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Natural Selection Rider: Elena Hight Photo: Keegan Rice
Rider: Elena Hight Photo: Keegan Rice

YETI Natural Selection Jackson Hole: Day 1 Qualifiers

24 of the world’s top snowboarders riding against each other in a head-to-head competition.

The YETI Natural Selection Tour took over Jackson Hole Mountain Resort on January 25th, 2022 for Day 1 of the 2022 competition.  This unique snowboarding contest is the brainchild of Travis Rice, and after over ten years of planning had its inaugural event last season. The immaculate course is located in the Moran Face section of the mountain right off of the Teton Lift, and features a plethora of natural hits, cliffs, and jumps that have been cleverly enhanced to create monster airs and endless possibilities for creative riding.

Natural Selection transcends all other snowboarding contests and manages to be a spectacle that actually taps back into the core spirit of snowboarding. It’s snowboarding by and for snowboarders. Anything goes and anything can happen, and that harkens back to our roots and creativity as riders. If you missed Day 1 make sure to tune into the live stream of the Finals at naturalselectiontour.com – and make sure to get your tickets to the incredible evening events of the Stay Wild Festival.

Natural Selection Rider: Mikkel Bang Photo: Keegan Rice
Bang Bang boosting well over the bomb holes and sailing into semifinals. 
Rider: Mikkel Bang Photo: Keegan Rice

The first day of on-hill action was heavy as hell as the stacked list of 24 of the world’s best riders went head-to-head in a bracket-style contest. It was clear all riders were laying it on all on the line in their attempt to secure a spot in the semi-finals. Upsets took place, teammates beat out one another, longtime friends became foes, and some gnarly crashes took out competitors as they battled through the brackets.

Snow conditions were ever-evolving on Day 1, and adapting to mother nature’s whims was the name of the game. Jackson Hole has been stuck in a dry spell for the last two weeks, and the sunny warm weather spelled doom for the pristine pow of the Natural Selection course, which has been roped off and untouched. As a result, the course rode much differently than last year, and those that could power through the chop and chunder excelled. About five inches of fresh snow hid the cankerous crust that lurked below, causing lots of bobbles and sketchy landings in both the men’s first round and the women’s event. Later in the day, when the second round of men started, the course had softened and was faster, with the landings solidified into something more like slopestyle park jumps than backcountry booters.

Natural Selection Rider: Ben Ferguson Photo: Keegan Rice
Heather’s money is on Ben Ferg to take the big W at Natural Selection. 
Rider: Ben Ferguson Photo: Keegan Rice

 

YETI Natural Selection Jackson Hole – Qualifiers Day 1

Men’s Round 1

Dustin Craven was the first rider to drop into the course and was pitted against Danny Davis. “That was a full-on boxing match!” remarked a winded Danny Davis after his first run. After having difficulty landing in both of their runs, it was ultimately Craven who advanced. It became clear early on that the judges were rewarding risk in lieu of conservatism.

Next up was Chris Rasman against Jared Elston. Both got knocked around quite a bit on the course, though Elston ended up edging out Rasman. At the bottom, the rookie quipped, “My condolences to the next riders, things are getting bumpy.”

The third bracket of the day was highly anticipated with Mr. Natural Selection himself, the one and only Travis Rice, competing. Travis had an uncharacteristically rough first run which opened the door for Tour newbie Kevin Backstrom to break through. Their match-up led to the first tie-breaker of the day. Though Kevin put down some heavy runs, he ultimately didn’t spin over 360, and Travis landed two burly 540s while also replanting a tree he accidentally smashed on a landing. So despite some inconsistency in Travis’ riding, he did what he had to do, and put down a run that was just enough to advance onward.

Natural Selection Rider: Travis Rice Photo: Keegan Rice
The wizard himself just barely made the cut, ensuring a heck of a showdown.
Rider: Travis Rice Photo: Keegan Rice

The final match-up for the first round of men was Sebbe De Buck and Torstein Horgmo. The extremely talented riders have totally different styles setting the scene for an interesting match-up. Sebbe got bucked off his line, which gave Torstein the chance to close the gap. Torstein sent a massive backside 720, solidifying his spot in the semi-finals. “That was a hell of a ride!” Torstein yelped after his second run.

Women’s Round 1

With the first round of men complete, it was time to turn to the mighty ladies. Eight backcountry freestyle badasses, all equally hungry for a win in the quarter-finals.

Up first was highly regarded veteran Marie-France Roy, making her Natural Selection debut pitted against Elena Hight. Marie-France was unable to find her groove and had some pretty big wipeouts as she navigated her way down the course. She commented on how savage her run was and how she wasn’t able to put down the tricks she aimed for. Elena Hight also had a rough go, forcing them to battle it out in the tiebreaker round. Elena’s pedigree as a former slopestyle contest rider and Olympian, and now an established backcountry snowboarder, ultimately gave her a small edge, and she took the lead. “Well, we did it,” Elena said following her runs with a palpable sense of relief.

Next to drop were Hana Beaman and Spencer O’Brien. “Holy moly, that was burley,” said Hana of her run. The veteran rider, who has spent a good chunk of time in Jackson Hole over the years, did a huge wildcat backflip but unfortunately blew up in the landing. But the judges didn’t dock her; instead, she was awarded for taking the risk and going inverted. Hana took the lead and moved forward. Spencer had to pull out of her second run due to an ankle injury sustained on her first lap.

Then it was time for the Natural Selection reigning champ Robin Van Gyn to go against Wild Card rider Stefi Luxton. Stefi was tapped at the last minute to ride in place of Leanne Pelosi who unfortunately also had to pull out of the competition. Robin did as Robin does, riding with control, confidence, and style, and ultimately securing her spot in the next round. Robin said she doesn’t have any notion of who will win: it’s still very much anyone’s game.

The final match-up of women riders were two Euro powerhouses: Cheryl Maas and Marion Haerty. This was Cheryl’s first time competing in a Natural Selection event, and also her first time back in the contest scene in a while. Cheryl thinks that Natural Selection is what snowboarding has needed, and admitted that the other contest circuits had turned into circuses. Despite Cheryl giving it her all though, she was no match on this day for Marion’s keen backcountry awareness, technical prowess, and skill. The French woman sped through the course with style, confidence, and flair, punching her ticket to the semi-finals.

Natural Selection Rider: Austen Sweetin Photo: Keegan Rice
Despite this steez, Sweetin had to settle for second in his heat. 
Rider: Austen Sweetin Photo: Keegan Rice

Men’s Round 2

Three hours into the contest, we still had eight more men to drop into the course. The second round of the men’s quarterfinals was absolutely insane. Whereas the first set of riders succumbed to rag dolls and bomb holes, the second set of men were able to land more consistently. They were forced to ride a more mangled course, but the snow softened throughout the day and they also had time to watch all the lines before them, see what was hitting the best, and where the fresh snow was.

Natural Selection Rider: Torgeir Bergrem Photo: Keegan Rice
Can you imagine how good this textbook method felt?
Rider: Torgeir Bergrem Photo: Keegan Rice

The Men’s reigning Natural Selection champion Mikkel Bang took to the course like a bat out of hell, riding fast and furious on his first run. At the bottom, he remarked, “Holy shit, that was so fast.” He was up against Arthur Longo, an impressive rider, but who admitted he doesn’t really care too much for contests. Arthur put up a good fight, including a truly massive transfer, but it was Mr. Bang that advanced to the semis.

Next to heat up the course was Jackson Hole native son Blake Paul, who was riding against Torgeir Bergrem of Norway. Blake started things off with a huge backflip nose grab and an ultra-clean run. It was pretty much the first full pull any rider had done on the course, and it was nearly flawless. Blake’s run showcased his raw talent, cat-like landings, and knowledge of Jackson Hole’s in-bounds terrain. Torgeir wasn’t going to go out with a fight and put down one of the biggest tricks of the day with a massive poked out cab 900 off the YETI rock. But it just wasn’t enough: Blake Paul eked out a win by four-tenths of a point.

Natural Selection Rider: Sage Kotsenberg Photo: Keegan Rice
When Sage won the Olympics, he got his face on a box of Wheaties. If he wins Natural Selection, maybe he ends up in an NFT
Rider: Sage Kotsenberg  Photo: Keegan Rice

The last two rider brackets of the day were some of the most fierce match-ups: Ben Ferguson vs. Austen Sweetin, and Gabe Ferguson vs. Sage Kotsenberg.

Ben Ferguson rode with consistency and a style uniquely his own. He stomped a massive backside 720 that looked smooth and solid. Austen was also going huge and fast but had some issues on his landings, which caused him to get the boot in round one. Judges must have liked Ben’s switchback 540 on the top of the course, which was textbook and a thing of beauty, and earned him a spot in the next round.

Then it was all down to the wire with the last match-up of the day. Eighteen-year-old Gabe Ferguson was on fire, throwing down a massive backflip off the huge YETI rock. His first run bested Sage Kotsenburg, but the veteran Olympian was not ready to go home. Sage answered by claiming the top score on his second run, which set them up for the last – and heaviest – tiebreaker of the day. These two friends and K2 teammates duked it out until the bitter end. Sage finally sent a massive cab 900 on the bottom feature, which he stomped clean. This was just enough to edge out young Gabe. “That’s the thing about dropping second,” Sage remarked about his last run. “I knew that I had to put everything on the line. I knew I had to get the cab 9.”

Natural Selection Rider: Gabe Ferguson Photo: Keegan Rice
The eye of the eagle, mid-flight.
Rider: Gabe Ferguson Photo: Keegan Rice

What’s Next?

Day one of the 2022 YETI Natural Selection Jackson Hole was one heck of a show, and things are just getting started. Natural Selection rolls on throughout Jackson Hole this week with a stacked lineup of festival events, films, concerts, and more. The Day 2 Finals will also stream live online. Stay tuned for all the action here and on our socials: @JHSnowboarder

Long live snowboarding!

Jack Mitrani and Mikkel Bang - Natural Selection Tour 2022
Jack Mitrani and Mikkel Bang share the stoke.
Photo: Christian Johansen

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