Natural Selection 2022: Event Two - Highlights

Pack up the shaving cream and razor blades because Snowboard Expert Jason Robinson gets you up close and personal with the action at Baldface, BC for Stop Two of the 2022 NST.

A snowboarder comes off a man-made jump and grabs the bottom of their board.

Photo courtesy of Natural Selection Tour

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Okay, it’s official. The highly anticipated Stop Two event coverage has finally been released. I just finished watching it for myself, and you too can watch it now. Also, there are now officially two things I think of when I think about the Natural Selection Tour and those are of course Snowboarding Action and now, as of recently, Acronyms.

Since I was a young boy, I have always appreciated the use of acronyms. The first I became familiar with was NES (Nintendo Entertainment System); next was probably NBA (National Basketball Association). It wasn’t until several years later that the game NBA Jam dropped on SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) when I first saw two sets of acronyms combined into one iconic masterpiece.

The Natural Selection Tour aka NST is officially Travis Rice’s firstborn. Sorry Jupiter, but the tour beat you into existence by just about one year. First, Travis brought us the NST, then JRR (Jupiter Rune Rice), then, at this year's Jackson Hole stop, the NST NFT’s (Non-Fungible Tokens) were launched. Which you can still get, BTW, with four interest-free installments of $250—while supplies last, of course.

I mean, it comes as no surprise. Our lexicon as snowboarders has never been short on acronyms. MDP (Mack Dawg Production), MFM (Marc Frank Montoya), MFR (Marie-France Roy), MBHC (Mount Baker Hardcore), DCP (David Carrier Porcheron), LBS (Legendary Banked Slalom), TB (Totally Board or Tom Burt), and DWD (Dinosaurs Will Die)—just to name a few.

But before we get to the BS5 (Backside 540), NBDs (Never Been Done) OMGs, and WTFs that went down in BC (British Columbia) I’d like to cover a new one that we may need to add to our ever growing quiver as snowboarders.

Now, we have the NST NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) which all event staff, spectators, photographers, and athletes were likely legally obligated to sign. I imagine the event’s legal team worked extra hard on this stop to ensure that the contest results would be kept under wraps between the event, which ended February 27th, and the event’s airing on March 16th. Amazingly, there were zero leaks on social media of this stop’s results, and let’s pray that the event’s headlining sponsor, TAE (Tri Alpha Energy), also manages to have zero leaks in their nuclear power facilities.

Format

If you watched the Jackson Hole event, then you are familiar with the head-to-head style of contest that Natural Selection has become known for. Due to the timing and safety limitations, only part of the Baldface stop will be mano a mano.

The first round consists of five female and nine male contestants, all of which will get two runs on the course. The best of the two runs will determine their scores and who will advance to the next round. For the women, the top two riders will advance directly to a face-to-face pairing in the finals. For the men, the top four riders will move on to one-on-one semi-finals, with the winners of that round heading to the men’s final.

In the final and semi-final head-to-head rounds, it will strictly be the best of two runs, unlike the Jackson event where if one rider scored higher on the first run and the other scored higher on the second run, they'd both take a tie-breaker run.

It is worth mentioning that four women and eight men will be advancing to Stop Three, so the two competitors with the lowest scores for their gender will not be heading any further north to Alaska.

Venue

will certainly be scary but may not exactly be cherry for this event and that the less cherry it is, the more scary it becomes. The day of the event was moderately cherry and hence moderately scary, which presented the athletes with challenging yet, what appeared to be, enjoyable riding conditions. The face is 2,200 vertical feet, and yes, this is the biggest face at Baldface.

The top of the course had some pretty serious wind effects, so the steepest and most technical part of the face had the lowest snow quality. This only added to the difficulty and increased the mishaps associated with speed and gravity management. The wind seemed to have shaped the face quite a bit differently than when the 2012 and 2013 events were run, so many of the man-made pillars and pillows did not line up as well with their intended takeoffs as they did in the past. However, there were, of course, still plenty of on-course opportunities for creativity and major air time.

The Athletes and Their Action

So let’s start with the OMGs, then we’ll move on to the NBDs, and finish with the WTFs. First and foremost, the rider list alone is something to marvel at. There are essentially three generations of next-level talent, with Travis leading the pack at 39 years young and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott at just 21, showing us that the future of snowboarding is blindingly bright.

Furthermore, it is really exciting and very much an NBD (Never Been Done) to have women competing here at Baldface since both the Supernatural and Ultranatural events did not have any female riders. The fact that Natural Selection is based on evolution, it only makes sense that women are now being included in the event.

Moments to Watch

Moving into the first round, there are a few moments that really stood out to me. Sage Kotsenburg tapped a pillow that was about 20 feet up on a pillar. Upon impact, the chunk of snow, which was about the size of a compact car, began rolling down the entirety of the slope. Sage got a bit distracted by the spinning snowball of death, and the quality of his run began snowballing also. Much like how he knocked the snowball off the pillar, the snowball knocked him off his chances to stand on another podium for this event, leaving him stuck with his Run One score of 83.6 and a sixth-place finish for the day.

Jared Elston sent one of the biggest airs of the event, a massive F/S 360 with that classic elbow-outside-of-the-knee indy poke. He is one of my favorite riders in the field to watch, and whether in the air or on edge, he oozes with both style and proficiency. The simplest little air or set-up turns are just executed so properly, showcasing his unmatched combination of both ability and agility. Elston’s first run score of an 80 was his best showing of the day which put him in 7th place.

Just one spot out from making finals for the ladies was Marion Hærty, and even though she didn’t make the final two, she finished in third with a 79. She only needed to reach the top four to lock in her invite to the next stop in the Tordrillos where her big mountain pedigree is sure to shine through. Marion started off her run with a highly consequential B/S 360, which showed she can integrate more of a freestyle element into her signature high-speed freeride approach to backcountry riding.

A WTF Judgement

A couple of notable WTF moments I witnessed both coincidentally involved Jackson Hole locals—the backcountry prince and the backcountry king, Blake Paul and Travis Rice. In my eyes and the eyes of the greater snowboard community (including Blake himself), Blake seems to have been robbed on his run one score when given a 50.

Okay, so he may have missed a feature or two up top and it wasn’t the most action-packed run of the round, yet he did ride the course extremely well. Nice clean turns up top with a little indy poke off one of the first drops, a proper pillow tap into a switch backside 180, rounding it off with one of the smoothest back threes of the day, and just a quick butt checked front five on the bottom feature. I was left scratching my head when I realized that this run put him in dead last place and honestly thought the score should have been a bit higher, letting Blake advance to the next stop!

I was also a bit shocked that Rice got the highest score of Round One an 88, given he did a complete and unintentional somersault in the landing of the last jump. Initially, I thought it may be political—maybe the whole good ol’ boys mentality of you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. I mean, Travis most likely played a role in the selection of the judging panel, and possibly the judges were keeping their loyalty to the honcho himself!

However, after further review of the runs from two of Jackson’s finest, I realized that Travis made it down the course a full twenty seconds quicker than Blake did, and these two extreme differences in scores may have been somewhat justified, but a full 38 point difference between these two runs is still hard to wrap my head around. Whatever happened here, I know that I’m glad I’m simply writing an event highlight article and not the one writing down the scores in the moment, essentially making or breaking some of these riders' seasons. Blake finished in 9th place and will be the only male athlete eliminated moving on to the third stop.

Men’s Semi-Finals

Semi-final rounds for the men were heated. The first pairing was Travis and Dustin Craven. Both were going absolutely mental, knowing the other would be holding nothing back. The two each had some bobbles and a pretty major crash on Run One, however, Dustin just squeaked ahead which put Travis in the hot seat for Round Two. On this second run, Travis charged and had a creative slalom weave, shooting the pier between one of the man-made features. He then blasted a massive backside 720 but really bobbled the landing, leaving the door open for Craven’s second run. Craven hits back with a cab 5 right off the bat and went straight into what was possibly the biggest straight air of the day. He sent a sizable frontside seven, stomping it clean, and then topped it all off with a silky smooth backside one on the final hit. Travis even claimed “run of the day” as soon as Dustin got to the bottom and the scores reflected that thought with an 86.6 for Trav and 92.3 for Dust.

The second men's semi-final matchup was two of Burton’s finest, Mikkel Bang and Ben Ferguson. At this point, the visibility was starting to make it a bit more difficult for the riders to see clearly. It was Bang’s first run of the round that scored him an even 80 points and ended up advancing him to the final. He stomping a seriously killer BS5 indy that was heard around the globe, he finished the run off with a good-looking front 3 and of course made it all look too easy.

Ferg was dripping with style off the top, but he attempted to upgrade his back 3 with a back 7 and went down hard, showing us exactly how steep Scary Cherry actually is. He went head over heels with five complete ragdolls and afterward said it was the “best ragdoll of my entire life.” It was Ben’s first run score that would count but the 53 just wasn’t going to do it for him.

Women’s Finals

Women's finals pitted Zoi Sadowski-Synnott against Elena Hight. Zoi is fresh off an Olympic gold in Slopestyle and a silver in Big Air, whereas Elena made her last Olympic appearance in 2010 and has spent the last half-decade touring through the backcountry. Zoi fired the first shots here in Baldface—she navigated the steep and technical top section like a real vet. She threw a near-perfect wildcat, something she has become known for, and followed that up with a very sizable straight air, grabbing tail, which snagged her an 88.6. In both runs, Elena made the top look really good and hit a couple of small drops between some very graceful powder turns, yet with a 60 point score, she was not able to top Zoi’s Run One score. Zoi took her second run already knowing she was the winner, but that didn’t slow her down, and on her victory lap, she sent it even bigger than she did on her first run.

Men’s Finals

The men’s final finished off the day, and it was Dustin Craven and Mikkel Bang that ended the day off with the bang we’ve been craving. Mikkel dropped first and switched up his line from earlier in the day, managing to find some untouched snow and a little transfer air into some fluted spines. He then sent one of the best-looking tricks of the day, a very large FS7 nose grab into a little natty back 3, but couldn’t ride it out clean which certainly docked him some points and wound up scoring a 75.

Craven went psycho big on his first air and carried lots of speed into some of the nicest looking powder turns of the day. He took a step down into a filthy backside 180 that I think the judges might have misidentified because his Run One score was a bit lower than I’d have expected at 60 points.

On Run Two, Bang took a similar run as he did on the first finals lap, but instead of losing control in the landing of the back 3, he lost control on the takeoff and was pitched back-first into a tree. At 6’4” and 190 pounds, the small tree was no match for his Scandinavian brute, and he literally fell the tree as he fell.

Craven stepped up to the occasion and had a clean run all the way through. He slowed things down a bit and managed to tap one of the pillars instead of just airing well past it. On the second half of the run, he had a cab 5 and a stylish front 3 and emerged the clear victor. In his classic style, he yelled out “Open bar!” the moment the scores came in and he realized he’d won with an 85.3.

Over the next few days, the riders progressing on to Stop Three will be reconvening in the Todrillo range of Alaska for the final showdown of this year's NST. Make sure to check back here soon for insight on what to expect this year in the Tordrillos. If you’re curious about what equipment these athletes are riding or looking to upgrade your snowboard setup to something new, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly or a fellow Snowboard Expert!

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I've spent over thirty years on snow and a decade as a professional rider. Snowboard career highlights include standout video parts with Absinthe Films, 2016 Big Mountain Rider of the Year and two Snowboarder Mag covers. I pretty much grew up on the slopes in Whitefish, Montana and snowboarding has...

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