For more than two decades Travis Rice has sat atop our sports pantheon of professional snowboarders. Before he became the deity of descent that he is known for today Travis was the one to beat at every freestyle event on Earth. In turn, the Jackson Hole native accrued a trophy case full of X Games, Air & Style and US Open accolades in everything from Big Air, to Quarterpipe to Slopestyle with more than a few rail comp “W”’s in between. Hell, Travis even finished 2nd in a Grand Prix Halfpipe contest in 2004 ahead of Ross Powers, Danny Davis and Kevin Pearce! This nod to Rice’s pedigree on the podium speaks to the fact that the individual who has since accomplished more than any other in the backcountry, was the right rider at the right time to take competitive snowboarding to the next level, enter the Natural Selection Tour.
Now at the cusp of its third season the Natural Selection Tour continues to build upon its mission of evangelizing and rewarding the most elite freeriders in the world via an arena which they can call their own. The ultimate goal of the NST is to provide serious mainstream respect, resources and recognition to those who are progressing our sport outside of the commodified confines of the X Games and Olympics. Just as the unbridled off-piste contest zones present the ultimate test for competitors, they perhaps yield an even greater challenge for the event producers. The logistical challenges that Travis and his team face with each iteration of the Natural Selection Tour are compounded by the weighty task of broadcasting all of the action from the edge of, or even at times off of, the grid. Yet, Rice’s ability to not only do the unimaginable but also make it look easy, doesn’t end when he unstraps. - Pat Bridges
What are your feelings about where the Natural Selection Tour is currently at now that it is in its third season?
It's a good question. I think the tour is right where it's supposed to be. I say that now while acknowledging that if I were to tell you where the tour would be at this point when we started three years ago, I probably would've predicted that it would either be bigger or that we would have some stops in other locations. But it has been a crazy three years on planet Earth. I think we're right where we're supposed to be. I think that Natural Selection Tour is big enough and has enough support to forge onward through the challenges of force majeure but we're also small enough to be nimble. This year is a prime example of us being flexible enough to implement some changes that I think keep it very fresh and exciting. Every year we've continued to uplevel the tour and I'm really psyched how the Duels is running and how it's rolling into what we have set up for both Canada and Alaska.
After launching the Tour during a pandemic, it has got to be exhilarating knowing that if you can overcome that challenge you can pretty much handle anything.
Rolling from pandemic into recession, it's definitely been a Herculean lift by the whole Natural Selection team and all of the partners that support us but I think we're all super committed to this because we see the future of what we are working towards.
The big news for the 2023 Tour is that there won’t be a stop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Late last Spring Jackson Mountain Resort told us that they did not want us back. Again, I think a key to making this a success is flexibility and through that, I think we found a much better partner that believes in the vision of what this event is. That partner is Revelstoke Mountain Resort. I'm thrilled for the world to see what we're able to do at a place that I would say is much more synonymous with dream boarding. The conditions, terrain, and overall attitude from Revelstoke Mountain Resort, is super refreshing for anchoring the Natural Selection Tour for the coming years. This year we are also working with one of the leading heli companies in the world which is Selkirk Tangiers Heli-Skiing. The combination of Revelstoke Mountain Resort and Selkirk Tangiers gives us access to some of the best conditions, best terrain and most incredible natural venues in Canada for the world’s best to come and ride.
Are there any projects you can point to that were shot in the Revelstoke competition zone so people can get a preview of what to expect from the terrain and conditions?
Absolutely. So myself, Nicolas Mueller, Eero Niemela, Mark Landvik and Pat Moore spent a fair amount of time filming for The Art of Flight there. We didn't ride any of the specific venues that we have slotted for this event but I think if you watch the Revelstoke segment of The Art of Flight you’ll get a pretty good idea. What's beautiful for us up there is the diversity of terrain with everything from high alpine, big mountain free riding with crazy feature count all the way down to the most technical pillow faces anywhere.
After two years in Jackson I imagine the competitors were beginning to know what to expect from the terrain yet it sounds like in Revelstoke you now have multiple competition spots to choose from.
Rolling into a third year in Jackson there would've potentially been several riders that had ridden the course two or three years already and that would have definitely been an advantage. Now I think it’s almost a little bit more authentic because that’s essentially how it's done all winter for the riders that are out in the backcountry. That's one of the biggest things that sets the Natural Selection Tour apart. It's not just another half pipe contest on a Saturday in March. It’s a backcountry event and to ride backcountry successfully, you need to be able to adapt.
And this year the Duels is serving as a proving ground to see who qualifies for the Revelstoke and Alaska stops.
Duels is basically the qualifier for the Natural Selection Tour. Last year we had 24 riders come into Jackson and essentially, half the field moved on to the rest of the tour. This year, it's the same thing. We had 24 riders competing in Duels and half of them move on to the stop at Revelstoke and then onto Alaska. Each Duel is like a super session judged by the Natural Selection Judging Committee and they’re judged on overall impression. The beauty of the Duels is we democratized it a bit. Any riders that made it to the 2022 finals in Alaska earned the right to call their Duel location and call the timing for the new challenger to get a shot at getting onto the tour. It was cutthroat in the sense that it was one session and the winner moves on to compete at Revelstoke. Frankly, I think one of the coolest components of the Duels was being able to get these groups of people together that otherwise might not have ever gotten to know each other, might not have ever had a session together. There are some great behind the scenes storylines of the apprenticeship component with some of the new riders being able to spend time with people that have different outlooks and expectations.
For example, you faced Red Gerard for your Duel.
I'm a fan of Red. He's a Quiksilver teammate of mine so we've been able to ride a bit over the past few years but it was intimidating getting pitted up against one of the greatest freestyle riders of his generation. I knew he would be coming fresh off of X Games but I still wanted to pick a venue that had freestyle opportunities. There’s no question in regards to his ability to execute both style, trickery, and confidence of approach. I think what I was psyched about with my Duel with Red was it allowed for us to have an amazing session on an pretty incredible piece of terrain that we might not otherwise have had the opportunity to ride.
You brought Red Gerard to your backyard for the Duel. How do you think you would've done had the battle happened in Red's backyard?
Honestly, I think it would've come down to how much steel he had in his backyard but I mean, I'm not going toe to toe on a perfect kicker with Red these days. There's no way. But some type of weird creative feature, I like to think that I'd be able to hold my own but I mean, the guy's a freaking wizard.