© Dean Blotto Gray / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool
Natural Selection at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Alaska is a Wrap
The iconic event marks the final stop of the tour in the last frontier, where two champions were crowned.
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge showcase
In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Natural Selection 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, the Natural Selection Tour 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 twenty-time X Games medalist 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 a 70% / 30% criteria. 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 2nd and 3rd place finishers from Jackson, Ben Ferguson and Mikkel Bang. On the women’s side, though Marion Haerty finished 2nd in Jackson behind Sadowski-Synnott, she was unable to make the trek to Alaska, thus, Jackson’s 3rd place podium-placer and legendary snowboarder Hana Beaman got the nod to head north to the world-renowned Tordrillo Mountain Lodge.
Alaska is an entirely different beast, however. Between the terrain, the access, the weather and the sheer size and magnitude of the Tordrillo Mountains, it’s unlike anything ever before televised. Simply riding in AK—let alone putting on an event—is a challenge. However, on March 20, all seven invited riders flew into TML to settle into the comforts of the lodge and wait for the weather to cooperate in order to host semifinals and finals and crown a male and female champion.
Luckily, on the second day, the riders awoke to crystal clear skies, light winds and blower conditions and thus, the energy in the lodge immediately changed when Liam Griffin, Natural Selection co-founder and COO made the call that semifinals was officially a go.
Piling into the fleet of helicopters at TML, the crew arrived at the infamous Montrachet Spines of the looming Tordrillo mountain range and unloaded at the top. The three women were pitted against each other in a head-to-head-to-head match up (Sadowski-Synnott vs. Van Gyn vs. Beaman) in which they were given three runs and the best score would advance them to 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, however, it was two head-to-head matchups:
—Ferguson vs. Rasman
—McMorris vs. Bang
As the Montrachet Spines glowed in orange Alaskan light, the radios came to life and we heard a cracking, followed by “The 2021 HempFusion Natural Selection is officially underway. First rider dropping in 5, 4, 3, 2,…”
Semifinals 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 (90) in his second run—blending his freestyle capabilities with the knowledge and line selection of an AK veteran, as he advanced to finals as the top seed. Rasman powered down the piste run after run after run and put down a second run score of 78, but it simply wasn’t enough to take Ferguson out, as he blended his bag of contest tricks with his propensity for riding pow. Rasman reached out, stating, “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 energized, 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 to every year possible.”
In the highly anticipated McMorris vs. Mikkel head-to-head, these two longtime 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 knock McMorris out of contention for finals, setting up a Rasman vs. McMorris final for 3rd and 4th place and a Ferguson vs. Bang battle for the 1st and 2nd spot. On McMorris’s third and final run in semis, he seemed to have gotten turned around while descending his line and fell near the bottom on a frontside spin, thus, knocking him out while Mikkel rode strong and smooth as always, staying on his feet and giving him the nod for finals.
For the women, it was neck and neck, as Beaman, Sadowski-Synnott and Van Gyn battled it out and went round for round with one another. While Hana’s third round score of 80 looked promising, it wasn’t enough to edge out Van Gyn or Sadowski-Synnott, 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 matchup to determine who would be crowned the Queen of AK.
Two days later, the entire Natural Selection crew loaded into the fleet of helis and planes sitting right outside the TML lodge at 7am under the cover of darkness, as word of good weather and perfect light started to spread the night before. When they landed on the glacier, with the riders in place and the filmers and photographers ready to go, the shadow line crept up the face of the infamous “DFC”—a 3,000-foot 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 final that saw Rasman 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 McMorris the third place spot and knocking Rasman off the podium.
“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 energized, and most humbled.
Ferguson and Bang put on quite a show as well, with Ferguson redeeming his first run score of 50 with his second run score of 87. However, it was Bang who answered back by putting down the highest score of the day with a 90 on a run that featured a frontside spins, a backside 540 off of one of the biggest features on the course and a switch straightline to the bottom finish gate in which almost everyone in attendance knew would give him the win. With that run, Mikkel Bang was crowned the Natural Selection champion and awarded a brand-new Bronco Sport, as well as bragging rights to last a lifetime. Though he missed out on the big win at the Alaska stop of the Tour, Ferguson understood the weight of what went down in the Tordrillos. “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, it was a battle between Van Gyn and Sadowski-Synnott. While Sadowski-Synnott’s score was higher than Van Gyn’s in the first of three runs, Van Gyn answered back on her second run, putting down a score of 76, giving her the win. Women’s NST champion Van Gyn reflected on the biggest win of her snowboarding career, saying, “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 the 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 honor. 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. 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 Mikkel Bang and Robin Van Gyn their trophies and the keys to their brand-new Bronco Sports in front of a small crowd consisting of the entire TML staff and guide team as well as the Natural Selection crew.
There are times in snowboarding that will live in infamy for history, and this was certainly one of them. Plainly put, it was one for the record books.
Third place-finisher Hana Beaman added to this monumental gathering of the world’s best, stating, “Whenever I get to go to Alaska is special but getting to go for the Natural Selection finals was just a dream come true! I feel so honored to be a part of this event, and to get to spend a week at TML shredding with this crew made me feel like I already won.”
And where the Natural Selection Tour will go from here is anybody’s guess, but knowing what Travis Rice and the entire NST team, the sky is certainly the limit.