1 year ago 2 notes
(Written by Sam)
Robb Gaffney has been a major contributor in the sport of freeskiing for several decades. He has numerous film segments and magazine appearances to his credit and is the author of two editions of a guidebook (Squallywood: A Guide to Squaw Valley’s Most Exposed Lines). His brother Scott is the principal cinematographer at Matchstick Productions and the Gaffney family was recently profiled by Powder Magazine for their 40th Anniversary issue. In addition to his accomplishments on the mountain, Robb is a physician, family man and purveyor of positive attitude. I caught up with him the other day, to get his take on things.
-CORESHOT: Many skiers seek seasonal employment to support their existence, but your path as a dedicated skier and physician is unique. How did you find time to balance med school and skiing 80 days a year?
-ROBB: Med school was definitely a grind. Although my father was a doctor, I had no idea how hard it was going to be. I think it’s best to go in blind and then you just work your way through. It’s kind of like parenting, you don’t really want to know how much work it is until you’re actually going through it. I found that skiing kept me grounded. And to be honest, now knowing how important physical activity is for the human mind, I realize that the backcountry skiing we were doing was keeping those neural networks in balance. I would have dwindled away without it. I skied with several buddies from my class, who were just as passionate as I was. So we would go to classes in the morning and shoot up to Berthoud Pass for the afternoon, making it back by evening to start many hours of studying. We also did some backcountry night skiing if we weren’t able to get there during the day. I really attribute my ability to find the time to ski during med school to my friends who shared it with me. I recall one day when I wasn’t able to go, one buddy (Mark Kornmesser) left Denver at 3pm, ran up Torrey’s, and came down in the dark. Those are the kind of people that were in my med school posse. John Stanec who is an anesthesiologist in Palo Alto, and Dan Hehir, now an ER physician in Telluride, was another great addition to our crew.
During 3rd and 4th year med students are involved with 6 week “rotations” in the various medical specialties. Generally you’d get two complete rotations of vacation time per year. So of course, we’d schedule them during winter. During my 4th year, I skied 3 solid months in Tahoe. And it happened to be 1999, which was phenomenal. It was just like another ski bumming year and I almost forgot I was in medical school.
-CORESHOT: Although G.N.A.R. was initially introduced in the first edition of Squallywood (2003) and also profiled in POWDER, it appeared to really gain traction after the movie was released (December 2010). Did you have any idea that it was going to be such a success?
-ROBB: G.N.A.R. was a great experience from start to finish. Tim Konrad, from unofficialnetworks.com approached me with the idea of running a game. I was a little skeptical at first because I wasn’t quite sure what the unofficial cause was all about since it was new and they were shooting in many directions. But we proceeded to move forward. Tim hired some great guys like Nik David and Greg Martin, and I truly attribute G.N.A.R.’s success to their hard work and patience. There were many times that G.N.A.R. almost didn’t come to be and Nik’s patience and persistence really kept the foundation in place. Once we had all the footage (90 hours of it), I knew we had something here and that we had to get someone talented to put it all together. I worked on my brother Scott for nearly 4 months and finally he came around. He was concerned about the quality of footage and didn’t necessarily want his name on something that wasn’t top top notch. But once we started developing the storyline, he could see our vision in the raw footage. I wanted G.N.A.R. to be a piece of art and I can’t tell you happy I was when I could tell Scott (the artist in our family), was getting excited. When Tim and Patrick secured the contract with Ween, I began to feel even more confident. Near the completion, we had several focus groups who provided great feedback, all of which went into the movie. During the final focus group session, at the end of the movie, everyone instinctively clapped, stood up and high fived each other. We knew it was going to be a success!
-CORESHOT: POWDER Magazine highlighted your family in their recent 40th Anniversary Issue as being a major influence in the ski industry. What was your reaction to that?
-ROBB: I was very excited about our family being included in the 40th Anniversary issue. You never know how writers are going to portray your story, but Matt Hansen showed he is a true professional. He put a lot of time and thought into his words and everything was right on the mark. Since that issue, I’ve been tuning into the stories of people I meet about their multigenerational skiing families. I love to hear how rooted in skiing so many of us are, because of the generations before us. It’s like we all never really had a choice - good thing!
-CORESHOT: I know that you and your brother Scott both ski at Squaw Valley. Walk me through the process of picking Tahoe as a home base.
-ROBB: Scott and I learned about Squaw Valley way back in the 70’s in Canton, NY when we sat in our dentist’s (Dr. Moreau’s) chair. The doc would tell us about his ski trips to this place out west, where you’d ride the chair and watch crazy people ski off cliffs underneath you. He often returned to Squaw because of that aspect of it. Then during a trip to Crested Butte in 1983, we saw a Warren Miller film featuring Squaw. The next summer during a car camping trip across the country, our parents took a detour to Squaw Valley and we all took the tram up. Scott and I hiked up to the top of the Palisades and sneaker skied on the snow patches down National Chute. That experience and the fact that Tahoe was a special place in my parent’s developing relationship years earlier, solidified the drive to someday call Tahoe home. During college in Boulder, we spent most of our vacation time visiting Squaw, and used those trips as stepping stones to finally make the move for good.
-CORESHOT: 1999 and Immersion both have Bridger Bowl segments in there, and I know your parents live in Bozeman. Do you get to spend much time skiing in Montana?
-ROBB: I usually try to visit Bozeman at least once yearly. But sometimes I will miss out on skiing Bridger Bowl because my folks love to cross country ski and when I’m there I try to get out with them as much as possible - often in the northern Bridgers. But there’s no place quite like Bridger Bowl. Although I’ve only really skied there around 20 days, I hold it close to my heart. It’s a small town resort with world class, truly world class skiing. And I’m appreciative for you’re having guided us around Sam, because before I met you, I was getting lost all over the ridge. I’ve spent many a night reading through Stepping Up, to help orient myself to the ridge.
-CORESHOT: What is your most memorable skiing related experience?
-ROBB: There are many throughout the years and I really don’t think I could limit it to one. As a small kid I recall riding the chair at Big Tupper and watching the big kids hitting the kangaroo kicker in a long train, one after another pulling spreads, daffy’s, twisters 360’s - all with the cat eye sun glasses and long hair blowing in the breeze. I recall in college hitting my first 80 footer and although the feeling was exhilarating, I remember a distinct thought that going to that realm was not the type of skiing that attracted me. More recently, I will fondly remember my first day ever skiing with the late Allison Kreutzen in the Eastern Sierra. We had an unbelievably beautiful day with a large posse, skiing some steep couloirs near South Lake in perfect snow.
-CORESHOT: Growing up, what were major influences on your skiing (people, places, equipment, etc)?
-ROBB: My mother and father were the most significant influences by far. They loved to ski and shared that with us, not just in downhill. They would take us at a very young age on long backcountry tours through the Adirondaks, such as Avalanche Pass between Mt. Colden and Algonquin. They had us race cross country in the Bill Koch League. My mother would take us up the bottom of the hill at Big Tupper time and time again so we could learn to turn. And those cubco bindings will stick in my mind forever.
They also gave us space to learn. Like others in our generation, we were allowed to ski the whole mountain alone all day with friends at a very early age. We’d night ski, cut the rope, and hit the kangaroo jump, sending it deep into the darkness. We’d over shoot sometimes and get reminded of what not to do. We watched our friend break his nose, by choosing the wrong cliff in the woods, and watched another friend under rotate a huge back flip. We learned from all our mistakes and our friend’s mistakes. Those lessons are invaluable.
When we needed guidance, it was there. During our trip to Crested Butte in 1983 I was 12 y/o and I slipped out of the house to go secretly ski a corniced ridge just up the road. When I was booting up the hill right underneath the slope, my father came and yelled at me to come down. I was bummed. But the next day, the slope had slid with a sizable debris pile.
Other influences are obviously the skiers we would watch in the movies. I recall feeling particularly moved by watching Scot Schmidt, Mike Hattrup, Robbie Huntoon, and Tom Jungst.
-CORESHOT: Any final thoughts?
-ROBB: I would add that - maybe I’m an old guy, now in my 40’s, and perhaps that is altering my perspective - but our world of skiing today has significantly changed since I was growing up. All my ski heros from when I was a kid are still alive. That is not the case in today’s ski world. I’ve lost 6 friends in 3 years to skiing and I don’t see that trend ending anytime soon. The next chapter of my ski career will be focused on continuing to support the progression of our sport while facing this issue head on.
Thanks for your time and sharing your experiences with us Robb. I would also like to thank Scott Gaffney and Grant Kaye for their wonderful photos http://grantkaye.photoshelter.com/