Natural Selection 2022: Event Three - HighlightsPublished on 07/15/2022 · 9 min readThe 2022 Natural Selection Tour is officially complete, and the event coverage is now out! Snowboard Expert Jason Robinson covers each run and breaks down the major moments.
Hana Beaman competing in NST 2022. Photo by Dean Blotto Gray / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool
That's It, That's All! The third and final stop of the 2022 Natural Selection Tour has been wrapped up and delivered directly to all our devices for our viewing pleasure. Some dreams came true while others may have been shattered—one well-placed, low-angle, aerial maneuver at a time—sorry, Ferg!
The NST is the undisputed champion of backcountry snowboard contests and the absolute pinnacle of extreme freestyle backcountry snowboarding. They’ve progressed the sport beyond progression and way past any laws of physics. The fifth phase, and possibly the last, is almost without a doubt Metaboarding where it’s always sunny and every day is a pow day with you and all your besties.
I may have just been distracted by all the extreme action or perhaps it was commentator Ed Leigh’s accent that disguised it, but I can’t remember hearing the mention of the Tordrillo mountain range. Instead, I heard the area being referred to as just the “Alaskan backcountry.” Pretty vague given the fact that the Alaskan backcountry includes over 300,000,000 acres of land…
It may be that with the tour’s ethos and commitment to sustainability, they wanted to distance themselves from the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge a bit. Understandable given the fact that some of their clientele are wealthy enough to single-handedly end global hunger, yet choose to go heli-skiing instead!
The competition venue for Day One was Montrachet, with 1,100 vertical feet and a 38-degree pitch, making the FWT’s final venue, the Bec des Rosses, look like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. But in all seriousness, the Montrachet looks like a snowboarder's dream run. A handful of prominent spines run down a majority of the face, and perfect natural cliffs or kickers, both big and small, and a wide array of transfer options are scattered across the run. Really, imagination is the only limitation here. It looked so fun!
The second face was called Spinal Tap and was reserved for Day Two. Spinal Tap had plenty of spines on tap to host both the men's and women's finals. Serving up another 1,100 vert, with a max gradient of 34 degrees and an average gradient of 27 degrees, it is a very user-friendly venue. I could not have put it better myself when announcer Mary Walsh said it’s “the ideal place to take it to eleven for finals day.”
Men’s Quarterfinals - Round One
The best of the best of the best gathered somewhere in the Alaskan backcountry and faced off head-to-head on Montrachet. In each round, both riders got two runs in a “best of” format. Conditions were immaculate. Simply put, they could not have been better for this event, and all of the Round One matchups were noteworthy.
Burton Bois, Mikkel Bang and Ben Ferguson duked it out for the semifinal round and quite possibly their spot on the Burton team. It was a tight match, but Ben ended up moving on, squeaking by with a score of 78 to Bang’s 77.
Next was the young gun and the old head, with almost two decades of age between these two. Travis Rice first stepped out of a helicopter in Alaska while Jared Elston was taking his literal first steps. It was a tough first-round match-up for Jar on his first trip to AK, but he did put down a sick b/s seven and made a valiant effort. However, he was no match for the GOAT. It was Trav that lined up a real nice back three transfer and an easy win. Jar ended with a second run score of 73 but Trav’s run one score of 90 did it for him.
The nation whose Prime Minister openly snowboards, Canada, has brought us some of the best snowboarding talents on earth, and this match-up included two of them. Olympic medalist Mark McMorris and backcountry badass Dustin Craven could not have taken more different paths in snowboarding, yet here they both were, on the same peak, facing off in Alaska. Mark just makes it all look good—a nice front three up top, a cute lil’ transfer, and a blasted back seven scored him an 86 to Dustin’s 72.
Arguably one of the most heated matchups of Round One was Torstein Horgmo and Sage Kotsenberg. You can just tell that Torstein is in rare air. He’s standing on higher ground and earned the higher score with a 92 to Sage’s 82.
Women’s Semifinals - Round One
Round One for the ladies had Hana Beaman and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott matched up. Hana put down both a backside 360 and a backflip, and Zoi rode with speed and easy style. While Zoi’s riding was on par with much of the men's field, she just wasn’t able to pull much out of her deep bag of tricks, letting a couple of crashes knock her off her game. Hana got the win with an 83 to Zoi’s 78.
The second matchup was backcountry queens Marion Hærty and Elena Hight. Marion opened up a new area of the course and kept it clean on her first run, scoring a 74. Elena had some of the highlight moments of the day for me, riding fast and smooth on some very exposed areas, but just wasn’t able to keep things together on the way down. A score of 65 got her eliminated by Hærty.
Men's Semifinals - Round Two
The semifinal brackets matched up Ben Ferguson and Travis Rice in the first heat. I’ll admit that I’m a bit biased and I like what I like. In my opinion, faster and bigger is usually better. I’m also for quality over quantity, and if I was judging, I think I may have given it to Ben here. Ferguson rode a proper exposed spine line; the terminus was one of the steepest, most technical sections on the face. He carried it straight into a picturesque f/s 360, followed by a frontside transfer hit, grabbing stalefish—making it all look very natural.
Travis’s run on the other hand looked as though it may have been rehearsed. Even announcer Mary Walsh said, “The thing about watching Travis ride this line is that it doesn't look like it’s his first go on it. It looks like he’s familiar with it.” Yes, it’s possible he’s never ridden that line before, and honestly only Travis and God know the answer to that (another likely scenario is that Travis is God). Either way, you’re under the trust tree here, Trav, and you can tell us the honest truth. Have you ridden that line before? No judgment from me. I mean…someone had to test the face at some point to determine it was a good fit for the contest. I know how much a win here means to you.
Ben did let go of that stalefish a bit early, and maybe he benefited from better camera work, but the front three was dope and worthy of any A-grade video segment. I’m not saying that Travis’ run wasn’t incredible and full of technical riding, I’m just not sure that he would have put any one of his seven tricks into a video part. Just saying. Trav 92; Ferg 85.
Mark McMorris and Torstein Horgmo went face-to-face for heat two. Two of the most decorated snowboard competitors behind Shaun White, these two are absolute icons of the sport. This is sort of like the Tyson vs. Holyfield match-up of competitive snowboarding—luckily helmets are a requirement so no ears were bitten off. Mark had a sick butter up top but unfortunately just wasn't able to flip the switch into X-Games mode and was awarded 80 points.
Torstein on the other hand ascended right past X-Games mode and straight into God Mode. His off-season training program must include meditating in a cave for three months straight to really put him into a constant and perpetual flow state the whole winter long. He dropped a smooth frontside 180 up top and rode switch for a while—the commentators really nailed into my head that switch riding scores BIG with the judges. Lucky for Torstein because he carried his momentum riding backward down the fall line into a nice Cab 5. He found a sick sort of manny-pad style double, right into a crazy frontside 7 melon and a classic backside air (aka method grab). He ended the run off with a butter variation that was mental. Even more mental was the name commentator Ed Leigh coined: “a pretzel butter out of a heelside turn into a backside nose butter.” Now say that ten times fast! Mr. Horgmo put down the highest scoring run of the day with a 95.
Unfortunately, the visibility wasn’t the best for the finals. A storm was rolling in, and sadly, the lighting only got worse as the day went on. It is too bad that there wasn’t time on Day One to run the finals at the end. The riders were absolutely peaking, and who knows what would have gone down.
The ladies started things off this milky morning on Spinal Tap. Hana dropped first, and she rode clean with quite a few well-placed straight airs. Marion took a similar line, and didn’t get into the air as many times, but she rode a bit faster and threw a frontside 360 which had her in the lead after Run One.
Travis dropped next and put down a really solid run. The highlight was the big Cab 5 up toward the top, but he linked the rest of his run together nicely with a few more solid aerial maneuvers, including a backflip and back three, earning himself an 85. I don’t know, maybe Torstein’s superpowers are solar-powered because he looked a little off at the top. He started finding his groove with a front one quickly combined into a Cab 5. As he built momentum, he started bombing for something big, but the low light and a windpacked spot in the snow took him down. Things kind of slipped away from him after that and he ended up with a score of 60.
I don’t know how she did it with the increasingly poor visibility, but Hana did what no one else could and improved her first-run score. She somehow seemed to have found even more hits to air than on her first go. She managed to add in a frontside 360 and had added control on her straight airs with better grabs and style, grabbing herself the W with a 90.
All's Well That Ends Well
So, there you have it. The women's podium, or should I say Yeti cooler, included Zoi in third, Marion in second, and Hana in first. On the men’s side, you found Ben in third, Torstein in second, and Travis in first. The overall tour winners were Elena Hight and Travis Rice.
I really enjoyed watching the events, cheering on the riders, and of course, poking fun at things (like any decent snowboard journalist would and should). If the event crew at NST doesn’t come to their senses and extend a proper invite for me next winter, then you will most likely find me here, giving you the very best in event coverage and making even more fun of things. In the meantime, check in with a Curated Snowboard Expert for the best insights on the latest and greatest snowboard gear on the market.