Two Tickets to Paradise | The Natural Selection 2nd Round Recap

Baldface Natural Selection Winners Earn Trip to AK Finals

The Bronco Natural Selection at Baldface, the second stop of Travis Rice’s internet-breaking, envelope-pushing tour, went down earlier this month—not without more than its fair share of road bumps. Unlike the first event, which live-streamed from Jackson Hole, the second stop was filmed at Baldface Valhalla, Baldface’s new tenure, then edited and packaged into an 80-minute-long show that first aired on Redbull TV. I got a sneak peek of the footage and had the chance to interview the two winners (spoiler alert — watch the contest here if you haven’t already). Not only did these Canadian champs each score a 2022 Polaris snowmobile of their choice, but they also earned a priceless, presumably golden ticket to the third and final stop of the tour at Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountain Lodge.

Before we doff beanies to the athletes, a standing ovation is due to Travis Rice, Liam Griffin, and all of the stagehands responsible for this production. “The whole theme of this year is just to roll with it—things are changing constantly for the good, for the bad,” says BC backcountry queen and Natural Selection competitor Robin Van Gyn. “And just being able to have the contest [in Canada] was a huge success.”

“Instead of the original cast of international characters who went head-to-head in Wyoming, the second stop consisted of pure, 100% grade-A Canadians”

With the Canadian border shut down due to COVID, international athletes were unable to make the pilgrimage to Baldface. There was talk of hiring notable Nelsonite, former Baldface co-owner, splitboard pioneer, and T. Rice’s personal avalanche safety guru John “Buff” Buffery to coyote competitors across the border, making use of secret skintracks utilized by Canadian whiskey bootleggers during Prohibition in the 1920s. Another option was to ferry riders in on Mark McMorris’ Red Bull-fueled private jet. Rumour has it there was even brief discussion of counterfeiting Canadian passports, which Rice emphatically shot down due to his desire for the event to remain as authentic as possible. In the end, rather than risking the wrath of border-patrolling Mounties and earning competitors a slot on Canada’s dreaded blacklist, Natural Selection top brass decided to, in the word of Bombhole podcast host Grendiesel, “pivot.”

Riders heading into the venue at Baldface, BC (PC: Red Bull Content Pool)

Instead of the original cast of international characters who went head-to-head in Wyoming, the second stop consisted of pure, 100% grade-A Canadians. Most of the invited riders were understudies: Beau Bishop, Dustin Craven, Craig McMorris, Mark Sollors, and Mikey Rencz on the men’s side, and Spencer O’Brien, Leanne Pelosi, and Marie-France Roy on the women’s—heavy-hitters, but understudies nonetheless. Coincidentally, the two riders who had already wet their whistles at the Jackson event—Chris Rasman and Robin Van Gyn—came away with the win.

“Rasman came into the event hungry, inspired by his fan-favourite duel with T. Rice in round one in the Jackson stop”

Baldface was never going to be a live stream—the logistics of broadcasting from that deep in the backcountry were too great. The plan was always to run the event in a similar head-to-head manner, edit it into a TV-friendly spot, and then release it to the public.  But with only ten riders competing at Valhalla, overseers pivoted once more (thank you, Grendiesel) and tweaked the format completely, making the competition less about head-to-head matchups and more about film-style snowboarding.

Marie-France Roy and Chris Rasman (PC: Chad Chomlack – Red Bull Content Pool)

“We had a full week—like six days on snow — and 70 per cent of the score was on our top-to-bottom run,” reported men’s champ Chris Rasman in between packing his bags for Alaska. “And then 30 per cent of the score was the video part we came up with the rest of the week.”

“All ten riders got three top-to-bottom contest runs and the judges chose the best of those runs to judge”

“The problem that arose is what it is when it comes to backcountry snowboarding. We rely on the conditions and Mother Nature to do what we do. A warming trend popped up in the forecast and it looked like the snow was going to shit pretty early in the week. So we had to shift gears and instead of spreading out to the entire Valhalla tenure and splitting up and filming our video parts and our contest lines on separate days, basically we had to all ride on one mountain, all plant our flag on one specific day, and then the next day we all did our contest runs,” explained Rasman on yet another pivot.

Hitching a ride (PC: Chad Chomlack – Red Bull Content Pool)

“All ten riders got three top-to-bottom contest runs and the judges chose the best of those runs to judge. And then day three on snow, which was only day two of snowboarding, that was the 30 per cent video part. It was a little more rushed than I would have liked it to be. But again, that’s no one’s fault other than the conditions warming up.

The Rise of Rasman: Student Becomes Master

As a heatwave threatened to turn B.C. blower into mashed potatoes, Rasman eyed a line that allowed him to apply some of his hard-earned “Whistler stepdown knowledge.”

“From across the valley, at one point I had my binoculars and I saw these chutes and little fingers and a flat area above it. And I was like, ‘Oh, if there’s like a way to pat that down or get speed, I could spin into that, and then there’s a pillow right after it.’”

Rasman delivered his winning run first try. Like he was button mashing through SSX Tricky, he went cab five off the step-down, miller flip over a sizable pillow, then traversed hard right to the second section of his line. There, he fired off a crosscourt back three off a spicy ridge, followed by a quick front three, then he finished it off “true to my Jackson run” with a laid-out backie, all in quick succession.


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A post shared by Chris Rasman (@chrisrasman)

Rasman came into the event hungry, inspired by his fan-favourite duel with T. Rice in round one in the Jackson stop. “I’m a huge fan of Travis. I’ve been definitely looking up to him and the style of snowboarding he does and what he does for snowboarding since the Community Project, and Absinthe’s Pop—I think that was the first time Travis was really on my radar and became one of my favourite snowboarders,” says Rasman. “So it’s been a wild ride over the years, becoming friends with him and doing a couple of film trips. And he’s a very unique human because I think especially right now, he’s in a stage of his life where all he really cares about is giving back to snowboarding, making sure backcountry snowboarding and snowboarding in general is seen in the correct lens by the public. And he really wants to use his name and his clout to lift up other riders—he’s done that for me.”

“Rasman might be an underdog, but he’s certainly not under-gunned”

Rasman, not one to back down from a challenge, boldly chose Rice as his opponent in the first event. Rice knocked Rasman out of the contest, but he also schooled his pupil on what a winning mentality looks like. Travis’ intensity and focus in their Jackson battle, says Rasman, “showed me that if I wanted to win in Canada, I needed to be more competitive. I needed to have more of a plan and just come into it in attack mode.”

Chris Rasman (PC: Chad Chomlack – Red Bull Content Pool)

Rasman now heads to Alaska to clash with three Burton heavyweights: Mikkel Bang, Ben Ferguson, and Mark McMorris. “I’m by far the least known snowboarder of that group,” admits Rasman. “I still work a job in the summer. I always have. And it’s crazy to be up against and alongside three of the best snowboarders in the world who are definitely in the top five, top 10 list of my current favourite snowboarders. Mark is such a rad human and so fucking talented, one of the best in the world and I have so much respect for him. And then you take Mikkel and Ferg and you just can’t touch the style and flavour those two guys have on their snowboards.”

Rasman might be an underdog, but he’s certainly not under-gunned. His performances in Jackson and BC have proved that he is a top-tier rider. And who knows? A win in AK might give the blue-collar pro and people’s champ the visibility needed to spend his summers chasing waves instead of squirrelling away nuts for winter.

RVG Gets it Done with Strategy, Smoothness, and a Spin

For champ Robin Van Gyn, getting knocked out of the Jackson event was also a double-edged sword. It left her “deflated” on one hand, but on the other it was also a “big learning experience for me in the competitive world to dial back a bit and make sure you put down a run before you just put it all out there, you know?”

“I didn’t get my choice of line. By the time everybody had chosen, there wasn’t a ton left. So I really had to get creative,” she says. “I actually ended up just picking a line that was flowy and that I knew I was confident in riding—there were no questions. I could just have a bit more power with it because I was confident.”

Robin Van Gyn checks her line (PC: Chad Chomlack – Red Bull Content Pool)

Her strategy was heavily influenced by what worked—and what didn’t—in Jackson. “I basically picked up on what Blake Paul and Zoi and Mark were doing in Jackson—what they did was ride a similar line and improve on it every time.

“For champ Robin Van Gyn, getting knocked out of the Jackson event was also a double-edged sword”

There was nothing deflated about her riding. Building off a clean first pass, Van Gyn laid down a ferocious slash to open up her second run. She worked her way through the trees and took the cliff drops deeper than she had before. The crown jewel of her line was a front three that nearly tested her edge sharpness on a sapling in the landing. “The first run was just getting to know it, and then the second run was improving on it,” she notes. Confident, clean, and progressive, Van Gyn’s line earned her a matchup with wunderkind Zoi Sadowski-Synnott in Alaska—a competitor Van Gyn won’t underestimate.

Mike Rencz (PC: Red Bull Content Pool)

“Zoi is a complete anomaly. She is so strong and rides like she has so much experience. So there is no way that I will think for one second that she may be weaker in that arena,” comments Van Gyn. “Zoi is a super confident snowboarder, and I have faith in her that she’s actually going to do really well in Alaska. There are some people who just have it. She has this really strong, aggressive flow in her snowboarding. And I don’t think that big mountain snowboarding is going to be any different for her. And when you watched her and Jackson, her first couple of runs were pretty good, but she looked a little bit unsure. And then as the contest went on, she became way more confident and was improving through the contest. And I see the exact same thing happening in Alaska.”

While Rasman and RVG earned the top spots, their fellow competitors didn’t go do down without a fight. Mark Sollors dropped a consequential cliff followed by a massive front three. Dustin Craven took on the steepest and spiciest line of the event. Craig McMorris threw a one-footer. Pelosi sped down an aesthetically breathtaking chute. Beau Bishop broke a tree in half with the brute force of his butt cheeks. All told, the gladiators scrapped their hearts out, and spectators who enter Red Bull’s digital coliseum are sure to delight in the spectacle.

Mark Sollors (PC: Chad Chomlack- Red Bull Content Pool)

Takeaways and Tickets to Tordrillo

As much as I enjoyed watching this second stop, the action felt, at least to me, like it fell a little flat compared to Jackson. A few reasons here. First off, the electricity of a live event is hard to beat. Secondly, Rice and co. sculpted the Jackson course into an orgy of airs, much like the original Supernatural and Ultra Natural Baldface course, while Valhalla was a more standard, untouched backcountry venue. Lastly, the weather window delivered the required two prime competition days in Jackson, whereas riders were pressed for time in BC due to the looming high-pressure front. Much like the surfing contests from which it’s modelled, conditions will always dictate the success of the Natural Selection.

“No doubt, the second stop certainly added drama to the tour’s storyline and it makes the Alaskan finale that much more thrilling”

The resulting broadcast was a touch more frenetic—lacking the clear direction and substance supplied in Jackson—but I appreciated the segments that the production team used to fill in the gaps. The Baldface show opens with a sombre note on the numerous avalanche fatalities we’ve seen in North America this season, and later, athletes work with guides on burial scenarios and safety drills. For many resort riders and casual snowboard fans, this will be their introduction to backcountry snowboarding— or at least avalanche awareness and avalanche safety gear—and that in and of itself is a triumph.

Additionally, led by the story of competitor and First Nations member Spencer O’Brien, the show acknowledges the fact that the Natural Selection takes place on the lands of indigenous peoples. Too often, snowboarding—and the outdoor industry at large—avoids uncomfortable conversations about land and legacy, and this is an important step in the right direction.

Spencer O’Brien (PC: Chad Chomlack – Red Bull Content Pool)

So while uncooperative weather certainly impaired the competitors’ abilities to stack clips at Valhalla, the potential of this format came through. One of the format’s closest relatives is the X Games Real Snow video competition, which unleashes riders and filmers to hunt silver-screen-worthy snow and features around the world. Real Snow parts are insane, technical, in-your-face shred porn—and don’t get me wrong, we all love insane, technical, in-your-face porn—but Natural Selection, with this involved 80-minute show, gives us a backstage pass to filming a backcountry part. Furthermore, Natural Selection competitors operate within the same parameters: from terrain to snow conditions, the playing field is completely level, which only amps up the tension. With a more favourable weather window, the sky is the limit.

Baldface might not have been the smashing success that Jackson was, but it was a success. It built on what went down at that first stop. That’s the beauty of this thing: the Natural Selection isn’t a one-off event—it’s a tour that we fans get to follow, with multiple stops to look forward to. Some stops will inevitably be better than others, and the whole, in this case, is much greater than the sum of the parts. No doubt, the second stop certainly added drama to the tour’s storyline and it makes the Alaskan finale that much more thrilling. Will Rasman outride the Burton boys? Will OG RVG fend off a frothing Sadowski-Synnott? I, for one, can’t fucking wait to find out.  

More Like This:

A Week To Remember | The Natural Selection Recap

Debate | Why A Freeride Tour Crown Won’t Guarantee Success at Natural Selection

From Ragdolls To Riches | Mark McMorris’ Natural Selection Crown

Mastermind | The Travis Rice Interview

Beau Bishop and Chris Rasman (PC: Chad Chomlack - Red Bull Content Pool)
Mark Sollors (PC: Chad Chomlack - Red Bull Content Pool)
Chris Rasman (PC: Chad Chomlack - Red Bull Content Pool)
Marie-France Roy (PC: Chad Chomlack - Red Bull Content Pool)
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