Snowboarding Icon Travis Rice & Natural Selection Tour Showcase World’s Best Riders in Never-Before-Seen Contest
Sunset WildLands caught up with Travis to discuss the event ahead of Wednesday’s launch.
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February 3 marks Day One of a dream snowboarding event that will drop the world’s top snowboarders, with diverse riding backgrounds that range from Olympians to backcountry icons, into a one-of-a-kind competition.
The brainchild of big mountain icon and renowned filmmaker Travis Rice, the YETI Natural Selection Tour is set to run from Feb. 3-9 at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, the first of a three-stop tour featuring events at Baldface Lodge in Nelson, British Columbia, and Tordrillo Mountain Lodge at Alaska’s Judd Lake.
Riders will square off on some of the planet’s most intense natural—and occasionally enhanced—terrain to determine which men’s and women’s freestyle riders will be crowned as the world’s best at the conclusion of the tour’s Alaska leg. Each tour stop features a seven-day window to ensure riders have the flexibility to perform in prime conditions.
Unlike past events, the NST is coming in hot with emphasis on environmental education and conservation advocacy, all part of a joint mission by Rice, alongside organizations like YETI and Conservation International, to inspire fans of all backgrounds to forge a more meaningful relationship with their outdoor playgrounds.
Sunset Wildlands caught up with Travis ahead of Wednesday’s launch and discussed what it means to be behind such a unique effort, and what the Jackson, Wyoming, native hopes the tour will accomplish.
Watch the YETI Natural Selection Tour at Jackson Hole for free starting Feb. 3 exclusively on Red Bull TV.
HOW DID YOU FIRST COME UP WITH THE IDEA FOR THE NATURAL SELECTION TOUR? WHAT DID THAT PROGRESSION LOOK LIKE?
When I started snowboarding, I was just a young and impressionable rider who kind of consumed all things snowboard culture. But then having the good fortune to actually call snowboarding a job, I think eventually you just start paying attention to what matters in that world.
I developed some great relationships with a lot of other riders around the world, and while I was competing at premier events around the world and working on various film projects, it kind of became apparent that this was the direction snowboarding and skiing was headed in.
We did an event in 2008 that was kind of an experiment of bringing together some of the best backcountry and competitive riders in Jackson. The feedback from that event was overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people were straight up, like, “This is like the best event I’ve ever been to.”
So, I think that kind of had a lasting impression on me and the team of people that helped put that event on.
The big learning factor with that first contest we did in Jackson was the realization of how much of a factor terrain and features can be. So, we spent almost five years scouting before finally settling on a location up in Canada to do the next event.
We wanted to put on a world-class event with the best riders, and in order to be successful in showcasing their individual styles—they all have unique approaches to putting a line together—having a venue that provided enough options for them to showcase the riding was a big part of it.
We did two years of that event up in Canada. And at that time the idea was absolutely to try to bring this to a multi-destination tour, because riding styles are so unique around the world. The Alps in Europe, here in the Rocky Mountains, the interior of British Columbia, the coastal ranges of Alaska, the mountains in Japan—they each have their own riding characteristics and we’re trying to celebrate each particular style with each location.
THIS EVENT HAS ATTRACTED RIDERS FROM SO MANY DIFFERENT BACKGROUNDS. HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE THOSE VARIOUS STYLES PLAY OUT?
I think a good example of the extreme variety would be on the woman’s side. We have a pretty badass women’s field with riders like Marion Haerty, a multi-time champion of the Freeride World Tour who’s just a boss. And then we also have Anna Gasser, who is the most dominant freestyle snowboarder on the planet right now.
They come from such different backgrounds, yet are both going to be, I think, equally anxious about their approaches to this venue. That’s one of the really exciting components to watching this contest.
YOU MENTIONED THE VARIETY OF THE LOCATIONS. ON THIS FIRST STOP, WHAT IS IT THAT SETS JACKSON HOLE APART FROM THE OTHER VENUES?
I would say that Jackson is probably the most freestyle oriented of the three stops. There’s still a bit of a free ride component—lots of cliffs and different ways to ride the terrain—but generally speaking, I would say Jackson probably has the most perfect transitions and it’s got a lot of really unique takeoffs and landings.
And that venue alone is like 16 acres. It’s pretty massive.
THIS TOUR IS UNIQUE IN THAT IT’S COMBINING A MASSIVE TALENT POOL WITH SOME SERIOUS ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS. WHAT ARE HOPING THIS EVENT WILL ACCOMPLISH ON THE EDUCATION SIDE?
From the onset of us walking down this path to bring this tour to fruition I think our priority was always making mother nature the main character and forging that intense relationship with the outdoors.
Thankfully, we have companies working on this event that share those goals. We’re really excited to have YETI as the title sponsor for our event here in Jackson. They’re very outdoor-minded with conservation efforts and charitable initiatives. Then we have Conservation International as another primary partner, one of the world’s largest conservation companies that is literally helping to rewrite policy around the globe.
One of the things I’m really excited about is that we’re doing almost 15 hours of live programming for this first event—ancillary programming with a number of pretty interesting humans covering topics from hydrology and geology to snow science and health and wellness. We just believe there is a way to make education fun by putting these educational components into a narrative about winter sports, things that so many of the members of the active outdoors community are aware of and things that more and more people are waking up to. We’re the stewards of our beautiful wild places.
It’s human nature to expend effort and time on the things we care the most about. So, the more we can remind people of how awesome the outdoors are, the more it can become a priority to everyone in terms of what they’re putting their dollars toward.
WAS THERE A PARTICULAR POINT IN YOUR CAREER THAT FLIPPED A SWITCH ON WANTING TO GET ENVIRONMENTALLY INVOLVED OR WAS IT A GRADUAL EVOLUTION?
It’s been a steady progression. Like anything in life, there are lessons for anyone open to receiving them. I had a lot of fun in my youth, traveling around the world as a snowboarder, competing and filming.
It was during that time that I took a number of trips to Alaska. One of the components that stood out to me the most was seeing how crazy the pendulum would swing up there in terms of conditions getting more and more erratic. You see these incredible glaciers, but the locals would be like, “When I grew up here, this is where the glacier was.” It’s wild to see how much things are changing out there. And it’s a similar story with the European Alps losing a majority of its glaciers.
So, when your job and passion is hyper-dependent on hydrology and climate, I think you become much more in tune with learning about how much things are changing.
LAST ONE BEFORE I LET YOU GO. YOU’RE FROM JACKSON. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE KICKING OFF THIS EVENT IN YOUR BACKYARD?
There’s a big part of me that’s really proud to bring something back to my hometown. I’m also really proud that we’re collaborating with so many people in Jackson, from the ski patrol to the executive teams, the marketing team, food and beverage—there’s so many departments out there that are working to help us run this event.
But there are also components, being in a small town like Jackson, where it’s tough. Jackson has had a lot of pressure recently with the amount of tourism we’ve had. I mean, we broke records in the summer through COVID. But with this event, it’s been totally positive. We’re psyched to be here and doing it, while at the same time being respectful of a community that, I think, is already is already under quite a bit of pressure.
Big thanks to Travis Rice for taking the time to chat. Be sure to tune in to Red Bull TV on Feb. 3 to watch Rice and dozens of other riders put on a spectacle. And stay tuned for the Natural Selection Tour’s next stop at British Columbia’s Baldface Lodge, followed by the HempFusion Natural Selection Tour stop at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska.