A debate arose, as all good ones do, over dinner last week at my house. The topic was the Natural Selection wild cards, and my roommate, a former U.S. Ski Team ripper who doesn’t miss a Freeride World Tour stream, made a bold claim: “The contest isn’t legit if Sammy Luebke isn’t in it.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s no denying Luebke’s talent—he’s a three-time world champ, a surgically precise big mountain stud, and has represented us Yanks well in international freeride competitions. But while I understood my roommate’s perspective, I disagreed.
“A debate arose, as all good ones do, over dinner last week at my house. The topic was the Natural Selection wild cards”
My argument was twofold. Firstly, the Natural Selection course, which has been doggedly shaped in both summer and winter by tour maestro Travis Rice and a legion of chainsaw-wielding, Verts-stomping builders, places heavy emphasis on backcountry freestyle. Big mountain specialists with freestyle backgrounds like Luebke might do well, but the Natural Selection must cast a wider net than the Freeride World Tour, as slopestyle- and film-focused invitees like Mark McMorris and Blake Paul show promise, too.
Secondly, it wasn’t as if it were just Luebke left out of the conversation. The wild card list was stacked. There’s Jake Blauvelt—equal parts backcountry artist and athlete, with a style sweeter than the grade A maple syrup he waxes into his board each dawn. Manuel Diaz—the first in the southern hemi to break the sound barrier on a snowboard. Ståle Sandbech—pretty sure that man is a card-carrying wizard, Oakley robes and all. The list of worthy wild cards goes on, and if anything, I argued, trimming solid riders from an already mind-bogglingly talented field cranks this event’s legitimacy to eleven.
Shortly after I arrived in Jackson yesterday afternoon to cover the event for Whitelines, Travis Rice summed up the glaring potency of the wild card pool: “It’s comical just in the sense that every person on the wild card list could probably podium at this event.” 2019 Freeride World Tour Champion Victor De Le Rue was a little blunter: “If you look at the wild cards, you’re like, ‘How the fuck are these guys not in?’” he said. “The wild cards could have been the whole competition just by themselves.”
Hopefully, in 2022, there’s an opportunity to run a qualifying contest instead of an Instagram wild card roll out, giving wild cards the chance to erase any doubt and earn their spot. “Nobody on that list is not worth having there because they’re all amazing,” commented Luebke on the invited riders in an interview last night. “I would love if there’s an opportunity to be a part of it next year—it’s definitely up my alley.”
“Trimming solid riders from an already mind-bogglingly talented field cranks this event’s legitimacy to eleven”