A ceaseless explorer, self-identified obsessive competitor and a savvy businessman, Will has turned his passion for outdoor adventure sports into his career; sport into his life’s work.
Three time gold medal X-Games winner and World Cup winner in ice climbing, Will has also won numerous national and international sport climbing competitions. He has put up some of the hardest mixed and ice climbing routes in the world and written the most well-respected “how to” ice climbing book which has been translated into multiple languages. In the last decade, Will set his sights on paragliding, winning several U.S. and Canadian Paragliding Nationals titles, broke the paragliding distance world record three times, and was the first person to cross the U.S. by paraglider. In early November, 2014, Will was named one of the 15 top adventurers of the year by National Geographic for his August, 2014 paragliding adventure in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies. Clearly Will is an athlete driven to push himself further, driven to seek new challenges.
Will has been active outdoors since he was a young boy growing up in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta. He credits his dad with being his first teacher and inspiration. At age eight, Will and his dad climbed his first peak, 11,453-foot Mount Athabasca, in the Canadian Rockies. At 14 he was already kayaking first descents. Will arrived at WMS in 1983 as a Junior. Will says of his time at The White Mountain School, “WMS was perfect for me, and I actually still follow the basic program I learned at WMS: work in the morning, then get outside and move every afternoon. A lot of teenagers need high levels of exercise, and WMS offered that and a solid education that has served me well. I was also lucky to have some good mentors at WMS, teachers who “got” my energy levels and allowed me some latitude in life.”
After graduating from WMS in 1985, Will went on to earn a B.A. in political science from Colorado College. He then took an internship with Climbing magazine. Ok, he actually created the internship – they hadn’t had one before, but Will convinced them that he should be their first. Following his internship, Will stayed on for an additional six months as an editor. He then headed to Stanford to take journalism courses for a summer. At that point, Will started competing and doing well in sport climbing events. He wrote about those his experiences in magazines. Will then went on to run an outdoor sports magazine, and also started a qualitative market research company that did work for Nike and other large brands. Over time, Will’s competitive sports led to awards, medals, prize money and, more financially impactful, sponsorships. Will is now sponsored by Red Bull, Arc’teryx, Black Diamond, Scarpa, Smith Optics and Gin Gliders. He guides, coaches and shares his adventures through writing, TV shows, and both corporate and adventure presentations/speaking engagements. Will has successfully combined hard work and significant athletic talent with marketing and business skills to create a career in the adventure sports world.
So, as “Dad” to two young girls, and at age 47, what is next for Will Gadd? While he continues to win competitions and set records, Will admits that it isn’t really his focus any more. He’s moving in a couple of (of course) different directions. In the world of adventure, Will is becoming more creative. He’s focusing more on place, exploring interesting, challenging, beautiful areas for his adventure sports. That was the inspiration for his recent Canadian Rockies paragliding trip. He and his partner could have chosen a longer route, but, instead they chose a remote location with some technically interesting features. Will is pushing the boundaries of the ice climbing world by being a pioneer in spray ice climbing. Spray ice, the ice formed from the mist of waterfalls, is stunningly beautiful and, until recently, considered unclimbable because of the delicate nature of the medium. By protecting the routes with bolts on the rock behind the fragile ice, Will and others have made this type of ice climbing possible, even if they do need metal detectors to locate the protection bolts after they ice over!
Slightly outside of the world of high adventure, Will’s new initiative is a “just move” campaign. In a recent interview with Arc’teryx, Will laments, “We all try to be busy instead of being alive, busy instead of getting out and breathing, busy sending useless texts instead of walking in the woods with our kids or introducing them to life’s joys. We move information instead of simply moving.” Will’s answer to the problem he has identified is to stop overthinking exercise, training and health and just, well, move. Have a layover in the airport? Pack sneakers and head out of the terminal for a run. Family responsibilities? When you bring your kids to the playground, don’t sit on the bench, join in the play, be the monster that chases them around the yard, play tag, go sledding and pull the kids up the hill. Do whatever you can do to get outside and move.
Whether he’s challenging himself or fellow athletes in competition, coaching or simply giving advice on healthy living, Will sets the bar high for himself. One has the sense that his very last question on this earth will likely be the same question he’s been asking since childhood, “What’s next?”