Natural Selection Tour Snowboarders Preview ‘Intimidating’ Backcountry Venue For Revelstoke Stop

“Complicated.” “Challenging.” “Technical.” “Dangerous.” “Psycho.” “Intimidating.” “Gnarly.”

These are the words the 12 snowboarders who will compete in the second leg of the 2023 Natural Selection Tour used to describe this year’s venue, located in the Selkirk-Tangiers Heli Skiing tenure in the backcountry about 20 kilometers beyond Revelstoke Mountain Resort in British Columbia.

Revelstoke boasts the most vertical (5,620 feet) in North America, but if you think the resort terrain is challening, take a look at what these riders will be tackling on Monday. (The contest has a weather window of March 4-11, and the call was made at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 5, to go on Monday, March 6.)

Now in its third year, Natural Selection Tour changed up its format slightly for 2023.

Rather than having three distinct stages and eliminations along the way, this year, the first leg of the contest was staged by having 12 “DUELS,” in which a challenging rider and a defending rider (either someone returning to the Tour or a rider with the most amassed backcountry experience) filmed a head-to-head day of riding, with judges evaluating the overall footage and selecting one rider to advance to Revelstoke.

The Revelstoke stage doesn’t represent an elimination event; all 12 riders will move on to the final stage of the 2023 Tour in Alaska. But how a rider performs in Revelstoke could make all the difference when the 2023 overall men’s and women’s champions are determined.

On this face, accessible only by helicopter, the name of the game—at least early on—may just be staying upright.

“I’m excited to be able to say that this is without a doubt the most complicated, the most challenging and, not that we’re looking for it, but probably by default the most dangerous venue that we’ve chosen,” Natural Selection Tour creator Travis Rice told me the night before the contest.

Previous stages of the Tour have been held in the backcountry outside Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, at Baldface Lodge in British Columbia and in Alaska. The Tour, which marries freestyle riding (think Olympic slopestyle competitions) with big-mountain freeriding, has often built out constructed features on previous venues, like ramps and jumps.

The Revelstoke venue, however, represents the ultimate in natural, big-mountain terrain—no need for human intervention here.

Even among this who’s who of professional snowboarders—2022 Natural Selection Tour overall men’s champion Rice; 2022 women’s champion Elena Hight; 2021 men’s champion Mikkel Bang; backcountry pioneer Kimmy Fasani; slopestyle Olympians Zoi Sadowski-Synnott and Hailey Langland; halfpipe medalist turned big-mountain film star Ben Ferguson; Jackson Hole’s “Backcountry Prince” Blake Paul; Jared “Big Air Jare” Elston; Revelstoke’s own Dustin Craven; slopestyle and big air technician Torstein Horgmo and 2023 challenger Mikey Ciccarelli (riding in place of an injured Mark McMorris)—there is no shortage of apprehension about the venue.

Every single rider expressed excitement to gain access to such a remote part of the B.C. backcountry and to tackle such a unique course…but all their combined experience still may not have fully prepared them for this face Rice describes as a “beast.”

“I’m really excited about this course,” Hight said. “I think there’s so much creativity to be had on it. I think it’s gonna really push my personal limits and really all the riders’ limits.”

That’s the place she’s gotten to now, after Saturday’s scout day and some time to study all the possible lines she could take. Her gut reaction upon first seeing the venue, however?

“I was like, this face is absolutely psycho and I don’t know how we’re gonna get down it,” Hight said, laughing. “But at the same time, with a lot of big faces, there’s just so many options and then your mind just goes crazy, so after having some days to digest it I’m sure people have honed in on some zones they like best.”

As the defending overall women’s champion on Tour, Hight also admits to feeling a bit of added pressure to do well at Revelstoke. “I’m super excited and equally nervous,” she said.

Horgmo experienced a similar sensation upon first seeing the face and the many options it offers, and he had a distinctive term for it: “brain hurricane.”

“I kind of knew it was gonna be overwhelming, and then when we first dropped down there and actually got to take a look at it, I just tried to stay calm, because I knew we were going to get so much more data and drone footage to take in,” Horgmo said. He said the early scouting amounted to an “elimination game,” just narrowing down his potential lines by looking at everything he’s not considering.

“I’ve never really stepped into or seen terrain like this before, and it’s kind of comforting that we have a lot of snow on it,” he added with a chuckle. “If it was bad snow conditions, it would be terrifying. So at least it’s going to be soft.”

Indeed, much has been made about the venue’s copious pillows, which are striking to photograph and could make or break a rider’s run on Monday.

“There’s such a dynamic component to overhung pillows because they’re gonna break; it’s kind of like a controlled freefall,” Rice said. “A standard pillow line people think of as four or five pillows in a row and you just firecracker your tail down and ride out. But on the face that we’ve chosen, you’ll have one of those in the middle of a 600-foot mid-forest vertical face. It’s extremely complicated.”

Elston echoed Rice’s assessment of the pillow line portion of the course, noting that endurace will prove to be the key. Tackling seven consecutive pillows on a run is exhausting enough, but on this face, “you’ve snowboarded a mile already into it,” Elston said. “It’s going to be a test of strength for sure.”

“I’ve been coming out here for years, and I like riding the terrain,” Elston added. “It’s really hard, it takes a long time to learn, but it’s really fun and really rewarding.”

Ferguson has spent time in British Columbia of late as well; the province featured heavily in his recent film and directorial debut Fleeting Time, though the terrain in Whistler was not nearly as technical or dangerous as the Revelstoke stop of the Tour.

“At this stage, it’s about making it down these crazy, technical lines, and if you can make it to the bottom, you’re a god,” Ferguson said with a laugh the night before the contest. “Some of these pillow lines people are going to try to do tomorrow are probably some of the gnarliest pillow lines anybody has ever done or tried to film before.”

Speaking of filming, how does a rider’s approach to a venue like this differ for a film versus a contest—albeit, a highly video-oriented one, streaming live (with drone angles) on multiple platforms, including the Natural Selection Tour website and Caffeine.

“You’re gonna want to ride a line up there like you would ride a film line for sure; you want it to look beautiful, you want it to look flawless, you want to stay on your feet, you don’t want to drag your hands,” Ferguson said.

“But you are competing,” he added. “There’s that added adrenaline. If you were filming you’d warm up and test the waters and work into the bigger stuff. For me, I’m going against Travis Rice in the first round—I feel like I have to go full bore right off the bat, pick a big line and hope I make it and ride away.”

Langland joined Ferguson and crew in Whistler, B.C., to film for Fleeting Time, but she also agrees that the venue in Revelstoke is a world unto itself.

Just as Ferguson has transitioned from the world of Olympic halfpipe snowboarding to freeriding, Langland, though still active in slopestyle competition, has been making a greater push into big-mountain riding, along with Sadowski-Synnott.

Between the two of them, Langland and Sadowski-Synnott own multiple medals of every shade in slopestyle and big air disciplines. For that reason, they both felt a level of comfort in the constructed features of the Jackson Hole stage, knowing when to expect jumps and how to work them into a winning run while also considering style, technicality and flow.

“I definitely miss [the freestyle] side of it,” Sadowski-Synnott said. “This course has the most technical line riding and pillows I’ve ever seen and it’s way longer and bigger pillow lines than anything anyone’s ever ridden before, so it’s going to be pretty psycho.”

The Kiwi, who entered the 2021 Jackson Hole stop of the Tour as a wild card and then took the win for that stage, added that it’s exciting the venue is undergoing such a dramatic change this year, because there’s no advantage for those who may have ridden it in previous years.

Spoken like a true competitor.

“Zoi and I are so used to showing up to a pre-manicured couse—slopestyle has rails and jumps that are groomed every night, so they’re basically perfect, and to show up to an event where everything is natural and you ride it how it is, it’s an intimidating thing to think about,” Langland said.

“But me, Zoi, Kimmy and Elena are such strong riders that it’s going to be really fun and a great showcase for women’s snowboarding in the backcountry. We’re riding the same face as the guys so there’s no separation in skill level there; we’re all even.”

The Revelstoke stage of the 2023 Natural Selection Tour will go live at 9 a.m. PT on Monday, March 6.