© Tom Monterosso / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool
Natural Selection Tour finale took snowboarding to a whole new level
Held in Alaska's Tordrillo mountains, the final stop of Natural Selection Tour saw some ridiculous riding from the world's best backcountry snowboarders.
In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Natural Selection Tour officially marked a watershed moment in competitive snowboarding, as the brainchild of Travis Rice – arguably the best and most influential big mountain freestyle rider of all time – came to life. Twelve years in the making, it set out to definitively crown the world’s best all-mountain freestyle backcountry riders.
Jackson Hole was the tour’s break-the-internet moment as 24 of the world’s best riders were pitted in head-to-head matchups against one another, with 20-time X Games medallist Mark McMorris taking the win and newcomer Zoi Sadowski-Synnott – who gained entry as a wildcard into the first stop of the Tour – coming out on top on the women’s side.
That was followed up by a stop in British Columbia at the legendary Baldface Valhalla, in an all-Canadian, invite-only film shoot where riders were given one week to film a full line and a video part that was judged on risk, flow, creativity and control. Of the ten Canadian riders invited, it was all-mountain powerhouse Chris Rasman and big mountain slayer Robin Van Gyn who punched their tickets to Alaska for the final stop of the Tour. Joining them were the second and third place finishers from Jackson; Ben Ferguson and Mikkel Bang.
On the women’s side, though Marion Haerty finished second in Jackson behind Sadowski-Synnott, she was unable to make the trek to Alaska. Instead, legendary snowboarder Hana Beaman, who finished third in Jackson, got the nod to head north to the world-renowned Tordrillo Mountain Lodge.
But Alaska is an entirely different beast. Between the terrain, the difficult-to-access location, the weather and the sheer size and magnitude of the Tordrillo Mountains, it’s unlike anything ever seen before. Simply riding in Alaska, let alone putting on an event, is a challenge. But on March 20, all seven invited riders arrived and settled into the comforts of the lodge, waiting for the weather to cooperate so that the event could get underway.
Watch the entire show from the final stop of Natural Selection Tour below:
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge showcase
Luckily, they didn't have to wait long, as on the second day the riders awoke to crystal clear skies and light winds. The energy in the lodge immediately changed when Liam Griffin, Natural Selection Tour co-founder and COO made the call that the semi-finals were a go.
Piling into the fleet of helicopters, the crew arrived at the infamous Montrachet Spines of the looming Tordrillo mountain range and unloaded at the top. The three women – Sadowski-Synnott, Van Gyn and Beaman – were pitted against each other and were given three runs, with the best score advancing them to the finals. Unfortunately, since there were three women and only two would be advancing to finals, one of the competitors would be eliminated. On the men’s side, though, it was two head-to-head matchups as Ferguson faced Rasman and McMorris went up against Bang.
As the Montrachet Spines glowed in orange Alaskan light, the radios came to life and the first rider prepared to drop in. The semi-finals were officially on and the riding was ridiculous.
In Rasman and Ferguson’s three-run head-to-head, it was Ferg’s approach that paid off. He put down the highest score of the day  in his second run, blending his freestyle capabilities with the knowledge and line selection of an AK veteran, as he advanced to the finals as the top seed. Rasman powered down the piste run after run but it simply wasn’t enough to take Ferguson out, as he blended his bag of contest tricks with his propensity for riding pow.
“To many, Alaska is the highest level of backcountry snowboarding: The Final Frontier. To me, it’s the place where I feel most afraid, most energised and most humbled
Despite missing out on the finals, Rasman revealed his delight at competing, saying: “To many, Alaska is the highest level of backcountry snowboarding: The Final Frontier. To me, it’s the place where I feel most afraid, most energised and most humbled. The place your mind needs to get to ride these mountains becomes addicting. Scale is so hard to judge in AK and the mountains look like something out of a fairytale. Having the finals of a snowboard contest I’ve wanted to be a part of for 10 years here is a truly wild experience. One in which I don’t know how to properly articulate. It’s something I will never forget being a part of and will now set my eyes on returning every year possible.”
In the highly anticipated McMorris versus Bang head-to-head, the two long-time friends and teammates had three runs to advance and though McMorris’s second run earned him a score of 70, Mikkel posted a 78 on his second of three runs to secure his place in the final.
For the women, it was neck and neck, as Beaman, Sadowski-Synnott and Van Gyn battled it out. While Hana’s third round score of 80 looked promising, it wasn’t enough as Van Gyn’s second run score of 82 and Zoi’s third run score of 92 – the highest of the day – propelled them into a head-to-head match-up to determine who would be crowned the Queen of Alaska.
Two days later, the entire Natural Selection crew loaded into the fleet of helicopters and planes under the cover of darkness, as word of good weather and perfect light started to spread. When they landed on the glacier, with the riders in place and photographers ready to go, the shadow line crept up the face of the infamous 'DFC' – a 3,000ft vertical run to the valley floor, littered with features – and as soon as the light hit the peak, it was time.
The energy in the air was palpable as Rasman dropped in first in a three-run head-to-head battle that saw him and McMorris vying for third and fourth place. While Rasman’s first run score of 75 set the bar for the entire event, it wasn’t enough to beat McMorris’s second run score of 88, thus giving the veteran rider third place and knocking Rasman off the podium.
Ferguson and Bang then put on a show in the final, with Ferguson going big on his second to secure a score of 87. However, Bang immediately answered back by putting down the highest score of the day with a 90 on a run that featured frontside spins, a backside 540 off of one of the biggest features on the course and a switch straightline to the bottom finish gate.
With that run, Mikkel Bang was crowned Natural Selection Tour champion and awarded a brand-new Bronco Sport, as well as earning bragging rights to last a lifetime. Though he missed out on the big win in Alaska, Ferguson understood the weight of what went down in the Tordrillos, saying: “In my mind, riding in Alaska is the pinnacle of snowboarding. This event is some of the highest-level contest snowboarding imaginable. It was an amazing time spent in the mountains with amazing snowboarders and amazing people.”
In the women’s head-to-head, Sadowski-Synnott laid down a marker with her first run, but Van Gyn answered back with her second run, delivering a score of 76 and securing the title. Reflecting on the biggest win of her career, Van Gyn said: "Alaska is always the place I am trying to get back to every year, so to be able to make it up to the Tordrillos with Natural Selection Tour was an insane cherry on top for the season overall. Being up there with all of those incredible and accomplished riders also was a true honour. I never thought I would be able to compete amongst the best of the best, especially in a place like AK.
"Everything I have done in my snowboard life has led me towards this tour and it feels like the pinnacle of backcountry snowboarding for me. I still can’t believe I ended up at the top of the podium. It’s a mind blower and I’m still waiting for all of it to sink in. Having seen the progression this year for women where freestyle meets lines, I know I will really need to bring it next year, I have my work cut out for me for sure. I'm excited to see where we can go from here.”
It was a monumental day for snowboarding as a whole as the crew gathered down at the bottom to award Bang and Van Gyn their trophies in front of a small crowd consisting of the entire TML staff and guide team, as well as Natural Selection Tour crew.
Third place-finisher Hana Beaman added to the monumental gathering of the world’s best, stating: “Whenever I get to go to Alaska is special, but getting to go for Natural Selection Tour finals was just a dream come true! I feel so honoured to be a part of this event and to get to spend a week shredding with this crew made me feel like I already won.”
Where Natural Selection Tour will go from here is anybody’s guess, but with Travis Rice at the helm, the sky is the limit.
Be sure to download the free Red Bull TV app and catch Natural Selection Tour action on all your devices! Get the app here