Natural Selection 2022: Event Two - What to Look Out For
Follow along with Stop Two of NST at Baldface Lodge, BC. This is where iconic mountains meet, where the snow is deeper, the lines are steeper, and the poutine & powder are as fresh as it gets.
The second stop of the Natural Selection Tour is coming in hot, folks! Hotter than the temps reached by this stop's headlining sponsor, TAE Technologies, to generate electricity through nuclear fusion. Unlike the half-life of nuclear waste, our time in Canada is relatively short—we’ve got a one-week weather window to hold the event on the best possible days which run from February 21st to the 27th just outside of Nelson, British Columbia at Baldface Lodge.
Baldface is sort of the unofficial cat boarding operation of the snowboard industry and community–the late, great Craig Kelly was one of the operation’s founding fathers who helped bring Baldface into snowboarding's vernacular. Presently and somewhat ironically, it is the very bearded Jeff Pensiero who is the face and soul of the operation; he and his family are a crucial part of what makes Baldface so special. If you have the means, I can assure you that this is a Bucket List-caliber location, providing an experience fit for royalty both on-snow and après-ski/board.
As usual, you can expect amazing live coverage of the event, and if the conditions are quality, we will see some of the most progressive snowboarding ever done in a contest setting. This stop's particular venue was aptly named Scary Cherry, and yes, it can be exactly that—both scary and cherry. I have personally peered down the face, however, on that particular day it looked much more scary than it did cherry and we did not ride it. The run is STEEP and, luckily for spectators and competitors alike, it may be deep also.
Originally a super-looking face in its natural state, it has since been enhanced and was the venue for Travis’s first attempt at an extreme backcountry freestyle competition back in 2012, called the Red Bull Supernatural. However the name didn’t stick around for long, and the second year, the event was renamed the Red Bull Ultra Natural, after a legal cease and desist notice from the provincial government of British Columbia—their catchphrase and marketing moniker being “Super, Natural British Columbia”. Not that you asked for it, but there you go, a little history lesson on the event's roots! Now we can all agree that Travis should be thankful that Charles Darwin is no longer living and they were able to settle on Natural Selection for the event's latest name and title.
The competition face has a mostly northern-facing aspect which wouldn’t have gotten cooked by the sun, so despite a lack of fresh snow lately, the overall snow quality should have remained decent. I’m happy to inform you that the forecast is calling for up to 20cm over the next few days (that’s around eight inches for all of us imperialists). We should cross our fingers in hopes that the snow stacks up. After the next few days bringing light to moderate snowfall, it appears that a high-pressure system is moving into the area, bringing clear skies and extremely cold temps. The former being hugely positive for the event as a whole. The latter? Not so much.
Who to Watch
Let’s dive into the athletes, which riders advanced from Jackson Hole last month, and exactly who will be competing at Stop Two over the coming week. All of the athletes that made it through Round One at Jackson and were able to compete on Day Two of that event will be continuing on for the Baldface event. The athletes that were eliminated in the first round will not be moving on, and if my math is correct, that means there will be four women and eight men.
On the ladies' side of the brackets, we’ve got 4x FWT champion Marion Haerty, backcountry vet Hana Beaman, our 2022 Stop One winner Elena Hight, and last year's overall tour champ Robin Van Gyn. All world-class riders, each of these women bring their own unique style and skill set to the snowboard game and the Natural Selection Tour. It could be anyone's game for this next stop on Scary Cherry. I will not try and make any predictions here and will just try and let their riding speak for them.
Look for speed, precision, and power from French athlete Marion Haerty. What she may lack in trick selection, she more than makes up for in her big mountain prowess. Hana, the most experienced of the ladies, has been there, done that, and may possibly have seen it all. An all-mountain destroyer, Miss Beaman continues to keep the Mount Baker Hard Core lifestyle alive. Elena, under the direct tutelage of big mountain legend Jeremy Jones, has transitioned from halfpipe transitions into the limitless expanses of touring in the backcountry. Robin has been leading the charge for over a decade with her backcountry freestyle approach. The only one of the ladies coming out of Canada, you can count that she will be right at home out there at Baldface.
The eight men that made the cut will be holding nothing back for Stop Two—that, you can certainly count on. Most of these Alpha males have been gathering Beta, sipping Cappas at Oso Negro for weeks now, having jetted straight to Nelson once their PCR results came back without the Delta variant. Much like the woman’s field, victory is really anyone’s for the taking. The riders you’ll be seeing, in no particular order are as follows: Dustin Craven, Travis Rice, Sage Kotsenburg, Torstein Horgmo, Jared Elston, Mikkel Bang, Ben Ferguson, and last but not least, Blake Paul.
Travis Rice is certainly the most seasoned pro on tour, and what he may lack in joint health, he overshadows with his unmatched level of backcountry experience. Adding to this advantage is the fact that he not only designed and built the course, but he has also probably ridden it more than anyone on earth. He knows this run better than he knows the back of his own hand, and I expect very big things from Rice here on Scary Cherry.
Ben Ferguson will be one to look out for, and I feel bad for whoever he’s matched up with in Round One. This course should really pair well with Ben’s riding style. He rides fast and powerful, his edge control arguably unmatched among the field of riders. The ability to make quick decisions, improvise, and adapt when things inevitably don’t go exactly according to plan will prove to be an invaluable set of skills that he possesses.
A younger rider that has been on an absolute tear lately is Jared Elston. Hot off a second-place finish from Stop One, Elston is another one of those riders that just really gets how to ride in this type of steep terrain. With his impeccable board control and handling, he should make this course look easier to ride than most of the other riders will. Edge to edge, he is just so on point. His propensity for taking absolutely massive airs combined with having one of the deepest bags of tricks in the game would have me shocked if he didn’t earn another podium finish.
Another guy I’ve just got to mention here is Blake Paul. He is one of the smoothest to ever do it—period. Count on him to be picking apart this highly technical and featured face with surgical precision, lacing in his signature lazy style with some big airs and tricks. He’s just got it like that and it just looks too easy for him. It was over a decade ago now that my late, great, little brother, Aaron Robinson, took Blake under his wing nicknaming him the “Backcountry Prince,” a very true statement and play on his initials. This may be BP’s time to step up and take the crown—the boy has become a man. Has the prince grown into the king? Time will tell.
There are also two athletes that were granted a wildcard into the second stop since they both qualified for the tour last year but were busy competing in the Olympic Games in Beijing. The timing was just too tight for Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Mark McMorris to appear at the first stop, so they got a bye into Stop Two. They each represented their countries and snowboarding as a whole in an amazingly positive light at the O show, so these are very worthy exceptions! Zoi won a gold medal in Slopestyle and a silver in Big Air. Mark snagged his third Olympic bronze in Slopestyle. You can count on these two to be a couple of the favorites at Stop Two, and if you saw what they did on the literal ice in Beijing, just imagine what they are capable of when they are set loose in a powder paradise.
There you have it, some excitement you can expect from Stop Two of the NST! Although with such a unique contest format, venue, and field of riders, the only thing that you can truly expect is the unexpected. There will be no shortage of stoke, and you can guarantee that I will personally be going straight nuts watching. Nail biting, screaming at the screen, pulling out my hair, and just looking like an absolute maniac to anyone who doesn’t understand the passion we all have for snowboarding, its characters, and its culture. If you know, you know. If you don’t know? Well, I’m here to teach you.
Please check back in right here next week for a recap of the event, where I’ll be breaking down exactly how things played out, the sideways standing standouts, the highs, lows, and all notable points in between. Also, please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to talk about snowboarding, this event, or if you need any help finding your next snow setup. I live for this and I’m here to help—just like all of our Snowboard Experts here at Curated.