Travis Rice’s Natural Selection Tour is all wrapped up—like a HempFusion-hawking helicopter—and the “superfinal” ended with a bang. Despite a three-week drought leading up to the event window, the third stop of the tour, which took place in Alaska’s Tordrillo Range, lived up to the hype: it had tasty turns, baffling tricks, harrowing bails, and movie part-worthy lines. And unlike the second stop, which frankly couldn’t hold Jackson Hole’s jock strap, the final had drama, as the tour returned to a head-to-head format to crown champions.
If you haven’t watched the final broadcast, do so here. Consider this spoiler alert a resort boundary—duck the rope if you must, but do so at your own risk. We are no longer liable.
Seven shredders earned invitations to Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain Lodge for the HempFusion Natural Selection championship. Of course, there was the Burton brigade: Mark McMorris, Ben Ferguson, and Mikkel Bang, who swept the Jackson stop in first, second, and third, respectively, and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, whose win in Jackson was a ceiling-smashing moment for women’s backcountry freestyle. Chris Rasman and Robin Van Gyn muscled through a stacked crop of Canadians in the Baldface video shootout. Marion Haerty was invited as well, but COVID restrictions kept her from fleeing France, so Hana Beaman gladly took her place. It’s worth noting that while Sadowski-Synnott smoked Haerty in the Jackson finals, if there was a venue for the French freerider to showcase her strengths—speed, fluidity, line selection, and staying on her feet—it was certainly in the Tordrillos.
“Alaska has, since the beginning of snowboarding, been our land of milk and honey. It’s a hallowed destination, sacrosanct, visited by all sorts of powder-worshipping pilgrims”
Ah, the Tordrillos. After 2019’s Curt Morgan-directed masterpiece Dark Matter, the very word “Tordrillo” triggers a Pavlovian response in snowboarders worldwide—we salivate, our veins flood with adrenaline, and the slightest dribble of urine escapes the urethra, ever so involuntarily. We simply cannot help it. As a whole, Alaska has, since the beginning of snowboarding, been our land of milk and honey. It’s a hallowed destination, sacrosanct, visited by all sorts of powder-worshipping pilgrims, from stickered-up pros flush with heli budgets to dank dirtbags content to cuddle three-deep in soccer mom minivans in the Thompson Pass parking lot and earn their turns on foot. To Travis Rice, the brain behind the tour, hosting the final in Alaska was a no-brainer.
“It’s tough to see it run any other way,” says Rice. “I mean, don’t get me wrong—the interesting thing that happens when you compare locations in snowboarding is that it’s so condition-dependent. You can have the most incredible day at a myriad of locations around the world. I think the biggest differentiator with Alaska is two factors. The first is the scale and that there are no trees, so you end up having planar topography—a lot of other places are bumpier, with much more undulation. And then the other piece of it is being low elevation. One of our venues, the finish was at 2,500 feet,” he laughs. “And there’s a close proximity to the ocean so there’s a high moisture content in the snow, which allows the snow to stick to such steep faces.”
But it isn’t just the topography and meteorology that make Alaska the perfect venue for the finale—there’s a mythology, too. “Culturally, there’s a rogue, wild, independent heritage,” Travis explains. “There’s this unbridled, progressive nature where anyone is capable of anything.”