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The Jackson Hole stop of the 2022 Natural Selection Tour was a barn-burner.
Holy snowboarding, what a show! Day two of the YETI Natural Selection went off on Friday at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort with heavy head-to-head rider match-ups on the untouched riders-left side of the carefully curated course. The classic Wyoming combination of a bluebird day with sub-freezing temps helped the snow conditions in the morning. But as the day progressed, the course deteriorated as each rider dropped and the temperature changed. Despite the snow challenges Elena Hight and Sage Kotsenberg threw down monster runs and came away as the champions of this first stop in the 2022 Natural Selection Tour.
Mother Nature has not been kind to Jackson Hole as of late, as only six inches of fresh snow has fallen in the past three and a half weeks. So after unleashing twelve riders through quarterfinals, semi-finals, and tiebreakers, the course was beaten to smithereens when it came time for the finals. But the sub-par snow didn’t hold anyone back, and it was truly incredible to watch all the riders rise to the occasion.
Men’s Natural Selection Jackson Hole Finals Bracket
Due to the conditions, adaptability was the name of the game for this event. Riders that were able to approach and ride the course with control, versatility, and a good judgement of speed fared the best. But event the best riders took some slams. Travis Rice was besmirched by a massive tomahawk after clipping his edge on a switch 540 gone wrong on his second run. It was the biggest fall we’ve seen him take in many years, and uncharacteristic of him in a competition. Thankfully, he seemed okay.
Mikkel Bang, last year’s overall tour champ, also had a massive yard sale and called it the biggest fall he had taken in years. Torstein Horgmo, who had just beat out Travis Rice in the previous round, also had a brutal slam and smashed his knee into his face. He regained his composure on the course and rode the rest of the way with grace, but his fate was sealed. His fall was too big to come back from, and he was ousted by young gun Jared Elston.
Elston, 22, who hails from Bend, Oregon, and is a Natural Selection rookie, rode with control and expressive style all day, allowing him to advance to finals. Then he had to duke it out with Sage Kotsenberg, who has won everything from gold at the Olympics to multiple golds at the X Games.
Sage has recently transitioned into the backcountry scene and away from the contest circuit, but he remains a fierce competitor. Sage beat out the brothers Ferguson, Gabe, and Ben, before then taking out Jared Elston to claim the highly coveted YETI Natural Selection win at Jackson Hole. His winning run included a massive backside 720 Japan chicken wing, a frontside 720 to cab 900, and was filled with smooth style and flair.
Visibly stoked but humble after his big win, Sage said, “I want to give major love to Mike McKelvey, he worked so hard on this course the last season and the summer before. We unfortunately lost him last year in an avalanche, and this one’s for Mike. Be like Mike.”
Over on the women’s side of things, it was Elena Hight who came away with the crown in Jackson Hole. Elena beat out Robin Van Gyn for the big win, but all the ladies gave it their all on the compromised course where the conditions really worked against them.
Elena dropped a ridiculous total of five times today — twice in semifinals, three times in finals– and was shocked with her win.
“Coming into Jackson Hole I had been focusing on big mountains and line riding, so this has been a bit out of my element,” remarked Elena. “It has been really fun to get back into the contest scene, though the nerves are still the same! This has been an absolute honor, winning this event doesn’t even seem real!”
Sheer grit, endurance, and the ability to put down smooth landings more often are all reasons why Elena took the big ‘W’ over Robin and the rest of the women’s field. Similar to Sage, Elena’s background as a big-time contest rider turned backcountry snowboarder equipped her with the skillset and mental fortitude to win a contest of this magnitude.
The old adage of knowing when it’s a marathon, and not a sprint, truly is the mindset one must take for Natural Selection in all capacities. From the riders to the men and women behind the scenes of production, to course builders, patrollers, bartenders, announcers, and beyond, this is one hell of an event. It’s not easy to put on, nor to pull off, and one must truly play the long game to get the most out of everything that is the YETI Natural Selection Jackson Hole.
There is still much more action is still to come here in Jackson Hole, despite the on-hill competition being done. The weeklong Stay Wild Festival continues with more concerts, films, speakers, party boarding, and more, culminating with the closing ceremony on Sunday featuring Kishi Bashi. Don’t miss it!
The Natural Selection Tour continues at Baldface Lodge on February 20th. Visit naturalselectiontour.com for more details.