Whether you’ve never tried skiing or you’re a pro, you’ve probably heard the word “gnarly.” It’s defined in Merriam Webster as slang to mean something is very bad or unpleasant — or quite the opposite as a phrase that means excellent. What a straightforward definition fails to realize is where the word comes from. It’s actually a reference to the acronym GNAR that was created by a couple skiers.
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TikToker Kristin Aranya went viral for her video asking her skier husband, Joey Carey, to explain the origin of “shred the GNAR.” As he explains, GNAR is an acronym that stands for “Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness.” GNAR is actually a game or point system invented by Shane McConkey and Robb Gaffney, two advanced skiers in the ’90s who were looking for a way to keep score of the cool tricks they did around the mountain.
Different tricks acquired points, and according to SKI magazine, some of the ways to earn the extra credit points were pretty goofy. Gaffney’s book Squawllywood detailed the game the pair started playing in Squaw Valley, California: You could get extra points for doing tricks naked, talking to your mom while skiing a line, or wearing women’s lingerie. The game of GNAR has since become a legend among Squaw Valley skiers. “Shred” simply means to ski or participate in the game. So “shred the gnar” means you’re off to go do gnarly things while skiing, according to Carey. He also notes that people often incorrectly think gnarly is a snowboarding term.
So now you know! Next time you use the word gnarly, it’s actually a piece of skiing history. And funny enough, both parts of its Merriam Webster definition make total sense when you think about its origin.