We and many more have anxiously been waiting for the outcome of Travis' contest in his home resort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He fittingly named the contest 'Natural Selection' as it was set up in a purely natural terrain. The thought was to do a freestyle contest without the stereotypical setup of a slopestyle course consisting of three to four park kickers and some jibstacles. Instead Rice, wanted to relocate a freestyle comp in fresh pow runs which needless to say Jackson Hole has more than enough of.
To be more precise it was located in the two locations of Dick's Ditch and the Casper Bowl, for the two heats of the comp. Dicks Ditch is basically is a massive natural halfpipe, with inviting banks to boost out of. Ok, maybe it wasn't completely natural since the local shape crew did work a couple of weeks on building backcountry jumps located all around the course. It comes very close though. The ditch of Dick was closed off for the public for a couple of weeks to ensure that the course remained untracked till D-day. Many people remained sceptical regarding the conditions though. The topic came up, whether or not there will be enough snow and what kind of quality it would have. All those poor souls and their comments haunted by negativity were submerged in the incredible masses of snow which had been falling from up above the last weeks in Jackson. Waist deep and fluffy pow was fates answer to those lacking faith! The Casper Bowl is, like the name suggests, a bowl with all the features of backcountry terrain including steep faces, cornices, cliffs, roller and so on.
The first heat of the competition in Dick's ditch, the course looked like a winter wonderland playground packed with hits, where the worlds elite of natural terrain riding could unleash their creativity and paint their line onto the prestine white canvas before them. The weather wasn't the best and snowfall made visibility a bitch but hey you can't always get everything! The list of riders really did read like a book of who's who in backcountry riding including people like Gigi Rüf, Nicolas Müller, Mark Landvik and Romain De Marchi just to name a few.
The rules were simple; haul ass down the ditch and take as many hits with you as you could. Easier said than done, considering that speed management in powder can be a lot trickier than in a perfectly groomed park with all those perfectly calculated trannies and radii. It was to no surprise that most of the riders finished at the bottom panting for their life. It was cool to finally see pros out of breath in the footage, as that is a rare sight at contests usually. The only other rule I can think of which riders had to follow was that they had to include at least one straight air in their run, which for us hits the ball out of the park! I mean how cool is that! Especially in times, where the motto 'spin to win' has never been bigger. Awesome! Get the style back into shredding please! Those spectators and commentators who can only make sense of something spun more than a 9 are sooo 2007!
Coming to the riding in Dick's Ditch. It was not stellar and one did not get to see double corks. But, it gave snowboarding competition a little blast from the past flavour which we all greatley enjoyed. It reminded us of those comps where the courses wer anything else but perfect. Seeing a seven being pulled into a powder landing sending snow blasting in all directions looks way cooler, and communicates the feeling of fun a million times more than seeing dudes doing 9's all night long. Usually contestest are quite tense for everyone. If there is the live tv element involved you've got this whole timing element which puts added pressure on the riders. Riders don't have time to be stoked. In Jackson Hole and in Rice's mind the clocks are ticking a little different. No stress, please, is the name of the game. It paid off in full, as one witnessed eash rider at the finish carrying an exhausting grin.
The second heat of the comp took place in the Casper Bowl, and was blessed with bluebird and lots of deep untracked powder. Hundreds of enthusiastic spectators cheered the riders on their way down into the bowl and witnessed some amazing riding from Rice, Müller, Wolle Nyvelt who especially hauled ass that day. We don't believe a single trick was performed that crossed the line of a 7. Therefore the tricks were huge and executed with the maximum amount of style possible. A typical run consisted of a large drop into the bowl, followed by a couple slashers, then possibly a cliff drop. Then a big hip jump waited for the riders at the bottom of the bowl. This is of course just mentioning a few of the features!
To cut to the chase, it was not surprising that Mr. T bagged the win, followed by Mark Carter (another Jackson local and T's yearlong shredbuddy) and Mr. Surf DCP. Mr. T knows Jackson inside out! Watch out though for next year. The newbies are gonna remember the terrain around the ditch and the bowl and will for sure step it up next year. It was a historic day for snowboarding competitions and all the riders were more than stoked. The inaugural 'natural selection' was a huge success and will hopefully pave the way for a new approach to contest formats.