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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”