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The 2021 Natural Selection Tour gets underway this week at snowboarding freeride mecca Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming with the world’s best battling it out in steep and deep natural terrain.
Event founder Travis Rice will be joined by the likes of Canadian star Mark McMorris, reigning Olympic Big Air champion Anna Gasser and fellow American Hailey Langland for the first of three stops as the field moves on next to Baldface Lodge’s Scary Cherry in Canada and the finale at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska.
Here is what Rice – the star of snowboard films The Art of Flight, The Fourth Phase and Dark Matter – had to say ahead of the launch:
With the first stop of the tour only a week away, how is everything going in Jackson?
Well, I just got down off the mountain, and today was actually pretty monumental. We’d just finished all the work we needed to do on course when a storm rolled in. It’s going to snow hard for three days, and we’re happy now to step away and let Mother Nature do her thing.
Can you give us two different pitches for the Natural Selection – one for snowboarders who don’t care about contests and one for someone who’s only seen snowboarding via the X Games and Olympics?
To start with the first category, I think the beautifully dynamic, full spectrum kind of snowboarding that we’re aspiring to with Natural Selection appeals to fans of backcountry riding and film. When you watch a film part someone’s spent a whole season on, you’re seeing the crème de la crème. For some riders, it takes a lot of tries, a lot of failures to achieve a few successes. But to really see riders going head to head in a live scenario… well, you don’t get three tries at a trick off a natural feature. So I think one of the most exciting aspects of this event is seeing some of the best backcountry riders in the world going head to head, stomp for stomp.
For an audience who only know the contest aspect of snowboarding, I’d want to talk about how hyper specific contests have become. When someone wins a major halfpipe contest like the Olympics, their title is the best halfpipe rider in the world. But when someone wins this Natural Selection event, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to call that person the best rider in the world. Because to ride these venues well, it draws on a lifetime of experience. You can draw on it from street, or riding transitions in the pipe, doing tricks on a slopestyle course. And, you draw on it from riding backcountry – how to pick a line, how to ride variable snow, how to pick a line, visualise it and execute.
|How has the concept changed since the last Ultra Natural event in 2013?|
The biggest change is that we’ve switched from an overall ranking to a head-to-head system. With the overall ranked run format, you can’t really remember what people did, so you end up just watching the scoreboard. So we decided to do head to head. So now, rider A just has to compete against rider B, and the winner progresses to the next round. Also we do it as a best of three, so if each rider wins a run, we have this bonus tie break round. It’s going to make things very hard for the judges at times, but overall I think it will make it a little more fun for both the riders and the viewers.
Holding a contest in steep natural terrain must come with a unique set of challenges. What has been the biggest?
We have really high aspirations for how we’re going to broadcast a live show. Bringing the kind of technological solves we want to do, in full winter conditions, is huge. One of the things we’ve done is develop these camera drones, with world champion drone pilots. These drones have to carry serious technology, from the cameras and lenses we want to use, and special gimbals (stabiliser) with high quality live broadcast equipment on board.
There are a great cross section of shredders. If you had to pick a winner for Jackson, who would it be?
It’s tough to pick just one, I’ll tell you that. But I’m excited to see Victor de Le Rue. He’s such a solid rider, I’m curious to see how he does here. On the women’s side, I’m really excited to see how Marion Haerty handles the course. She’s such a dominant rider on the Freeride World Tour, but I think she does have a freestyle background, as well, so I’m looking forward to seeing a different side to her riding in Jackson.
What aspects of women’s riding will shine compared to more traditional Big Air/Slopestyle formats?
The venue itself is so open to how the competitors want to ride it. Unlike traditional events with set features, our event venue is so much bigger, like seven to eight times bigger than a slopestyle course, if not more. There are so many more lines to be chosen, I think the women will be able to ride the way they want to ride, and are inspired to ride. Women’s snowboarding has absolutely been progressing faster than men’s snowboarding in recent years and, frankly, the women’s event is what I’m most excited about.
Watch live from February 3-9 on Red Bull TV HERE.