Featured Image: Courtesy Powder Magazine
September 26, 2023, would have been Dr. Robb Gaffney’s 53rd birthday. Robb passed away at his home in Tahoe, CA, surrounded by loved ones on September 22 after a heroic four-year battle with cancer. Our deepest condolences go out to his friends and family during this time.
Robb was nothing short of a pioneering icon in the world of freeskiing. Alongside his brother, Scott, he skied some of the most daunting lines at Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley), penned the legendary book “Squallywood,” co-created the game of G.N.A.R. (Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness) with Shane McConkey, and was a key part of historic ski films such as “1999,” “Immersion” and “Walls of Freedom.”
Robb grew up in New York State’s Adirondack mountains, developing an affinity for the Tahoe area over time as his family went on many vacations out West. While studying pre-med at the University of Colorado Boulder, Robb and Scott would take road trips back to Tahoe, and it wasn’t long until he moved out there after graduation. He bagged groceries and worked in the mountain’s race services while skiing some of the most rowdy in-bounds lines on earth. Like everyone back then, he did it on 200 cm skis with a smile on his face. (Next time you’re complaining about how you need a tune, just think about that). Two years and many epic clips and lines later, he migrated to Denver to finish medical school, where he tore up Arapahoe Basin, Berthoud Pass and everywhere in between. Then it was off to UC Davis for a four-year psychiatric residency. Robb would often head up to Tahoe and film ski segments during his short breaks from medical school.
While his dazzling skiing was and still remains mind-melting and eye-catching, it was his personality that made Robb the legend that we remember. He was, by all accounts, inclusive and caring, wanting everyone to get a piece of the joy he and his friends experienced on skis. He also recognized the risks, and while most skiers pushed the boundaries without second guessing, Robb spoke publicly on NBC and gave Ted talks on the importance of longevity and living through the dangers of action sports. Most recently, he openly wrote about his battle with cancer on CaringBridge and Instagram, opening the door for countless others to share and find peace in the pain they experience. Time and time again, his actions showed that he cared deeply for others.
His philosophy of fun and liberation rings true today, as the world seems to consistently take itself more and more seriously. In his closing speech from the 2011 G.N.A.R. movie, Gaffney aptly says, “My reason for getting involved is that I’m a firm believer that our world needs to stay open. Things like G.N.A.R, things that push the boundaries, they need to exist… Everything in the [terrain] park, everything in Big Mountain, everything in the race scene is pretty darn serious these days because everybody is getting so good at what they do… Bringing fun back into skiing is a really important thing.”
Even though the words are well over a decade old, there is still just as much truth in them. Take the skiing seriously, but never take yourself too seriously; that seems to be the recipe that Robb, Scott, Shane, and many others lived by, and it’s a recipe that we can all benefit from as we share this community and sport with the next generation. Whether it’s medical school or the top of a stomach-dropping line, always give it your best with a smile on your face. That seems to be how Robb lived.
In truth, Robb was much more than an incredible skier. He was a great example of what a human can be. Selfless, adventurous, and passionate. His legacy is, in every sense, a continuing thread—one we carry on with every line we ski, every pole whack we throw and every smile we share while spending time on the hill. Robb Gaffney helped bring the fun back into skiing, and it’s our job to keep it here! Thank you, Robb, and thank you to our friends at Powder Magazine for the stellar time capsule of photos that show Robb in his element ❤️
Robb is survived by his wife, Andrea, and his children, Noah and Kate. If you’d like to help financially contribute to the costs of Robb’s medical treatment, a friend of the family has set up a GoFundMe.