Travis Rice Prepares to Relaunch The Natural Selection Backcountry Event
© Danny Zapalac/Red Bull Content Pool
Travis Rice brings back to life his creative brainchild The Natural Selection event, which gathers the best backcountry boarders for a three-stop tour in Jackson Hole, Baldface and Alaska.
Snowboarding at Jackson Hole
Optimism enacts progress. Reckless optimism enacts change and leaves behind them a legacy that only the great ones have the vision and drive to accomplish. Enter Travis Rice. In 2008, Rice put The Natural Selection, an event at his home mountain of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming. The thesis was simple, though the logistics were complicated, to say the least, but only a rider of Rice’s caliber could pull it off.
The deal was gather the world’s best backcountry riders and throw them into an all-natural terrain environment in order to establish who the best all-mountain freestyle rider in the world was. In the end, Rice's vision came to life, though it was fleeting, and they took a pause until 2012 and 2013 when the contest moved to the infamous Baldface, British Columbia, and was rebranded as The Supernatural. The course that was built up on Scary Cherry during those years was a culmination of thousands of hours of cutting paths, building wooden features and ensuring that the terrain would be enhanced and rideable after a winter’s worth of snow in BC. These two events changed the trajectory of snowboarding and immediately became the highest-level event in the history of our culture.
Since then, Rice has been tinkering behind the scenes, operating with his token “reckless optimism” for the last few years in order to not only bring back The Natural Selection, but to usher it into its full expression as a three-stop tour in Jackson Hole, Baldface and Alaska. The event will crown the world’s best all-mountain freestyle snowboarder. And now, Rice’s dream has officially become a reality.
On Jan. 27, 2020, the trajectory of competitive snowboarding shifted once again, as Rice not only announced what the future of The Natural Selection will be, but also hosted a test event at Jackson Hole with 12 of the world’s finest backcountry riders in what will be heralded for generations as a session for the ages. Travis has been working hand-in-hand with JHMR for the last few years to not just build a course, but an entire mountain face, that is quite honestly the most rideable setup the world has ever seen. By removing rocks, stumps and trees while building wooden domes, takeoffs and landings all over the face in the summer, The Natural Selection course at Jackson Hole is one of the most arduous yet fruitful endeavors that Travis has ever set out on. And on that random Monday in January 2020 that will go down in infamy, the entire world got to see a little piece of what The Natural Selection crew has been working on.
The course was about 1/16 of what will be rideable by this time next year when the three-stop tour kicks off in Jackson, but by only inviting 12 riders, the terrain was just the perfect amount for everyone to test out the course and get upwards of six runs on. This was a “test event” aimed at announcing the tour, gathering content and feedback from the riders, filmers and photographers, but mainly it was aimed to get people to notice that this is the future of competitive snowboarding and The Natural Selection will be the crown jewel of professional snowboarding.
Eight of the world’s best male riders and four of the most renowned backcountry snowboarders in the world were invited to the Natural Selection test event, in which a small sliver of the Natural Selection course when it launches as a three-stop tour in 2021, but the fine folks at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort were more than willing to rope off a pristine piece of terrain for this illustrious group of elites. Austen Sweetin, David-Carrier Porcheron (who unfortunately didn’t get to ride in the test event due to a back injury), Bode Merrill, Leanne Pelosi, Sage Kotsenburg, Pat Moore, Elena Hight, Werni Stock, Blake Paul, Nicolas Müller, Robin Van Gyn, Travis Rice and Hana Beaman — riders from a myriad of generations of backcountry snowboarding— got a chance to test their mettle when the skies cleared on Monday, and the energy atop the course was electric to say the least. (Also of note is that Bryan Fox was in attendance for the first few days but had to fly to Europe before the weather window opened.)
The first rider to drop was Austen Sweetin. “Travis kinda put me on the spot," Sweetin said. "At an event like this, when he says ‘You’re going first,’ you can’t really say no. That was an honor to go first, and I’m glad I didn’t bombhole until the last jump!” Bode Merrill was the next rider to open the floodgates to the Natural Selection test event. “My first run was unexplainable," Merrill said. "I was shaking at the bottom ’cause there was so much adrenaline and it was so fast and loose and deep and my first run was definitely my best run and I rode down to Sweetin and we just rejoiced. It was incredible, man.”
As soon as Sweetin and Bode finished their full-pulls to the bottom, the floodgates opened and Pat Moore, Sage Kotsenburg, Nicolas Müller, Travis Rice and Blake Paul dropped in and started sending some jaw-dropping tricks in waist-deep conditions. Kotsenburg opened up the Hand Beaman-named Master Blaster — an 80-foot gap with a 40-foot drop — and the crowd that had gathered on the ropeline erupted as he rode to the bottom with crystalline entrails tailing him the entire time. Sage reflected on the event, and coming from an Olympic gold medalist, Sage had confidence in the fact that this event “will take over all competitive snowboarding aspects. I think you’ll see everyone from older generations of powder riders to contest riders that have almost no backcountry knowledge want to be involved in this moving forward.” In the men’s field, it was none other than renowned Euro ripper Werni Stock who emerged from the event as the “unofficially official standout.” Werni linked top-to-bottom burners all day long and highlighted his incredible day by sending a front three and a back seven over the Master Blaster. “I couldn’t stop riding. I was the last one to drop in, too. I would still ride it right now if it were still open.”
For the ladies, this was one for the history books. In today’s era of snowboarding, their inclusion in the all-new Natural Selection was mandatory because their progression in that arena of snowboarding is hands down the fastest growing in the sport.
Hana, Elena, Leanne and Robin were the perfect quartet of females to include, as the four of them have decades of backcountry experience and are some of the most well-respected riders in the history of snowboarding. “This is bringing that beauty back to snowboarding," Robin said. "It’s not about doing a 1440. It’s showcasing the creativity and the potential for style. I am 100% confident that this tour is going to be a home run. That was a very special day. I’ve never been to anything like that and everybody here feels the same way. It was a very special moment in snowboarding.”
Leanne agreed, “I have no doubt that anything Travis puts his mind to, he’ll reach global domination. This is gonna be really special for snowboarding because it just exudes the soul of snowboarding. It’s shining a light on backcountry snowboarding that people haven’t seen before. I’m really excited.”
Hana Beaman had strong sentiments when thinking back on the fact that she was one of the first women to ever ride a Natural Selection course. “I feel so honored and grateful and kinda just like, ‘Wow, we just got to do that and be part of that crew.’ What a day, what a crew. It was so fun.”
The women of the Natural Selection test event left an indelible mark on the future of snowboarding from Elena’s back threes on the second feature, Hana’s rock drop off the side of the Master Blaster, Leanne’s antics on the transfer gap mid-course and Robin’s creative approach to the course inspiring a handful of the men’s field to take a different approach to the lines they were choosing.
Rice has put tens of thousands of hours into the inception of The Natural Selection, and for him, this event is the epitome of personal and professional. Reflecting on all of the hard work that he has put in, Rice was humbled, honored and excited for both the turnout of the test event and the future of The Natural Selection. “This is such a group effort," Rice said. "And I have to thank our whole production team, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort park and pipe crew, ski patrol for running safety, and on top of that, the riders and the entire snowboarding community for continuing to back us. It takes a village and we can’t do this alone.”
History was made on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, and this is just the beginning. The future is now. The future is here. And snowboarding needs this now more than ever. The Natural Selection test event went off at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, and things are about to get interesting from here on out. Stay tuned for more, and buckle up. This is gonna be fun.