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After years and years of planning, the first day of the Natural Selection, the world’s first ever all-mountain powder snowboard tour and the brainchild of Travis Rice, went off in pristine conditions at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on February 4th, 2021.
Anticipation for this invite-only event has been at an all-time high, and Thursday’s qualifying event did not disappoint. The scene was set with 24 of the world’s best men’s and women’s snowboarders, who were pinned against one another in a bracket style, head-to-head format which gave each rider two runs in their heat.
These runs were scored by an all-star panel of judges who based decisions and scores off of diversity, style, execution, and overall performance. In the off-chance of a tied score, the riders were then given a do-or-die third run, where only one person would advance.
The venue was unlike any other course in the history of snowboard contests, featuring over 50 natural built-out and enhanced features throughout sixteen-acres of prime inbounds terrain just off the Teton Lift at Jackson Hole.
The action kicked off Thursday morning with Gigi Rüf, the veteran rider and 2013 Red Bull Ultranatural Champion. He plowed through the pristine pow and up and over the plethora of features, making it clear, this contest would be nothing short of monumental.
There were plenty of highlights from this first bracket including riding from hometown hero Blake Paul, along with fellow riders Ben Ferguson, Sage Kotsenburg, and Austen Sweetin, who all ousted their competitors and earned their spot in semi-finals.
The women’s bracket was stacked with eight of the world’s best backcountry riders and contest queens, who all battled it out to earn their spot in finals. Hana Beaman’s courage and intensity on the course, along with a huge back flip in her third tie-breaking run, earned her the high score of the day, which in-turn sidelined Jamie Anderson, the most decorated female snowboarder of all time. The cut throat event, also saw Robyn Van Gyn, the veteran backcountry pro, outridden by wild card and up-and-comer, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, who bested Robyn in their tiebreaker run.
Elena Hight and French powerhouse, Marion Hearty, rounded out the females who will send it in finals.
“The course felt amazing!” says Beaman. “Whatever concerns I had went away when we watched the first guys drop, it looked dreamy. I had some lines, features picked out, but I didn’t know what I was going to do for sure, so I was just waiting to see how things played out. I was just trying to get a clean run and do a fun trick or two. I was up against Jamie [Anderson] who’s such a boss and coming off X Games domination, again. I figured I was going to lose respectfully or win miraculously, so I might as well have fun and hit the jumps I wanted to!”
The third and final bracket of the day was easily one of the heaviest showdowns with the likes of Travis Rice, Pat Moore, Nils Mindich and Mark McMorris all laying in on the line.
Chris Rasman, actually bested Travis [Rice] on his first run, which had Travis all fired up. “I’ll be gunning for you next round,” Travis quipped to Chris, when the first round of scores dropped. In true Travis fashion, he did what he said, and bumped Rasman from the lineup.
Rasman wasn’t bummed though, and was just happy to have been invited, and able to compete in this historic first-ever Natural Selection Jackson Hole.
Pat Moore, who won a spot in semi-finals through a nail-biting tie-breaker with Nils Mindnich, felt similarly.
“Just getting an invitation to this contest felt like a win in itself!” says Moore, “I just wanted to link some tricks together and put together a run. I knew I was up against Nils [Mindnich], and he's so good and so consistent, that I just focused on what I could do to put together a good run. And that's it. It didn't matter as much to me what place I got or the end result, I'm just honored to be part of such an incredible event.”
While the action was hot on hill, it was even hotter to watch on a TV or smartphone thanks to Red Bull TV. Their custom-built, stabilized racing drones, captured the live action and beamed it straight to thousands of viewers as free, interrupted content.
The action will continue in the next few days when it is determined that the weather will be just right to hold semifinals and finals. The official weather window runs through February 9th, so everyone will be playing it by ear each day until then. As soon as we know, you’ll know too....