The Travis and Romain Show
For a long time, it was believed Chad’s Gap could not physically be cleared on a snowboard. The sheer length of the jump requires run-in speeds of over 50mph.
“Who is Chad?” is the obvious question. Well, Chad Zurinskas (to give him his full name) is a Utah chef and keen skier who found himself exploring the back gulleys of Alta, a resort which still bans snowboarders to this day. In a zone called ‘Grizzly Gulch’, Chad came across an abandoned mine featuring two massive tailing piles. He looked at the gap between the hillocks and thought, “That would be a bad-ass jump!” (as you do). Interestingly, the snowboard community gives a slightly different version of events. According to photographer Brent Benson, it was local rider Andy Brewer who first scoped out the location and mentioned it to him and Chad. They, along with French freeskier Candide Thovex and filmmaker Kris Ostness, then headed up to try it.
Either way, it was Chad who guinea-pigged the thing on skis, twice slamming into the far wall. Candide then stepped up to the plate, crashing once before sailing over the gap with a 100 ft mute grab that would send shockwaves through the skiing world. Despite Benson’s preference for the name ‘The Nipple’, the moniker of Chad’s Gap stuck, and it was soon the name on everybody’s lips.
For a long time, it was believed Chad’s Gap could not physically be cleared on a snowboard. The sheer length of the jump requires run-in speeds of over 50mph, which is tough to reach without two planks. Undeterred, two snowboarders arrived in 2004, during filming for the Absinthe film Pop, and with proceeded to crew construct a 14 ft high behemoth. Those snowboarders were Swiss maverick Romain DeMarchi and rising star Travis Rice. What happened next is documented in one of snowboarding’s seminal movie sections: 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”.
“The run-in was around 300 metres,” remembers Travis, “so we were using a helicopter to get to the top. The build took around three days, and I hit it first. That was part of Romain and I’s agreement: if we built it then I had to hit it first!”
What is less well known is that Travis’s first hit nearly ended in disaster. “As he was strapping in at the top of the run-in, some skiers that had hit it before pointed out to him that they started quite a bit lower than he was about to,” recalls photographer Scott Sullivan, “So he went 45 feet lower before he began. Nevertheless, he sailed over and beyond the landing and only managed to catch the very last tiny bit of tranny before the gully bottom. Had he gone another 15 feet he would have hit the uphill wall on the other side of the gully, and there is a good chance that the session would have ended right there. Someone came and measured his first attempt at 205 feet. Maybe speed is not always your friend.” This whopercock slam can be seen at the very start of the final movie Pop – overlaid with some inspired golf commentary.
As well as providing a new water mark for progression, explains Sullivan, “this session seemed to inspire a whole different movement as well: mini shred. I think this jump scared the shit out of so many riders, who were possibly worried that they would have to do this on their boards to maintain pro credibility, that collectively we started to see a movement that got back to the small, but fun, creative stuff that we see in a lot of movies today.”
These days Chad’s Gap is mentioned in the same awed tones as big wave spots like Jaws and Mavericks – a freak of nature that, when conditions are right, provides a stage for truly next level riding. And like many of the best surf spots, its exact location remains a secret – though not so secret that you couldn’t find it through a few questions in the right ears. After all, there seems little danger that Chad’s will ever be overrun with crowds. Are you actually going to hit it?