FROM EPIC TO IRRELEVANT: NATURAL SELECTION TOUR IN BALDFACE WAS UNEXPECTED AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY

I am not angry, just disappointed that the Natural Selection Tour in Baldface wasn’t any better.

I would have never thought that disappointing and Baldface will have room in the same sentence. However, after last night’s Natural Selection Tour Show I feel… deflated. 

Travis Rice and his series of Natural events have gained him the «visionary» adjective, and if there were any questions about it, it got confirmed once again few weeks back when the whole snowboard community across the Globe had its eyes on Jackson Hole for the first stop of the Natural Selection Tour. 

Not the World Championships, the US or European Opens, definitely not the Freeride World Tours or even the Olympics have ever created the expectation, interest and amusement in the deep core of the snowboarding community.  

I am not talking about newspapers and competition fans, I am talking about every single snowboarder out there, except perhaps the ones that don’t know snowboarding enough to understand why this was epic: having a rigorous live backcountry freestyle competition with legendary male AND female riders being scored by professional judges and being able to watch in real time! They had everybody so hyped and scared at the same time because it could go from crushing it to get crushed in a split of a second and nobody knew really what would actually happen, it was such a great luxury!

For the first time, the true essence of snowboarding was put in a competitive format in a way that people could not only understand, but most importantly, they could feel part of it and all in the context of a year when peer alienation is not even news anymore. 

Surely some improvements or adjustments could be done on the judging criteria, the line selection rules and so on, but the milestone the Jackson Hole’s Natural Selection event AND streaming achieved is historical. Heck, for the first time I understood the rush and enjoyment my grandad experienced when watching soccer games on TV. 

By now you could be thinking, what is she talking about? There has been good streaming of snowboard events and competitions, both Freestyle and Freeride, for many years. 

Well, yes. But. The story and the variety of the profiles of the riders were next to unimaginable until this event. And the format and the opportunity to do such thing… And to give the opportunity to the women too on a set up that would have normally been reserved for male riders only (this is another topic that I am definitely writing about, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves for now). 

All I can say about the Jackson Hole’s Natural Selection Tour stop is that it was very well thought and produced, very successfully sold and most importantly, it was relevant and exciting and right for the time. Just couldn’t fault it. And the conversation about it went on for days and days and weeks after the event. 

So it’s no surprise that the expectations for the second stop of the Tour where high, if not higher. Maybe that’s the price to pay for hosting your event at Baldace. I mean: BALDFACE, a place where us the mediocre snowboarders and snowboard professionals can only dream about visiting one day. The reputation of  the set up, its terrain, the snow conditions and of course the epicness of the other Travis’ Natural events make you think that Jackson Hole was a trial run. 

Then the athletes get announced. Only Canadians. Okay, there are plenty of heavyweights in Canada, and we know COVID is still annoyingly kicking around, so we’re still listening. 

Then the format gets explained. One week of filming to produce an edit and a top to bottom line. It won’t be live, we’ll see a recap show. Okay, it’s definitely different to what we were expecting after the first one. But different can be good, right? We got an eyebrow slightly raised, but we are still listening. 

Then there is content coming in from Baldface, but not really… what is this? The date is announced: March 19th… oh no, wait, the 21st. Okay. Time to watch.

And so we did: we tuned in and watched. And after an hour and a bit of watchable action filled «event» highlights, I felt nothing. 

And here is the thing: the inspiration, the excitement, the motivation and the radness that was captured in Jackson Hole felt so darn good that I just wanted more of it. Instead, we got a bearable mashed up edit of the highlights of a week of a bunch of super good riders in an incredible place. Bad? Nah. Innovative, inspiring, groundbreaking? Definitely not. Leaving you wanting for more and setting the mood for the grand finale in Alaska? Not really. 

And I am not here to criticise the highly qualified and capable crew that has made this come to life. It might look easy to achieve a piece like this one, but it defiantly isn’t. I am just disappointed with the fact that they showed us what they are capable of delivering: and that is making the whole snowboard community be wowed and vibrate at the same time whilst screaming at the screen, devouring popcorn, fried chicken, chocolate, beer or the snack of choice and jumping up and down when seeing the almost forgotten Mikkel Bang turning a cliff into a wall-ride whilst being followed by a POV drone. Or being part of a «student overcoming the Master» moment when Mc Morris kicks out a not happy Travis Rice. Or seeing a pissed off Elena Height when loosing to the 4 time Freeride World Tour Title Holder Marion Haerty or an Anna Gasser fighting with the frustration of feeling out of her depth. COME ON!

We want more please, and that’s why we can’t wait for the Alaskan finals and we can only hope that once again Travis, Griffin and their team can gift us the thrill of snowboarding in a place so far away and attainable for the most of us. They have the chance once again to bring this experience reserved for the lucky, the crazy and the committed ones closer to the rest of the mortals and at the same time make us feel that we belong there as well.

So please, go back in the thinking room and work out your magic. A little tip: Live, Raw, nexpected: yes. Edited and perfect: not so much. 

UPDATE 23/03/2021 – Editor’s Note: After publishing this article I was able to get in touch with Liam Griffin, the Co-Founder and COO of the Natural Selection Tour who explained that the reason why this edition of the Baldface Tour stop became more of a filming session was due to the British Columbia and Canada’s strict regulations during the COVID pandemic, which means live events aren’t allowed and only a film shoot was permitted. He stated that «the goal is definitely to be able to replicate what we did in Jackson, in BC & AK. The reality is that with Covid & budgets… plus being a brand new company in year one startup mode, it will likely take us a few years to get there.«

So with this editor’s note I’d like to give him and all their team big kudos for keep going no matter what and acknowledging the risk they took on this stop and for launching the whole Tour not only in such a complicated year, but for launching it at all.