself sweating profusely, asking questions, [feeling] almost eccentric, like you’re buzzed. Sometimes when that feeling comes around, your brain doesn’t like to calm itself down and think of the overall thing that you’re trying to accomplish. Marijuana can really slow me down to realize every day what the true goal is, instead of having a billion goals. It can help me strategically go about life the way I want to, instead of getting a bunch of prescription medications that will basically fuck my brain up and not make me think straight. And then you’ve got to get more prescriptions to counterbalance why you don’t think. Meanwhile, there’s a plant growing from the earth that could take away a lot of things. Marijuana plays the biggest role for my skiing. Without it, I don’t know if I would even be here.
Tell us about your injuries and subsequent use of pain pills for recovery.
In 2009, I broke both my legs and blew out both my ACLs. So it was a serious injury where there was a lot of waiting time and surgeries and physical therapy. I’d never had an injury like that.
If you’re in Utah and you get hurt—I don’t know if you know about the prescription-medication problems that the residents of Utah have. The amount of pain pills that I was prescribed was scary. It got really scary. And then I just didn’t get off it. That was the first full-on drug addiction I’ve ever had.
Marijuana’s not a drug; you’re not really addicted. So when I felt that first real … almost scratching—I need this—it was a bad thing. It took a long time to get off [pharmaceuticals], because pain pills suck so bad—you get addicted, and you’ve been taking them for six more months than you should have, [and] when you get off them, your back feels like it’s broken. Fucking sick all the time. Through my whole life, I’ve never had anything like that.
Did marijuana play a role in getting you off the pain pills?
So much! My best friend called me out [on my addiction to pills], and I was almost embarrassed about it, so I was like, “It’s not really happening.” Then C.R. Johnson, my buddy—he passed away in 2010—he was the one that pretty much let me know. He was telling me, “I’m watching you not get better. You’re losing weight. What is going on?”
It’s like heroin: You don’t want to eat. You don’t want to move. You feel great, don’t get me wrong—but that’s only, like, a month of feeling like that, and then all of a sudden you’ve really screwed your life over in a serious way. Never once have I ever felt like that with marijuana. I felt it about alcohol, and I felt it about other drugs. I’ve felt it about prescription drugs.
I’ve been getting scrutiny for it my whole life, but I’d rather be a weed smoker than some alcoholic jerk that goes home and beats up his wife. I think there’s a lot of people like that around. Instead of giving him a six-pack of his IPA or his bottle of vodka, why don’t you just throw him a nice, big old joint? See how that changes his mind at the end of the day.
You were talking about the corporate influence on skiing. Do you feel that that same influence is going to corrupt the world of marijuana?
It’s inevitable. Just like anything else, once everything becomes accepted, the big players are going to try to take control of it. That’s why I think you need to keep it down home. For the marijuana industry, keep the grow people that put their heart and soul into it. Just like in skiing—we don’t want Target coming in and trying to be like, “This is how it’s going to be.” It’s like, “No, dude—you don’t even ski. We did this our whole life. We built this. You don’t come in here and say what we do.”
Do you have a favorite strain?
I want to get my own strain going called the Ski Boss. It would pretty much be a Girl Scout Cookies mixed with Afgoo—a little cross-pollination.
This is a movement. It’s not just a fad—this is biblical-type stuff. Grass for the cattle, herbs for the use of man. When you put marijuana inside you, it actually makes you take a step back and almost reveals who you are to yourself.
That’s the spiritual side that attracted you to the Rasta culture?
I can’t say I’m a Rastafarian. That’s a big commitment—that’s a big way to live. I love eating meat, you know what I mean? I love living the Western-culture ways that I’ve been brought up on. But as a religion, and as a people, and as a unity, Rasta to me makes more sense. At the end of the day, it might be one big story. But if it’s not, I look to Africa—that’s where life started. Why are we looking at Bethlehem and some dude who looks like John Lennon in a robe who just got out of the shower?
You filmed Like a Lion a few years ago. You’re making another movie now?
Right when I got hurt, we made the first installment of Like a Lion just so I could give the story up until then—because I knew that once I got back on my skis, I was going to have another story, and that’s what we’re building right now. We’re in the middle of a two-year project called Ring the Alarm. This is pretty much just trying to go as far as possible and show we’re still the nastiest people out there in the world on skis.
I can’t wait for the day my life just stops being intense, where I can sit back and just enjoy and watch other people go through intense shit and be like, “Dude—I’ve been there. You’re going to be good.” But right now, we still have a lot more shit to happen.
Do you have a favorite story about smoking weed?
The school that I went to when I was 15 years old was called the Park City Winter School. It’s a winter-sports academy for kids from April to November, so they get five months off in the winter. They had random drug tests. The first year, I never got drug-tested. Sophomore year, first drug test happens a month into school: My headmaster says two names, and one of them was mine. I’m like, “Fuck, I’m screwed.” So I go take the pee test; couple days later, guy comes back. He’s like, “You know what? You failed. You’re suspended.” So I had a week’s suspension and 10 hours of community service.
My mom and my dad get called. They bring me up to Montana. I have to go to the church where my mom and dad go, to cut the lawn and clean the dishes. The best part was, my pastor—who I would see at the ski hill every day—was the biggest hippie ever. My mom thought it would be a good idea to go talk to him about the choices that I was making in life. So I tell him I’m suspended. And he was like, “I know.” And here’s the deal about marijuana: Even the pastor was like, “I’m not going to say it’s bad. I’m going to tell you that if you’re going to make decisions in life, make sure they’re good ones.”
I knew my pastor was a smoker. He’s a hippie granola-eating Telemark skier. So that was really funny—I get kicked out of school for a week, everybody’s like, “You got to go get reformed,” and they send me to the pastor that was like, “No, dude, I smoke. Just be smart.”
Then, only three months later, I got drug-tested again, and I failed again, and they expelled me. Three months later, I won my first X Games. The headmaster that kicked me out and was a jerk to my mom, he calls her back, says I’m allowed back to school for free—no tuition, no nothing. All I got to do is a photo shoot for the brochure of the school. My mom said, “You have to be out of your fucking mind.” And that’s how school ended for me.
The funny thing is, the headmaster that kicked me out for smoking weed—he kept bottles of alcohol in a drawer in his desk. His face was beet-red every single day.
Do you have any words of wisdom for kids who ski, who are coming up?
It’s all about having fun and not taking stuff too seriously. Just think before you act. Think before you speak. I know this Instagram thing went to 15 seconds and nobody has an attention span over that. But trust me, dude. Give yourself 20. You could change the world.
Photo by David Lee Dailey