Natural Selection 2022: Event One - What to Look Out For
For Event One of Natural Selection, we'll see world-class snowboarding in a thrilling head-to-head competition. Find out what to expect from this week's action.
This week at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, things will really be heating up, and no, it’s not due to the $18-breakfast-burrito-induced flatulence within the tightly packed tram. It’s the brainchild of snowboarding madman and extreme sports superstar, Travis Rice, and the first stop of the second year of the groundbreaking Natural Selection Tour. Over a decade in the making for Travis and cohorts, this tour is akin to placing a plump, ripe cherry on top of what has already been one of the most noteworthy and impactful snowboard careers, in the history of well… snowboarding.
After the smashing success of last year's event, despite some pretty major limitations due to COVID-19 restrictions, the tour is back and should be even more thrilling this time around. Eighteen male athletes and nine female athletes, all hand-picked by a judging panel of astute industry experts and legends, will compete in a head-to-head style competition on a natural(ly enhanced) course. Naturally enhanced means that they take what is already a great natural run and then develop it in a way that should enhance the inherent features, making for a more dynamic and engaging experience for the participants and spectators alike.
The head-to-head format adds some extra spice that you don’t normally see in the arena of more traditional snowboard events. The way that the athletes are paired up against each other and put into a bracket format essentially makes it feel more like you’re watching a prize fight or video game of some sort. It’s a very exciting element of the tour!
The tour consists of three stops. The first is here in Jackson Hole; in February, riders will later head to Baldface Lodge in BC. The third and final event is held in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska in late March. The final venue sets the stage to crown the most progressive backcountry snowboarders alive! All three venues present different terrain styles and their very own set of challenges—the athletes that prove their versatility and aptitude for different snow and slope types will indeed rise with the cream. While tricks and airtime are a big part of the judging criteria, it is an individual rider’s style and their own interpretation of the mountain and run that will really stand out throughout the duration of the tour.
What to Expect in Jackson Hole
One thing you can certainly count on in Jackson this week is absolute massive air from the riders. This course was definitely built with hang time in mind. It favors the bold and those with a little more of a freestyle approach to their riding. Lower in terrain angle and technicality than the second and third stops, Jackson Hole is most likely where we will see the biggest airs and tricks of the whole entire tour. There is a handful of picture-perfect, hand-sculpted ramps for these riders to test their wings on, and trust me, these men and women came to Jackson Hole ready to fly.
The resort has an average annual snowfall of around 500 inches, and the jump’s landings, like the après nachos, should be fully loaded. The course is located inside of the ski resort and, unlike the next two spots, is easily accessible to the public. So if you happen to find yourself in the area this week, spectating is highly encouraged!
The Natural Selection Tour has also partnered up with the Stay Wild Festival, so in addition to the on-hill action, there are a plethora of après gatherings and live performances running alongside the snowboarding event to keep you entertained all week long. One of the most exciting aspects, if you are indeed in the area, is once the competition is over, they open the course up to the public and give the rest of us a crack at it. But don’t fret if you can’t view it in person because the live stream coverage is arguably better than actually being there. The FPV drone footage is absolutely mental!
Who to Watch
Let’s get into some of the talent that will be competing this week! Ladies first! Returning to Jackson for their second showing at the tour's first stop are Hana Beaman, Zoi Sadowski-Synott, Elena Hight, Marion Haerty, and Robin Van Gyn. The ladies competing in Jackson for their first time this week are Spencer O’Brien, Marie-France Roy, Leanne Pelosi, and Cheryl Mass. However new to the event here in Jackson, none of the women are new to this style of riding—these ladies are seasoned veterans of backcountry riding.
I mentioned earlier that this stop’s course design will definitely cater to the more air-aware riders. Zoi’s victory last year is a testament to this. Her deep bag of tricks and powerful jumping style are unmatched in the field of ladies, making Zoi a favorite again this year. Hana is another standout and has just the right blend of grit and grace to light up the place. Marion is one of the strongest big mountain riders, with her control and confidence at speeds-world class. Can she incorporate enough of a freestyle element to her riding to stand out this week? These women all have the strength and style that we love to witness and it’s really anyone's chance for a victory.
For the guys, it is also looking like another fully stacked rooster and a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat type of viewing—a near guarantee. Whether you're rooting for your favorite rider, a young blood, or an old head, this week is sure to keep you guessing. Returning to Jackson for their second showing are Austen Sweetin, Blake Paul, Ben Ferguson, Chris Rasman, Sage Kotsenburg, Travis Rice, and the Natural Selection’s defending champ Mikkel Bang. This gang of ruffians goes fast. They take chances and are sure to bring the heat this week. Blake and Travis have a bit of a home-court advantage; having grown up in Jackson, they are possibly among the most equipped to handle themselves here in the Tetons. Ben and Sage both have a long history of competitive snowboarding and have the ability to take that Olympics mindset from the pipe and park here into the powder.
New to the event line up here in Wyoming are Danny Davis, Dustin Craven, Gabe Ferguson, Jared Elston, Kevin Backstrom, Sebbe De Buck, Torgeir Bergrem, Torstein Horgmo, and Arthur Longo. All of these riders more than deserved the invite, but I can guarantee they will all be hungry to prove that. Personally, I’m fired up on the additions. Since such a big element of this course is the performance on the kickers, the younger guns may have a little bit of an advantage here at the first stop. Oregon boys Gabe and Jared will definitely be bringing the “go big or go home” mentality to the party, and I would expect nothing less from them. Torstein is an absolute legend in the snowboard world and a win here would not surprise. Kevin and Torgeir are both guys to keep an eye on, and I’m excited to see what they come up with. One of the most highly anticipated new invites from this year is Arthur Longo. Arthur, having retired from competitive halfpipe riding over ten years ago now, has focused his skills and energy on backcountry riding. He’s grown to be one of the most prolific riders of the generation and a top contender this week. Having received an invite last year but turning it down, I’m eager to see what he brings to this week.
When you set nearly thirty of the world's greatest snowboarders loose on a course that seamlessly blends the best of both natural and man-made terrain, the limits of what is possible in the competitive sports arena will be pushed. For the most progressive, high-flying, backcountry snowboard action, be sure to tune into the first stop of the Natural Selection Tour in Jackson Hole this week.
Check back in with me next week here on Curated’s Expert Journal for my personal take on what went down on the battlefield and a general recap. If you’re interested in what equipment these athletes are riding out there and want to try the gear out for yourself, reach out to a Snowboard Expert here on Curated for help!