More than a Contest
The Natural Selection contest itself was a smashing success—the stream went smoothly, riders pushed their limits and put on a show, and the racing drones never decapitated any of the competitors. But what went down off of the stream was equally as important, if not more so, for snowboarding. “The beautiful thing about Natural Selection was not only the event itself but the behind the scenes,” claimed all gas, no brakes competitor Austen Sweetin.
The weeklong waiting period went from the 3rd until the 9th, with competition taking place on the second and last day of the window. In between, Wyoming was hammered with heavy snowfall: four feet in as many days meant visibility was tough for a live broadcast and riding conditions were all-time. With bottomless powder redolent of Hokkaido, competitors banded together in posses and pillaged Jackson Hole’s every nook and craggy cranny.
“The stream went smoothly, riders pushed their limits and put on a show, and the racing drones never decapitated any of the competitors”
Pat Moore, who was an event standout despite getting knocked out early in day two, articulated the vibe mid-week. “The conditions are so good, and we have tickets, and the crew is insane,” he said. “I’m not much of a competitor anyways, so I’m here to enjoy the whole week, the whole experience—really haven’t been holding out on the pow days.”
“You can walk to the bottom of the gondola, wait five minutes, and at any point in time you’re going to have five to ten of the best riders grouped together, getting onto the gondola. Jumping in from group to group and riding with some of the best who have ever done it is such a unique opportunity,” he said. Moore, like many pros, tends to stick with a close-knit film crew in winter, he says, but he called Natural Selection a “cool opportunity to ride with people you never get to: Mark McMorris, Mikkel, Rasman, Travis Rice—it’s just insane.”
Throughout the week, these heavy-hitting squads returned time and time again to Dick’s Ditch. Dick’s, a dramatic gully that turns into a natural halfpipe come winter, replete with hip-like hits dotting its bodacious curves, is a storied locale in Natural Selection history, as it was the venue for Rice’s original Natural Selection event in 2008. Hell, it’s a storied location in snowboard history, too: it’s home to the Dick’s Ditch Banked Slalom, an event that’s been running for over two decades, and there’s a hit towards the bottom named after Terje, who, along with longtime Jackson local Bryan Iguchi, decimated the gully in Subjekt Haakonsen (1996).
“It was unreal riding my home mountain hitting all the same hits I grew up on with all these guys I looked up to,” commented Blake Paul. “Truly a memorable experience.”
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Riders were “feeding off each other’s energy, pushing each other to the limits of ability and creativity,” according to Austen Sweetin. “Multiple times I caught myself taking a breath, looking around, and saying to myself, ‘This is one of those moments in time I will cherish and remember forever.’ The snowboard community is in a beautiful place and the love for snowboarding is strong within the community.”
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In the Ditch, riders threw down, each inspired by the next, amped by tricks and style and speed of their fellow competitors. Tricks were stomped, bails were taken, progression was manifest. Phones and GoPros and REDs caught the action. Lens shutters snapped like bursts of machine gun fire. Howls erupted, riders of the gully like coyotes in a canyon. The electricity of these Dick’s Ditch conga lines radiated well beyond the gully walls, as a sense of camaraderie oozed into the competition itself. Riders were competitive, sure, as those on the verge of elimination reached into their bags of tricks and sent it as hard as they could.
“The Natural Selection wasn’t merely a snowboard competition—it was a brotherhood and sisterhood of snowboarding”
But there was an overarching element of community: riders were congratulatory in defeat, graceful in victory. They were concerned for one another’s well-being after bails, and stoked when their foes stomped gnarly tricks, even if it meant their own competition life was doomed. Natural Selection wasn’t merely a snowboard competition—it was a brotherhood and sisterhood of snowboarding.
There’s a famous saying on chairlifts the world over: “There are no friends on a powder day.” The gist, of course, is that it’s better to leave slowpokes in your cold smoke, to chase fresh turns with unslakable thirst. The resource is scarce! Feast while you can! Show no weakness in the lift line!
The Natural Selection is definitive proof that this popular saying is misguided. It’s sharing that excitement that matters. It’s those days when you’re riding with the squad, each rider pushing the next, that you ride at your best, learn new tricks, progress, and surprise yourself. It’s those days that you have the most fun, too.