USA freeski sensation Alex Hall puts the style in slopestyle

Team USA's Alex Hall – born in Alaska, raised in Switzerland and heading for his second-straight Olympic Games – has found the kind of high-style form that could lead to medals in Beijing. Olympics.com sat down with the freeski wizard to chat creativity, pressure and why there's more to success on a slopestyle course than "just spinning".

By Jonah Fontela
Picture by 2020 Getty Images

You hear a lot about style in freeski circles. It’s the word on everyone’s lips.

But when Alex Hall takes to the mountain, you see it.

“A slopestyle run is like a blank canvas,” the long and lean (193cm) American skier, who seems to tiptoe through the rail sections and soar above the jumps, told Olympics.com in November. “Creativity is huge. You have to be good at rails and jumps and put together a full run with everything.

“The exact way you want to put it all together is part of the whole thing and it’s up to you,” added the 23-year-old on the eve of this week’s FIS World Cup event on California’s Mammoth Mountain, where he ranks among the favourites for slopestyle gold. “You make your own run; it’s a whole canvas for you to work on.”

Hall also competes in big air freeski events, consisting of a single huge launch ramp that calls to mind the human cannonball circus acts of old -- but it’s the slopestyle discipline that’s his specialty.

And it’s there, on the rails and over the jumps – through all the subtle connections in between – that Hall finds the free-form potentialities that first drew him to freeski.

Slopestyle just Hall’s style

There’s no more stylish skier on the tour – or anywhere, perhaps at any time – than Hall. Through the rail sections, near the top of all slopestyle courses, of which no two are alike, he fairly glides. He’s more ballet dancer than skier there.

Despite his towering height, there’s no whiff of clumsiness. Skiing forward or backward, he exhibits a rare kind of elegance and never, ever, looks like he’s fighting the tricks or the apparatus or the mountain itself.

“You create your own run,” he said of the total freedom involved in his sport. “Just landing a run, or a big air trick, there’s a personal satisfaction to that. A podium is the cherry on top but trying to ski my best is always the first thing. A podium, winning, are things I’m proud of but they're not the main purpose.”

The purpose, as always for Hall, is to do what he loves and to do it at his very best -- and with special attention paid to the aesthetics.

Born in Fairbanks, Alaska, at America’s northern pioneer edge, to Marcus and Elena – a pair of esteemed academics and ski enthusiasts too – Hall was raised in Switzerland. Predictably, given his height and football’s popularity in his adoptive country, he excelled as a goalkeeper in his youth. But the sport of skiing, which he took up “at the age of two”, offered him all he wanted. A world beyond.

When whooshing down the slopes just wasn’t enough, that’s when the huge airs and daredevilry of freeski took over his imagination.

Father’s ‘hot-dog’ footsteps

“The first thing that drew me to it [freeski], was seeing my dad and his friends on old home movies – they weren’t freestyle skiers, just old-school hot-dogging,” recalled Hall, who speaks fluent German from his formative years spent in Zurich, his playground the Swiss Alps that surround the city. “It was so cool to watch and it looked like fun.”

From the age of 14 onward, it was freeskiing all the time for Hall. When he was 16, his family moved to Park City, Utah, former Olympic venue and one of America’s spiritual homes for serious skiing. From there “it all took off” and “things started happening”.

The creativity he found on the slopestyle course was like nothing he’d felt standing in the goal, arms at the ready, trying to keep a football from slipping past him into the net. “I was drawn to it,” he said of the blank slate and creative possibilities of freestyle skiing. “The freedom, really, it’s so fun and unique and you can express yourself exactly how you want to.”

USA's Alex Hall
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

It didn’t take long for that expression to morph into a kind of unfussy, easy-going elegance – and for that, in turn, to become competition wins and inspiring and artistic video parts, which form half of the professional life of a big-time freeskier or snowboarder. “A lot of ideas come out there,” he said of filming, often in wild places, the backcountry, with all its dangers and inspirations. “I can be my most innovative there…and then I could take that innovation to the competitions.”

By 2016, he’d won the Mammoth Mountain U.S. Revolution Tour and earned a silver medal in slopestyle and fourth-place in halfpipe at the Youth Olympic Games. But 2019 proved his true breakthrough year. He won his first X Games golds (in big air and slopestyle) then.

Along for PyeongChang ride

A year before that big breakthrough, in 2018, he was as shocked as anyone to make his debut at the PyeongChang Winter Games. Hall was very much the “19-year-old kid along for the ride”, as he described his first Games, where, still learning and “not the best skier”, he finished 16th in the 30-man field.

“I came in as kind of an underdog,” said Hall, who remembers well freeski’s slopestyle debut in Sochi in 2014 and that year’s USA sweep of the event. “So many things were happening in the sport then and it was amazing to be a part of it – especially as a kid like I was. I went to other events [at the PyeongChang Games] and getting to do something like that when you’re young is just so special.”

When Beijing rolls around this February, Hall will be far from a young adventurer, eyes wide, happy just to make up the numbers with an eye to the future.

The future is now for Hall. It’s his time, as indicated by the outrageous performances of late that saw him finish second, just a solitary point behind his good friend and USA teammate Colby Stevenson, in a Dew Tour stop on Copper Mountain in Colorado last month.

There, the American pair pushed each other – and supported each other too – with twice Olympic medallist Nick Goepper rounding out the podium in third some distance off the top-two.

“It’s one of the beauties of our sport,” Hall said of the camaraderie that seemed to suffuse the athletes that day up on Copper Mountain – and all the freeski slopestyle courses around the world. “We want everyone to do well; no one really cares who’s on top as long as we’re all pushing in the same direction.”

More than ‘just spinning’

Hall even managed to finish second in a recent big air competition in Steamboat, Colorado. His show-stopping 1980, consisting of 5.5 full rotations in the air, in his final run of the day, seemed to change the game. It also marked him out as a potential two-podium man in Beijing as freeski big air makes its Olympic debut this February.

For a guy who sees the soul of the sport as “more than just spinning”, that silver at Steamboat is an indication of just how much talent he keeps in his quiver.

“I like to think of something a little more creative, even if it’s less spinning,” said Hall, who’s found the link points between huge air, high-octane amplitude and the granular beauty of the big picture in the four short years since his Olympic debut in the Republic of Korea. “There are more ways to push the limits than just more spinning.”

With Beijing beckoning, and Hall at the height of his powers, you’d think there’d be nerves. That he’d be concerned with not blowing the big opportunity he’s got. But that’s just not him. He’s got style off the mountain too, you see.

“I do have a focus on the Olympics, but I don’t want to live too much in my mind,” he said from his hotel room somewhere in the mythic American West in the build up to a huge new year, a painting of covered wagons and wild buffalo hung crooked behind him. “Last time around I let it get to me more than I should have. This time I told myself to think about it less.

“Have fun along the way I’m telling myself. It was great to go to the Olympics last time,” Hall concluded with the kind of half-shrug that contains multitudes. “But really, I have to just ski.”

Colby Stevenson (centre) after winning the Dew Tour slopestyle competition on Copper Mountain
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

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