The Return to Baldface | Interviews with Freshly Crowned Natural Selection Champs

We sat down with the champs to get the skinny on what went down in BC

Last year, Travis Rice’s inaugural Natural Selection tour couldn’t make it to Baldface due to COVID restrictions. In fact, the last time there was a competition on Baldface’s infamous Scary Cherry, dubstep was hot. Cameron was PM, Obama was kicking off his second term, Trump was chumming it up with Putin at a Miss Universe pageant. Pandemics were reserved for Hollywood scripts.

The year was 2013. On the hill, pants were baggy, outerwear bright. Footage from GoPro’s Hero 3 was blowing minds. Nicolas Müller was Rider of the Year and could do no wrong. Frank April was Rookie of the Year. The only bar Red Gerard was going to was a classmate’s bar mitzvah. No one was hoarding Nike boots. Behind a barn in Vermont, Burton had a shotgun to the head of the broken-legged racehorse that was The Program. You could walk into a snowboard shop, brush away tears, and buy the last Forum boards on the market, which, at the time, would’ve cost you around 25 bitcoin—not that anyone knew what the fuck a bitcoin was.

“Scary Cherry is still beyond the average rider’s comprehension, dotted with obstacles architected by a madman whose vision burns brighter than ever”

In 2013, Torstein Horgmo won X Games Big Air with a switch 14 triple cork, which earned a perfect score and snapped the perceived limitations of slopestyle. To quote the all-seeing Pat Bridges, who recapped that night: “By SNOWBOARDER Magazine’s calculations there were roughly eleven triple corks landed in all of the past year. This means that more triple corks were landed on the evening of Friday, January 25th, 2013 than in all of 2012.”

In the near decade since the 2013 Red Bull Ultra Natural, our world has changed dramatically. We’ve been through political unrest and upheavals, a pandemic, conflict after conflict, the hopefully permanent death of dubstep. And snowboarding has changed dramatically, too. Red Gerard can buy beer. Triples are commonplace. GoPro’s on its Hero 69. And, thankfully, Travis Rice’s madcap backcountry freestyle competitions are no longer one-off events—the Natural Selection is a full-fledged tour, fresh and full of promise.

The stomping grounds | PC: Natural Selection

And yet, some things remain the same. We still pour out liquor for Forum. For some reason, the baggy fits are back. Baldface remains the soul of snowboarding, the house that Craig helped build. And Scary Cherry is still beyond the average rider’s comprehension, dotted with obstacles architected by a madman whose vision burns brighter than ever.

A few weeks ago, T. Rice’s Natural Selection Tour triumphantly returned to Baldface for its second stop of the year, and on March 16th, the carnage was released to the world in a three-hour, must-watch show. If you haven’t seen it yet, do so now. The recap is below—and below the recap, there are spoilers in the form of interviews with the champs. Consider yourself warned.

Dustin Craven: The Canadian Dark Horse Brings It Home

On the men’s side of the draw, Canada’s own Dustin Craven brought it home. He went through Ultra Natural champ, course creator, and tour owner Travis Rice in the semis, then reigning overall Natty Select champ Mikkel Bang in the finals.

Craven came to Baldface a dark horse, with low expectations and no pressure on his shoulders—he’d already won a ticket to next year’s tour by making it through the first round in Jackson, and he was in Baldface to ride hard, have fun, cut loose. And yet, Craven has more days under his belt in British Columbia’s characteristic pillows and powder than anyone else in the field (the men’s field, that is, as his countrywoman RVG’s certainly put her time in, too). Watch any of Craven’s video parts from the last couple of decades, and a penchant for powder is apparent. That experience, combined with aforementioned low expectations, enabled him to launch some of the biggest airs of the day, throw heavy spins, lay down what he describes as “the best switch pow turns of my life,” all while staying on his feet more than most.

Craven arrived in Baldface with nothing to lose, but he left for Alaska with more than a sizeable check, brand-new snowmobile, and increased notoriety. He left with something he already had—the respect of his peers—and something he didn’t: a trophy earned on Scary Cherry, a feat that’s shared only by fellow 2022 victor Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and two of snowboarding’s all-time greats: GiGi Rüf and Travis Rice.

Without further ado, we’ll let you hear it straight from the dark horse’s mouth.

Deserved champ Dustin Craven | PC: Tom Monterosso, Natural Selection

You’ve had a little bit of time to process the win since the comp isn’t live, yeah? What’s that been like?
It’s crazy, you’re up at the lodge, everyone’s stressed out during the event, and then when it was all over, everyone was going nuts and having a great time together. And then you leave the lodge, and just bottle it all up and go back to real life.

When in the window was the competition day and how’d it go?
At the start of the window, we were going to do the contest. Everyone woke up at 5:30 in the morning and it was go for launch. But we got out on the course, and it was like minus forty-seven degrees Celsius with windchill. We did a rider’s vote and decided to wait a couple of days. It was actually nice, like a dress rehearsal for everyone, even media–it was so cold that some of the cameras were malfunctioning. It was the type of morning where you could hear your board crinkle, you know?

“Torstein was just like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe the display of snowboarding that just happened in the first run, it’s mesmerizing’”

Then everyone just hung out and did this new thing called ‘Battles.’ So everyone got more of an opportunity to get comfortable shredding. And then three or four days later, it was a sunny, beautiful morning, everyone was psyched, and it went well. The first rider dropped at 6:30, and I think we’re back at the lodge having beers at noon.

What are Battles?
They built a bunch of features around the tenure at Baldface. It was head-to-heads between you and another rider—there was a randomizer, and me and Ben Ferguson went head-to-head on a jump. And then in the evening, we’d come back and watch all the footage and then the riders would judge it. That ran the entire time. There wasn’t really a ton of down days–if you were doing well in the Battles then every day, you’re still riding crazy stuff and waiting for the contest to go.

Is that a welcome distraction, focusing your energy on riding?
For sure. Cat boarding is great, but you can only do so many runs, whereas if you’re still able to hit jumps, it’s nice to keep your legs going. You don’t want to go from cold legs, just doing turns, to catching the biggest airs of your life.

Alexa, play ‘We are the champions’ | PC: Dustin Lalik, Natural Selection

How did your runs go? How were the jitters up top and how’d it feel once you dropped?
I dropped first. The wind had gotten a little bit bad from the other day and I wasn’t sure how the snow was going to be, but on the one side of the course, it was knee-deep, blower, super dry, unreal powder. And I did some switch powder turns, probably the best switch pow turns of my life. So that was pretty cool. And then everyone dropped in–the first runs weren’t head to head, everyone got two runs. So I was the first one down and then I just stood at finish gate and got to watch all the guys come down. And after all the riders had dropped, Torstein was just like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe the display of snowboarding that just happened in the first run, it’s mesmerizing.’

Everyone is so good and charging hard and it was so cool to see. Then everyone did their second rounds, and after that I went head-to-head with Travis in the semis for two runs. I got him on the second run, and then head-to-head with Mikkel for two runs in the finals, and it was same thing–we both fell on our first run and second run I landed and he had a little stumble. It’s crazy too, you’re up there with the other riders and they just disappear over the ridge. You can kinda see them hit the bottom jump, but you don’t really know what happened at all.

“Being super comfortable and knowing that my edge control is there up top really helped me do my best work at the top, and then follow suit at the bottom”

What were some of your highlights from your runs? Any tricks that felt really good?
The last run against Travis, I did cab 5 off the top of the ridge. And that was a good moment for me because I was going to do a mellower run, and I was just like, ‘Fuck it, I’m just going to go for broke, because I don’t know if I’ll ever be up here again.’ It worked out, and obviously beating Travis is pretty crazy because the guy’s unreal.

Have you spent much time at Baldface? I know the Monashees are your stomping ground, but have you spent much time up there?
Pat Moore does an avalanche course up there, and I’ve done that twice. This is the first time I’ve ever been up there as a guest, really enjoying the lodge.

Still, do you feel like you had a little bit of a homecourt advantage? Just in the sense that you’ve spent a lot of time in this snowpack, these pillows, filming in B.C. Does the course feel pretty similar to what you’re used to shooting?
Yeah, the upper part of the course where it’s the pillows and the launch kickers into tight trees and stuff, it definitely feels like an advantage for me because most of the jumping that I do is into landings where I have to scoot around a tree afterwards. Being super comfortable and knowing that my edge control is there up top really helped me do my best work at the top, and then follow suit at the bottom.

The moment before victory | PC: Tom Monterosso, Natural Selection

When you were coming into the event, was there a thought in your mind, ‘I could take this thing. This is my backyard’?
No, not really. Every single person that’s in that event is someone’s favorite pro snowboarder, everyone’s so good. I look up to a lot of those people and have seen some crazy stuff over the years. I feel like everyone’s so humbled by the roster that you’re just there to do your best. I didn’t plan on making it past the first round.

That could be a little bit of an advantage—if you’re feeling like an underdog, there’s not a lot of pressure?
Yeah, totally, I didn’t go there with crazy expectations. I just went there to ride as hard as I could. The only plan that I had was that I wasn’t going to do runs that I would get to the bottom with regrets, like ‘Oh, I should have done this,’ or ‘I could’ve done that.’ My goal was drop in and do the best run I possibly can. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, you don’t have to sit at home all summer thinking about what you could have done better.

“Scary Cherry shows you which riders are willing to push themselves to that next level”

When’s the last time you won a contest? Or entered a contest?
I don’t even know. Probably a Grand Prix in 2009. And I didn’t win, I haven’t won a contest for a long time. It’s pretty crazy, not competing for a decade and then having that competitor brought back out of you, because everything’s so mellow and calm and group-oriented in the backcountry, you’re working together. And then you kind of switch into this competitor. People don’t really want to tell you their plan, like ‘If I tell him my plan is he gonna steal my run?’ It brings up a whole different side of you, but it’s awesome because it pushes you. I grew up riding competitively, so it’s good for my snowboarding. And I think it’s good for the sport of snowboarding

It’s buried in there, just re-awakened.
Yeah exactly, when I did the one last year at Valhalla, it felt like a dragon got awoken in me. Just like ‘Oh wow, I haven’t felt a lot of these feelings in a long time.’

That’s awesome. How are you feeling going into AK?
Definitely more confident now. Jackson is such a park-oriented course, you know who’s going to do good there. And then Scary Cherry shows you which riders are willing to push themselves to that next level. There’s a strong field, and I think it’s going to be pretty crazy, but definitely feeling confident. Same game plan—give her hell and see what happens.

McMo with the high speed powder butter | PC: Chad Chomlack, Natural Selection

And same thing, right? There’s no pressure on you. You already got one of the most sought-after trophies in snowboarding.
Yeah, exactly. Only Travis and GiGi have that honor on Scary Cherry. And I do now, too. And I brought it home in Canada, and it doesn’t sound like they’ll ever do Scary Cherry again.

Oh, really?
Yeah, I don’t know. It’s so much work for the guides, and this course is so steep. It’s a logistical nightmare, but they keep doing it, so I don’t know.

You mentioned bringing it home for Canada. Does that feel pretty good? No one knows you won yet, but amongst your close friends who know, is there a sense of pride in the community?
Oh, yeah, totally. I think it’s going to be pretty crazy tomorrow. But even just up at the lodge, doing our runs, Kevin Sansalone’s there, he put me in my first video part ever and he was up there scraping my board at the top with me, helping me. And I’m getting doubled up by some of the guides and they’re giving me pep talks and telling me how much they respect my snowboarding and how proud they are. Everyone’s giving me hugs. There’s a big Canadian crowd at the bottom, all cheering when you land the runs. You could feel that vibe, people were so stoked.

“Someone can film snowboard parts for 10 years and then come back and still have a fighting chance against decorated Olympians”

After talking with Mikkel and Robin over the summer, after their wins, it’s pretty incredible what this platform can do for a snowboard career. Are you excited about that? What are your thoughts on that?
I’ve been putting up video parts for so long. It’s nice to have another platform to see me directly competing with these other amazing riders. And also, to show that you don’t have to be a competitor–someone can film snowboard parts for 10 years and then come back and still have a fighting chance against decorated Olympians. It’s just a cool opportunity for anyone at any point in their career. You don’t have to be a certain age or certain riding style or anything, it’s open for the taking if you want to push yourself.

And you’re locked in for next year.
Right, if you make finals day in Jackson, you get invited back automatically.

Is that exciting to look forward to next year? It’s kinda like surfing—it’s a big deal just to make it back on tour.
Yeah, you have to go to Jackson, there’s going to be eight younger, badass snowboarders that are going to be there that all want to make it on tour, so you have to go back and start from scratch every year, which is just pretty wild. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a world champ at the end of the year, you still got to go and try your hardest to stay on the tour, which I also think is pretty cool. It makes you prove yourself.

Aerial gymnastics | PC: Chad Chomlack, Natural Selection

Well, this has been great. Thanks, Dustin, I appreciate you taking the time. Congrats on the win!
All good. I’m stoked. Thank you!

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott is Untouchable

Zoi Sadowski-Synnott. You almost need an excel spreadsheet to keep track of the New Zealander’s 2021/22 campaign, which kicked off with a tibial plateau fracture—not exactly the momentum you hope for on an Olympic year.

In December, 2021, she test drove that tibial plateau to take first place at the Copper Dew Tour in slope. Then she followed that up with slopestyle silver at the U.S. Toyota Grand Prix in Mammoth. Next came X Games, where she scooped golds in both big air and slope, throwing back-to-back tens in slope and a back 12 in big air, smashing glass ceilings in the process. But no medal mattered to Zoi like Olympic gold, which she earned in Beijing thanks to a spectacular last run punctuated by a 10 sent nearly to flat. Oh, right, and she picked up Olympic silver in big air, too—and, unrelated to the Olympics, a coveted Rider of the Year award from Slush for her efforts in 2021.

“She’s inarguably the best in the world right now, putting competitors on notice from slopestyle courses in Beijing to the backcountry of British Columbia”

Medals in tow, Zoi flew straight from the Olympics to Natural Selection—the only other person to do this being Burton teammate Mark McMorris. But unlike Mark, who was arguably snubbed in Beijing and came up short in Baldface, Zoi kept up her momentum, taking out a stacked field of the world’s best backcountry riders on Scary Cherry. Her wildcats, threes, overall style, and fluidity earned sky-high scores in both the seeding round and the finals. Of the three Natural Selection events Zoi’s attended, she’s won two and placed second in the other. Another Rider of the Year award seems like it’s already in the bag.

Zoom out, and this brand of dominance is rare. Only a few snowboarders have so clearly stood at the top of multiple disciplines—Craig Kelly, Janna Meyen, Travis Rice. The greats. At 21, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott is still getting better, with no signs of stopping. She’s inarguably the best in the world right now, putting competitors on notice from slopestyle courses in Beijing to the backcountry of British Columbia. And yet, give her the mic and she’s humble, down to earth, and impossible not to root for.

Are you still in B.C. filming?
Yes, but heading up to Alaska tomorrow.

The people’s champ | PC: Dustin Lalik, Natural Selection

We chatted this summer, but a lot’s happened since–you had a great showing X Games and then the Olympics. How was all that leading up to Natural Selection?
It was crazy doing the whole competition circuit and then knowing that I had Baldface after. It’s still a comp, but for me, it was the light at the end of the tunnel—like it’s a celebration to go to Baldface and ride pow. It’s been a hectic season, and it’s a nice change of pace from slopestyle and big air.

What was it like to bring home that gold medal? Although you haven’t even been home, right?
It’s pretty surreal still, because I haven’t been home and soaked it up yet, but I’m super stoked. It’s a dream of mine that I’ve been trying to achieve for so long and for it to actually happen feels pretty crazy. I’m super stoked.

One of the highlights from the Olympics was watching your dad’s interviews. Have you let your family know about Natural Selection and what’s the reaction been like from them?
Yeah, I told my parents about Natural Selection straight after but I told them they had to keep their mouths shut. So they were super hyped, dad was stoked as.

“When I first got there, I hadn’t really like put any thought into Natural Selection because I was so busy with the Olympics”

No interviews for him this time?
No, no. Luckily, no interviews because it wasn’t live, so I think I got a bit lucky there because he always says something rogue when he gets interviewed.

You’re used to being on top of the podium, and that moment of winning, the immediate buzz of press after. You’re about to get that in another forty-five minutes. But what’s it like to have this moment after a win to absorb it on your own time?
Yeah, it’s pretty sick, actually, a bit more low-key, because no one knows about the result, they’re all just waiting, there’s a lot more suspense. It’s definitely different. I hope one day they can do it live [at Baldface] because that would be awesome. But I do like the way that they’re doing it.

Had you been to Baldface before?
No, that was my first time.

Everything it’s cracked up to be?
Oh yeah, for sure. It was so sick, we did so many cat runs and I’ve never been cat boarding before, either. So that was a whole new experience. Baldface is crazy, such a sick place, I highly recommend it.

Staring down the barrel of a gun with Zoi | PC: Dustin Lalik, Natural Selection

What was Scary Cherry like? You’ve seen footage from past years—what’s it like to roll up to that run?
It was pretty daunting. When I first got there, I hadn’t really like put any thought into Natural Selection because I was so busy with the Olympics. I took one look at the face and kind of freaked out because there’s so much going on, so many features. How do I figure out a line? Maybe a few lines, just in case I make it through? It was crazy to watch Supernatural and Ultra Natural footage because it gives you a gauge.

This was the first time women competed on Scary Cherry, what was it like being part of this historic moment?
It was a super special moment in snowboarding, just because we didn’t know where the bar was—it was up to us girls riding it to set the bar. It was sick to have that opportunity and show what we’re capable of.

It feels like you’ve had the craziest two or three months in snowboarding history—the season you’re having, you just got Rider of the Year. You’ve got to be feeling confident, good on your board right now. What’s going through your head?
I don’t really know, I came overseas in November and I had a fractured tibial plateau. I had my expectations super low for how the season was going to go, but just tried to ride my best. I think that’s important to do, because that’s all you really can do. I just carried that into this season and it’s worked out. I couldn’t be more grateful to still be healthy and snowboarding.

“I got four runs down the face so I was absolutely frothing. It was probably the craziest run I’ve ever done”

Are you at 100 percent with that injury?
100 percent. Dew Tour was the test, and ever since I’ve been relatively healthy, pretty much injury-free, so super lucky, touch wood.

Are you looking forward to AK now that you’ve gotten a taste for it last year?
Last year was my first time in Alaska and then I got to go to Haines after to film with Mikkel, Ben, Danny, and Mark. Coming into this year, I feel like I’m a lot more experienced, which is a good thing. But at the same time, it’s been a while since I’ve ridden mountains like that. You can’t really prepare for it, so I’ll just try to ride my best and see what happens.

Going back to Baldface, what were some of the tricks that felt really good, or runs that you were most happy with?
My first run in finals I was super stoked on, I did a full run with a wild cat in it. I got four runs down the face so I was absolutely frothing. It was probably the craziest run I’ve ever done, and I hope people get to experience that because it’s sick.

Winner winner chicken dinner | PC: Dean Gray, Natural Selection

You hope they do Scary Cherry again in the future?
Yeah, I really hope they do. I don’t think they’re going to, but it would be sick.

Sounds like a lot of work.
Yeah, it’s a lot of work, just making sure the face is safe for everyone, which pretty much takes all season leading up to that point. It’s quite dangerous as well, but it’s like the most insane run in snowboarding.

My favorite updates on the face leading up to Natural Selection were from watching Jess Kimura’s Instagram of her digging. Did you did you happen to see any of that?
Yeah, I did.

She’s got to be the most overqualified digger in the history of snowboarding.
Yeah, for sure. I was watching that leading up and it was sick cause I got a gauge of what was happening and got to talk to Jess a little bit about the conditions, which was cool. Thanks heaps Jess and the rest of the builders for our making sure that the course was all nice for us.

“I’d love for Kokomo Murase to get an invite because she’s super sick at freeriding”

And undoubtedly the best memes in snowboarding come from her Instagram story. So you’re about to take off for Alaska. Anything you want to do differently this year? What’s your mindset?
I just want to ride the best I can on the face and hope for the best. I’m definitely going to try to challenge myself a lot more now that I have a bit more experience up there riding that kind of terrain. Couldn’t be more excited to get up there.

One last question: Who are some of the women that were competing in Beijing that you would want to see in Jackson next year that haven’t been on the Natural Selection stage before?
I’d love for Kokomo Murase to get an invite because she’s super sick at freeriding. Tess Coady as well, because she’s one of my favorite snowboarders and one of my best friends. I’m sure she’d rip it up.

Awesome. I appreciate you taking the time. Congrats on the win, and I expect your phone is going to be blowing up in about 45 minutes.
Thank you very much!

Thank you! And good luck in Alaska.

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