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Travis Rice gehört als Profi-Snowboarder zur absoluten Weltspitze.
Dream On

Travis Rice: The Essence of Snowboarding

  • Thomas Becker
  • March 18, 2021
Credits cover image: Dean Blotto Gray / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool

With the Natural Selection Tour, Travis Rice has created a monument to himself. The world's best boarders from film, park, pipe and backcountry compete against each other in the wild - and can't stop raving about it. Elias Elhardt from Allgäu says: "Losing has never felt so good." The third and final stop on the tour: Tordrillo Lodge, Alaska.

The idea is more than ten years old, the baby was called Supernatural, then Ultra Natural, now Natural Selection Tour: No, it's not about evolutionary theory, but about the most ambitious and progressive snowboard competition since these snowboards have been around.

And it goes like this: The world's best boarders from film, park, pipe and backcountry compete against each other, not on a predefined course, but in the wild, on an area about seven to eight times the size of a slopestyle course. Free choice of tracks, varying snow conditions, every move captured for fans and jury by world champion drone pilots. And everyone expects only one thing: maximum spectacle.

A contest format that brings together backcountry snowboarding and freestyle snowboarding. Canadian Mark McMorris, winner of the first tour stop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, aptly sums it up: "This is the true essence of snowboarding."

Travis Rice is the initiator of the Natural Selection Tour.
Image credit: Chris Wellhausen / Natural Selection / Red Bull Content Pool / Chris Wellhausen / Natural Selection / Red Bull Content Pool

Elias Elhardt: "There Is No One More Important"

The man behind the Natural Selection Tour is Travis Rice, now 38 years old. Almost 20 years ago he won gold at the X-Games, 15 years ago he won the title at the Air & Style contest under the Olympic roof in Munich, then he became a worldwide brand in snowboard films - and it's exactly these two worlds that he now combines with his baby called Natural Selection.

One person who has known him well for years and has already produced a film with him, "Dark Matter", is Elias Elhardt from Allgäu. The 33-year-old has a similar career path to his buddy Travis: Junior World Champion at 17, X-Games, Air & Style, change to film, psychology studies in Innsbruck, a few competitions on the Freeride World Tour now and then. His films: not snowboard porn mainstream, but rather thoughtful, questioning reflections on the contradictions of his sport, on growing older and growing up in a sport that has dedicated itself to eternal youth.

Asked how important Travis Rice is to the snowboard scene, Elhardt says, "There's no one more important," and follows up with, "He has an incredible amount of energy to move things forward, is such a doer! Calculated, focused and concentrated on what he does. He's a go-getter who wants to get things moving and can do so. Natural Selection is his legacy of snowboarding, so to speak, with which he wants to take the sport even further. He has made snowboarding accessible to the general public through films like "Art of flight" and "That's it, that's all", has become an advocate for the sport. And riding-wise, he's in a category all his own on the board again, dominating the sport for 15 years."

The Best Riders in the World at the Natural Selection Tour

The fact that Rice, nicknamed G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), was knocked out of his own competition in the quarterfinals at the inaugural event in his native Jackson Hole in February speaks to the absurdly high quality of the field. His comment: "To have to face 'Sparky' head-to-head after seeing how he's developed over the last few years: that's one of the toughest draws I could make."

Sparky is the nickname of Mark McMorris, a nine-time X-Games winner who has won a total of 21 medals there - only Shaun White has two more. Winning Natural Selection is worth more to him than an Olympic gold medal, McMorris said, and you can take it from him. Because, after all, the best of the best were competing. Elias Elhardt says, "I can't remember a time in snowboarding when there was such a gathering of top riders."

As an organizer, Travis Rice is obviously biased, but he's probably not wrong when he says, "Contests have gotten more specific in the past. If someone wins a big halfpipe contest at the Olympics, they're "just" the best halfpipe rider in the world. But if someone wins a Natural Selection event, they can be called the best rider in the world without exaggeration.To do well in these events you need years of experience in street, transition and slopestyle, you need to be able to draw on all of that, including experience in the backcountry, whether it's how to deal with different snow conditions and how to pick a line, visualize it and then execute it."

Largely natural competition venues instead of artificial courses: The Natural Selection Tour
Image credit: Tim Zimmerman / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool / Tim Zimmerman / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool

Adjusted Format Because of Corona

Rice wanted to invite 16 male and eight female riders to three stops: to Jackson Hole, to Baldface Lodge in British Columbia, Canada, and to Alaska to Tordrillo Lodge at the end of March. Also planned: expansion into a global tour. He was already location scouting in Europe with Elhardt last March. But then Corona came along, and it became more difficult to find sponsors.

Nevertheless, the tireless and resilient Rice realized the series in a reduced form, taking the title Natural Selection literally: At each tour stop, he cut the field of riders in half, from 16 at Jackson Hole to 8 at Baldface and 4 in Alaska, and from 8 to 4 to 2 in the women's race. But with entry permits to Canada so difficult at the moment due to the pandemic, only Canadians can compete at Baldface and secure the last available spot in both the women's and men's finals in Alaska.

Travis Rice checks out conditions at the Natural Selection Tour stop in his native Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Image credit: Dean Blotto Gray / Natural Selection / Red Bull Content Pool / Dean Blotto Gray / Natural Selection / Red Bull Content Pool

"Losing Has Never Felt So Good"

While in Jackson Hole a few obstacles and jumps were carved into the landscape in the summer, which were then snowed over in the winter, less work was done on the landscape in Canada and finally nothing at all in Alaska.

Elias Elhardt enthuses: "This is the kind of snowboarding I love the most: freestyle in open terrain, playfully dealing with the terrain shapes. A combination of perfectly calculated park riding and free backcountry snowboarding. It's the best feeling when you discover something where your idea becomes reality. At the X-Games everything is perfectly groomed, here there are less perfect jumps, but it's still planned out, almost a slopestyle course. At home, I'm happy when I find a jump where the take-off and landing work for eight, ten or a maximum of 15 meters - here, the jumps went up to 25 meters! An insanely great event. I would have loved to have gone further, of course, but losing has never felt as good as it did there."

One-time competitor ("I loved it!") Travis Rice doesn't like losing either, of course, but the mere fact that he was finally able to bring his idea to fruition after all those years of passionate dedication will have been a huge triumph for him. His main prize is yet to come anyway: in a few weeks the G.O.A.T. will become a father for the first time. And already it's all about evolutionary theory.