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In Gold Rush, One Episode Stands Above The Rest

Discovery's "Gold Rush" follows several teams of miners working in the Yukon and in Alaska dredging up gold and other precious metal for hefty sums of cash. Parker Schnabel, Tony Beets, Rick Ness, Chris Doumitt, and the rest of the show's workers know how to pan up hefty sums of cash; several cast members are millionaires thanks to their hard work and diligence in their craft. There have also been setbacks, of course, played out before the camera and the eyes of the show's loyal viewers. The miners have struggled with broken equipment, interpersonal conflict, and even private losses, such as Schnabel having to deal with the death of his 96-year-old grandfather, John, in 2016. 

As of press time, Discovery has produced and aired 12 seasons of the show and over 260 episodes, per IMDb, so there's plenty of ground to cover when talking about the best and most compelling episodes in "Gold Rush" history. There's one particular episode that stands out in the show's history in this regard. Here's the episode we think towers head and shoulders over the many chapters of "Gold Rush."

'Blizzard and Bullets' brings dangerous external forces into the picture

Seasons 8 and 9 of "Gold Rush" are generally considered the show's prime years, packing in lots of unexpected twists and turns as well as brushes with unexpected outside elements, including the unpredictable force of nature. It's hard to argue with the IMDb rating for "Blizzards and Bullets," Episode 2 of Season 8. At an 8.5, it stands as the show's highest-rated regular episode on the website as of press time.

"Blizzards and Bullets" combines the difficulties of mining in a frequently-frozen region with interpersonal conflicts that keep the episode's atmosphere tense. Parker Schnabel has to deal with the loss of his bulldozers when they're disabled after trying to dig through frozen ground. Tony Beets is in the process of disassembling his vintage 500-ton dredge in the hope of assembling another. Most frightening of all, someone fires bullets in the direction of Todd Hoffman's crew. It's a hectic and chaotic episode that ultimately resolves well for everyone involved despite the chaos. 

It's hard to deny that it's the show's best and most impactful chapter if only because of how these make-or-break situations rear their heads as these otherwise staunch series team leaders try to get on with their work. The depiction of the incident involving Hoffman's crew in "Blizzards and Bullets" is particularly harrowing (via YouTube) as Hoffman describes his genuine fear that one of his crew members may have been seriously injured in the incident.

"Everyone has their family here. We can't have people up here who are willing to take our lives over really nothing," says Kevin Hiatt, recounting the incident for a Discovery producer as the crew drives away from the mine in the episode clip. The team later meets at Andy's house, and Freddy Dodge explains it isn't the first time the individual has confronted the crew and he, too, was threatened by him. It's an incredibly sobering moment.

The episode had real-life consequences for Hoffman's crew

The events depicted in "Blizzards and Bullets" had real-life consequences for the cast and crew of the show. Per The Oregonian in July 2017, the episode was shot in Fairplay, Colorado, within Park County, where Todd Hoffman and his then-mining partner Dave Turin had set up their mine during the filming of Season 8. Tensions between Hoffman, Discovery's crew, and local Fairplay citizens ultimately reached a boiling point as this episode was filmed, per NBC affiliate KUSA (via The Oregonian). Citizens of the town had accused Hoffman's crew of mining in residential areas, which resulted in one of the mines receiving a cease and desist order while the matter was examined. In May 2017, the situation reached a new crisis point when Fairplay citizen Aaron Borth flagged down members of Hoffman's crew as they drove by and, in the words of KUSA reporter Noel Brennan as quoted by The Oregonian, "shouted obscenities and threats before pulling a handgun and firing four shots in the direction of their vehicles."

Per The Denver Post, Borth was arrested for felony menacing and reckless endangerment. Additionally, an organization called Save South Park subsequently filed suit against the Board of County Commissioners of Park County in the fall of 2017, accusing them of "abusing its discretion" in licensing the breadth of the Hoffman mines. As of press time, both cases remain unsettled.

Hoffman subsequently left the series after Season 8 concluded and has recently returned to the Discovery family with the new show titled "Hoffman Family Gold." All of this makes "Blizzards and Bullets" an episode that anyone who cares about "Gold Rush" must watch if only to understand what it means to the grand scheme of the show.