Ask any snowboarder what they’ve been most excited about this contest season, and you’ll likely hear the same thing: the Natural Selection Tour. The brainchild of Travis Rice, the innovative contest series became an instant sensation, forever changing competitive snowboarding.
The Burton Team came up huge at the event’s final stop held in late March at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska. Burton riders Mikkel Bang earned the first place spot for men along with Ben Ferguson in second and Mark McMorris in third. Also, team rider Zoi Sadowski-Synnott snagged second place in the women’s division behind winner Robin Van Gyn. If you weren’t able to watch the competition, we’ve got all the details of how it went down.
The Natural Selection Tour: Travis Rice’s Latest Creation
Travis Rice, the mind behind acclaimed films like That’s It, That’s All, The Art of Flight, and The Fourth Phase took his vision to new heights with the inaugural season of The Natural Selection Tour. In 2008, Travis turned his ideation into execution with the first-ever Ultra Natural in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and it was an instant hit. In 2011 and 2012, it transformed into Supernatural and Ultranatural and moved north to Baldface Lodge, British Columbia. But the full Tour has been in the making since ’08 when Travis saw that the competitive snowboarding world needed to be shaken up and backcountry riders needed a viable avenue to compete. Thus, thirteen years later, here we are.
Leading Up To Finals
After the first stop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which nearly broke the Internet, and the second stop at Baldface Valhalla, British Columbia, which pivoted to an all-Canadian video part film shoot, the tour culminated in Alaska. Seven of the world’s best backcountry riders traveled to Tordrillo Mountain Lodge for a week-long weather window with the hopes of wrapping up this inaugural three-stop Tour and crowning a champion.
The Playing Field
The top three men [Mark McMorris (1st), Ben Ferguson (2nd) and Mikkel Bang (3rd)] and top two women [Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (1st), Hanna Beaman (3rd)] from Jackson punched their tickets, (Second-place finisher Marion Haerty couldn’t make it for finals, so, Hana Beaman advanced.) The top male (Chris Rasman) and female (Robin Van Gyn) riders from Baldface Valhalla also qualified for AK, rounding out the field of competitors in finals to four men and three women.
On March 20th, all the finalists and crew assembled at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, a five-star luxury resort nestled alongside Judd Lake at the foothills of the Tordrillo Mountain Range. As weather would have it, on the second day of the weather window, semi-finals were set to go down in a head-to-head, three-run, best score wins format on the fabled Montrachet Spines.
All day long, Ferguson looked dominant charging the course blasting massive methods. Bang looked smooth and comfortable, his experience in the steep AK terrain showing. McMorris was solid all day long, but due to other competitive obligations, he arrived late, possibly not giving him quite enough time to acclimate. Rasman rode strong and consistent in semis but bobbled a few times in his runs.
On the women’s side of semis, it was a three-way battle between Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, Robin Van Gyn and Hana Beaman with the top two advancing to the finals in a head-to-head format. Hana chose a line-based approach, dropping in on all three of her runs on the far looker’s right side of Montrachet and while her scores came in strong, it wasn’t enough to unseat Robin and Zoi from advancing to the finals. Zoi’s run mirrored fellow Burton teammate Ben Ferguson as she rode the looker’s left side of the face littered with features while Robin punched straight down the gut, charging at full-speed and blasting down the face. However, it was Zoi that edged Robin with tricks like a Wildcat and a front 3 that gave her the edge going into finals.
The results from the men’s semifinals saw Ben Ferguson heading into the finals as the number one seed against Mikkel Bang, pitting these longtime friends in a head-to-head match-up for finals. Mark McMorris and Chris Rasman would be battling it out for the third and fourth spot.
The Final of the Finals
Two days later, it was on. The window for light was only about three hours and as the shadow line crept up “DFC,” the face where finals were held.
Under clear blue skies, with little to no wind, and blower Alaskan pow, the six finalists obliterated the final’s face in a best of three-run, head-to-head format, meaning the championship would go to whoever could post the highest score out of three runs.
On the men’s side, for third place, Rasman and McMorris battled it out and Mark put down one of the highest-scoring runs of the day on run 2, giving him the third-place finish and bumping Rasman off the podium.
The finals were neck and neck. Mikkel put down a score of 90 in a run that was full-speed with a highlight on his switch riding as well as a front 3 and a backside 540 on the biggest feature on the course. It was too much for Ben to overcome, despite Ferg stomping a Crippler in the middle of the course as well as his signature method and front 3’s that he’s so well-known for.
For the women, Zoi and Robin’s head-to-head, it was Robin Van Gyn who knocked out the relative rookie Sadowski-Synnott, as her expertise and experience in AK showed on finals day. The highlight of Robin’s run was a massive cliff drop on the biggest feature on the finals face as well as some technical spine riding. Grabbing Indy and falling 30+ feet into fresh pow, with that stomp, Robin solidified herself as the HempFusion Natural Selection AK champion. Zoi’s freestyle-based approach, though it served her well leading up to finals, was not enough to take Robin out.
History Is Made
It’s hard to put into words how special the HempFusion Natural Selection at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge was, but when everything lines up in Alaska, magic happens. A massive congrats to champions Mikkel and Robin, and all of the riders that competed on the Tour this winter. Snowboarding is stronger for it.