2022 Natural Selection AK & Tour Championship Winners Interviews

The 2022 Natural Selection is done and dusted. While the weather gods might not have delivered prime conditions to all the events, after the COVID issues from 2021, you can bet that this was the year that Travis and the NST tour were hoping for. They pulled it off, and they rounded it out in style in Alaska. Hana Beaman came in hungry after last year and took the top spot for the ladies, with Elena Hight taking the overall Tour Championship on points. For the men it was NST founder Travis Rice who battled his way through the two previous stops to get himself to AK, taking the top spot and also the overall Tour Championship after points leaders Mikkel Bang and Dustin Craven dropped out early. Yeah, he won his own contest. You don’t get onto the podium with luck though, you have to seriously earn your spot there, and that’s exactly what these riders did.

Interview. Theo Acworth

Photo. Red Bull Media House

Travis Rice - Winner of the Men's bracket in Alaska & Men's Tour Champion

Hey Travis, congrats on taking the AK win and also the overall tour win. Missing out on AK last year must have been hard for you, but the birth of your son was obviously also pretty important.

It was awesome to be back in AK. We had his 1st birthday the day after we wrapped the event, which was great. All the riders were present for his birthday, which was perfect and fitting to have it up here.

That’s rad, a backcountry freestyle legend in the making?

Yeah, possibly!

How did you feel heading into the AK stop after Jackson and Baldface, and what were conditions like up there?

We had stunning conditions. We’d kind of paid the piper over the course of the season. With these type of events, weather is weather, conditions are conditions, but some are more ideal for snowboarding than others. After some tough conditions is Jackson and being hit with a windstorm at the start of the BC event, to have conditions literally as good as it gets for AK was epic. The stoke was palpable between the riders and they were fired up. The terrain was complicated and challenging, but there’s something for everyone with the myriad of different riding styles on tour. We also slept right under the event venue, and were camping on the glacier for several days before we did the first event day. We had fresh food instead of freeze-dried, northern lights at night, Ryan Cruze and a couple of the crew on the glacier dug in this epic underground bar called the Coyote Cantina, and we had an almost full moon lighting up the face. It was epic. Spending time there before the event days, you get acclimated to that particular face, you get a feeling for the snowpack, and you get this slow building of confidence.

 

“You have to do your homework and put together the right type of line. Natural Selection really calls you to be your best.”

 

© Tom Monterosso Travis eyeing up the lines from Base Camp.

How was the overall vibe from the riders? Stoked? Scared? A combo of both?

Yeah, there’s always a bit of trepidation and anxiety, mixed with excitement. The nature of the event and the contest adds that extra element. All the riders up there have a competitive element to them. It’s fantastic to be out with a group of friends who have a lot of mutual respect and trust and getting to ride this terrain, but you also have the competition element where you have to do your homework and put together the right type of line. Natural Selection really calls you to be your best. When you freeride you get to call your drop when you’re ready, but at this event, when they call your turn, you gotta go.

Were there any standout moments or performances for you from this last stop?

Hana really stepped into her own. Last year she took a more conservative approach, and this season really battled her way into the AK spot. She really took the limiter off, so it was cool to see her rise to the occasion and draw from such a long and coloured career. Torstein was also a force to be reckoned with. He rode so good. He was clicked on and tuned in.

 

“It really was a day of days.”

 

What was the venue itself like?

We were on a venue that some riders had a little bit of experience on, so I think that really played into people opening up a bit more. Scale is such a tricky thing up in Alaska, so the fact that there was some data out there really played into riders stepping it up quite a bit. We had some decent weather, but only got one perfect blue day of riding. It really was a day of days.

 

© Tom Monterosso Rice boosting out to somewhere...

 

From the start of the tour I guess you must have had your eyes on AK, were there moments in the previous two stops where you might have been worried that you might not make it?

*Laughs* There are no gimmes in this tour. Almost every head to head could have gone either way. The battle I had getting through qualifiers was so close. All of those previous brackets led to the joy of being able to come up to Alaska and send it. As far as the Tour Championship component, I was definitely behind in the points. Going into AK there was some analysis about what would need to happen for me to end up on top, and it was looking pretty farfetched that I would even have a shot. A couple of the top guys would have to not make it past the first round. Mikkel and Craven exiting first round, I did not picture that happening.

 

© Dean Blotto Gray Travis flying high over untouched Alaska

 

I guess that’s what makes it exciting, you just don’t know how it will unfold. So you won your own contest! I’m sure some people will give you some shit for that, but I don’t think you got there by accident. How does it feel to be on top at the end of this year?

I’m fucking stoked. I got a taste of it in BC. I was so psyched to get 3rd and get one of those beautiful trophies, I was stoked to secure one of those. The nature of these events is that you don’t get on the podium by being lucky, you have to make it through multiple rounds against the best. So yeah, I won my own event, and I should get some shit for that, but at the same time, it’s a pretty damn level playing field. I think this year the amount of resources the tour provided the riders with was impressive. In AK the amount of study materials in terms of photos, and also Gab the drone pilot was flying all of the spines and riders could have access to the footage. They could really break it down and study the lines. It really was an epic week.

 

“So yeah, I won my own event, and I should get some shit for that, but at the same time, it’s a pretty damn level playing field.”

 

Well congrats for pulling it off in style.

Thanks. It’s epic that the terrain changed quite a bit from the first year. It asked a lot from the riders. The team of people behind the scenes, pulling off an event like that 90-100 miles into the backcountry, it ticked all the boxes in the safest way possible. The logistics alone for that event were pretty incredible. Our guiding team Pulse Line and the hosting we had from the Winter Lake lodge was amazing. And the support from Aleyeska where we had some great pow days after the event. It was a phenomenal way to end the week, and tour. Going out with a bang.

 

© Dean Blotto Gray The men's podium, Travis pippin Torstien Horgmo and Ben Ferg in 3rd.

 

Hana Beaman - Winner of the Women's bracket in Alaska

Hey Hana, congrats on taking the win in AK!

Thank you, really appreciate it. It feels so long ago now that I’m kind of detached, but I’m kind of re-living it which is nice.

Like a second birthday.

Exactly.

How’s it been for you to sit on this for the last few weeks?

It was a little weird because I was so excited, so that’s why I took off and went to Mexico, where I’ve been for the last few weeks.

I was going to ask what you’ve been doing, I know that some people went riding straight away, so it’s nice to hear that you just disappeared to the beach instead.

Yeah, I went to see my family, and then went to Mexico for two weeks, and got back last night. Tonnes of surfing and just warming up. It was perfect timing with a few other things that were going on, and I just thought screw it. I missed some good pow days, but I was stoked to be in the sun and warm.

 

“It was a good winter, but it’s a big emotional rollercoaster with contests. It’s different than filming. There are a lot of highs and lows, and it’s more intense. Still exhausting, but in a different way that I’m not quite used to anymore!”

 

It must have been a pretty heavy winter for you. Have you been doing other stuff like shooting, or just focussing on the tour?

I didn’t actually have any other film projects going on this year. It’s hard to navigate filming with the tour. It is possible, I could get out and film here and there, but I didn’t want to commit to anything serious so I could just focus on the tour. I went out and did a few team trips here and there, just stuff that companies requested me to do. It was fun, it was a good winter, but it’s a big emotional rollercoaster with  contests. It’s different than filming. There are a lot of highs and lows, and it’s more intense. Still exhausting, but in a different way that I’m not quite used to anymore!

 

© Tom Monterosso Hana flying into her first NST final

 

What we the last thing you competed in before NST?

I think it 2013 when I was making a go for the Olympic slopestyle team. I pulled out halfway through the season, it just wasn’t what I wanted to do and I knew that I wasn’t into contests anymore. So it’s been a long time, and on top of that it’s been a long time since I’ve won something. It was really special to me. It’s kind of surreal still, but after today I think it will become a bit more real as I’ve been suppressing it for a while. But I’m really excited. It feels good at 39 to still be able to win something.

 

"It’s been a long time since I’ve won something. It was really special to me. It feels good at 39 to still be able to win something.”

 

So obviously you were on the tour last year, but how did you find stepping back into a competitive environment? What’s that process been like for you to get your head around?

It’s different. Last year was kind of a trial season. It was so wacky and we didn’t know what was happening with covid and everything, it was a good year for me to get my head sort of wrapped around it, but not totally. Then this year I came into it knowing that I had to be a bit more strategic and competitive and think like that, which isn’t how I’ve been programmed for the last ten years. So I tried to come in with a little more fire in the pants. It’s just different. It’s not competitive in the way that contests have been in the past, it’s more of a community vibe and we all want to do well. It’s so new and on such a global stage that we just want everybody to show really well. It’s also got the filming vibe to it. It’s a new thing that pushes me for sure, and challenges me in new ways. Kind of forcing me to do the backcountry riding in a different way, to sack up and do it when I have to, instead of only when the weather is good and conditions are great. Here, you have to do it when you have to do it. So that’s another layer to it. It’s challenging, but rewarding in a lot of other ways. It’s pushing me, but it’s a good thing for me right now, especially at this time in my career. It’s really giving me a new injection of energy.

 

“I wanted to get a little redemption and show what I was really capable of in Alaska when I’m prepared and I have the right mindset. It felt good to show up and ride the way that I know I can ride.”

 

Running into AK after the last two stops, how were you feeling about it?

Last year I wasn’t technically supposed to be there and I kind of got the call last minute. So it was awesome, but my head wasn’t really in it and I wasn’t prepared. This year I just wanted to get through Jackson and Baldface and really earn my way to Alaska. I wanted to get a little redemption and show what I was really capable of in Alaska when I’m prepared and I have the right mindset. It felt good to show up and ride the way that I know I can ride, because last year was definitely a bit more mellow. I wasn’t in the mindset to just go. It felt good to put down a couple of runs that I was stoked on. It felt like a better quality trip to Alaska. I think I knew what to expect and what to be thinking compared to last year. It felt a lot more satisfying.

Cool to hear. So when you’re standing at the top, what’s going through your head? Are you quite aware of what you need to do, or are you just going snowboarding?

I think this year I was very aware of what I had to do. I was up against Zoi so I knew that I had throw something down and couldn’t just cruise. It was very apparent that I had to level up a bit and really compete with the other girls, because we’re all very capable. I had to pay to my strengths and try to ride confident and pick a line that I would be confident on. It was a little more strategic, not just trying to pick a pretty line or a filming line. So that was the mindset. I know what Zoi was capable of so I knew I had to do something to be at that level. It’s good, it pushed me. It was an uncomfortable position to be in, but it’s where we grow.

 

© Chad Chomlack Setting the level with a big cliff drop in the final.

 

Right on, and it sounds like you really rose to it. Where there any standout moments from the event for you?

The first day that we were riding and the conditions were great. It was just really fun to watch other people riding as well as riding yourself. It stoked you up. You knew it was game on. Watching the guys take the first few runs felt really good, it just built on the energy, that day was great. There was some of the most amazing snowboarding that day and it was incredible to be a part of that. Finals day was fun but also a bit lacklustre with how it ended, but I was still proud of my riding. Unfortunately we didn’t get to finish all three of our runs because the weather came in, but qualifiers and semis was awesome. It was one of the more memorable and exciting days of snowboarding I’ve had in a long time. Just watching everybody stepping up and shredding was really sick.

How were the overall vibes of the week up on the glacier? It looked and sounded pretty magic.

It was just good energy. Everybody was just stoked to be there. It was a lot of work  for everybody taking care of the camp and putting the whole event together, and it was great to see them all so excited. The energy was unreal. Super memorable. Camping out there was so surreal to start with, and with that crew, it was pretty amazing. I didn’t want to leave, I just wanted to keep camping. Alaska is such an epic spot, and doing it like that was a once in a lifetime experience. Of course we would have wanted to have the entire tour crew there with us, but it was definitely a good time.

 

“It was one of the more memorable and exciting days of snowboarding I’ve had in a long time.”

 

Are you already looking ahead to next year?

I was thinking about next year’s tour before this one even ended! Thinking about how to prepare. That’s why Mexico was good, so I could just fully blank it out. Now I’m home and thinking about next year and getting in the gym and doing this and that. For sure it’s on my mind, I just want to do better. It would be cool to have another full year of the tour, and making it out to AK again would be the cherry on top, so that’s the goal for next year too.

 

© Chad Chomlack Ben and Hana soaking it up!

 

Well congrats from all of us at Method for fighting all of the way through the previous stops and taking the top spot in AK.

Thank you, it feels like an accomplishment to make it all the way through to the end. It’s so satisfying to win that final stop. I’m really happy, but for sure there’s more to do for next year and improvements to make. Now I just have to win the overall tour next year!

No pressure then. Ok Hana I think we can leave things there. Any closing words or shoutouts?

Obviously thanks to all of my sponsors for supporting and believing in me and being patient while we go through all of this. It’s rad to have their support with such a new and different event like this. A lot of that support comes from within the industry and it’s cool to see the support of everybody who watches and the companies involved. There’s a new injection of energy for this kind of snowboarding, which is really rad. Thanks to anyone who’s tuning in, supporting, buying NFTs or contributing to the tour in one way or another. Really grateful that it’s happening and I hope that it continues to happen. And I’ve just bought mimosas so my friends and I can watch and celebrate. I’m exited, happy to be home and see people and have the word out.

Thanks Hana, enjoy!

 

© Aaron Blatt The women's podium with Hana taking the top spot ahead of Marion Hearty and Zoi Sadowski-Synnott

 

Elena Hight - Women's Tour Champion 

 

Hey Elena, sorry to miss you yesterday, but understandable that you were jumping in the heli while the weather was good. How’s riding been?

Yeah sorry for missing you yesterday, it was a busy one. I’m still in Alaska filming, so it’s perfect timing for the NST stuff to be coming out.

Have you been in AK since the event a few weeks ago?

Yeah I’ve been here the whole time, just soaking it in. I had some filming trips lined up right afterwards. We had some downdays, but a lot of good riding windows with some really good snow. It’s been really sunny this week so we’ve been getting after it. Danny Davis is heading and putting together a collective snowboard film. We don’t have a name for it yet.

Sounds good, stoked to see it. Oh yeah, congrats for taking the Tour Championship!

Thanks so much, really excited about it.

 

© Tom Monterosso Elena charging to Tour Champion.

 

Were you keeping an eye on points as the tour was running?

I was definitely aware of it coming into Alaska. There wasn’t a tonne of emphasis put on it internally within the tour, but having placed well in Jackson and Baldface I knew that a good event in Alaska would lead to a Tour Championship. I honestly didn’t ride as well as I’d hoped there and was just having an off day. It happens. Those mountains are big and unforgiving at times, and I didn’t have the best showing. But overall throughout the tour I was really proud and excited about my riding, and stoked to take away the overall win.

 

"I really want to focus on the whole process of it, and not just the contest. That means getting to know all the other riders, learning about the locations and the snow. There are so many aspects that aren’t just about the competitions, and for me those were the highlights and helped me feel like I could perform the best that I could on contest day, and still enjoy the process."

 

I guess there are two different sides to it, the individual stops and the overall results. But it was really nice to watch you throughout the whole tour and see how you picked your lines, you just looked smooth and confident, always finding fresh landings, and I guess that’s paid off.

Thanks so much. I didn’t really have a strategy going into the contest, my aim was just to absorb it and the opportunity to ride with some of my favourite snowboarders and spend time with riders who I don’t get to spend time with in a normal year. It pushed my snowboarding a lot, and the overall vibe inspires progression. So I’m really happy with my overall riding. Of course I would have loved to land on the podium in Alaska, but I just missed it.

 

© Dean Blotto Gray

 

I can only imagine how big those mountains are in person compared to seeing them on a screen, so just riding there is a feat in itself.

Alaska is such a full experience. Definitely challenging for the mind, body and soul. And the mountains are on a scale that’s hard to describe until you’re actually in them. They’re really powerful and amazing. Just having the opportunity to showcase in Alaska is really special, and I’m really stoked that Natural Selection took it to the pinnacle of snowboarding. It was a magical day in the mountains. Everyone stepped up and all the women really pushed themselves, and the guy’s riding was incredible. It was just one of those days where everyone is feeding off good energy and perfect conditions. There were a lot of people pushing it and it was really cool to be a part of.

So now you’re done with the second year of the tour, how are you managing the return of a competitive mindset? Obviously this is a kind of hybrid event that’s much more than a contest, but it’s still a contest.

It’s been an interesting step back into the contest scene. You’re right that it’s a kind of hybrid event, they’re trying take all the aspects of snowboarding that we love. The freeride side and the contest side, and meld them together. As with any contest, there will be days where you have to snowboard regardless of the conditions and regardless of how you feel. So there is that element which adds a bit of extra pressure. For me, it’s been a really good challenge to step back into this competitive mindset, but trying to do it in a way that’s a little different to when I was competing in pipe. I really want to focus on the whole process of it, and not just the contest. That means getting to know all the other riders, learning about the locations and the snow. There are so many aspects that aren’t just about the competitions, and for me those were the highlights and helped me feel like I could perform the best that I could on contest day, and still enjoy the process.

 

“Of course we’re all competitive, and we all want to win. There’s no doubt of that, that’s what makes everyone so successful. but there has to be another side of it. For me, that’s the community. Snowboarding is special in that way. We are each other's biggest fans and we continue to push each other and progress the sport together.”

 

That sounds like you’ve found a nice way to approach it and keep it on your terms, instead of the other way around.

I think it’s easy to get sucked into the outcome. Of course we’re all competitive, and we all want to win. There’s no doubt of that, that’s what makes everyone so successful, but there has to be another side of it. For me, that’s the community. Snowboarding is special in that way. We are each other's biggest fans and we continue to push each other and progress the sport together. I do think that’s very unique.

Absolutely.

I’ve actually never won a tour of any type. I’ve won some events here and there, but to be able to perform on a very high level throughout the entire season is something I’m very proud of.

As you should be. And you did a bunch of methods, which we’re obviously big fans of. Ok, the last words are yours:

None of this would be possible without the industry and people like you at Method. I’m just grateful for the opportunity and for Mother Nature, the snow, the great conditions in Alaska, all the sponsors and the people who support the dream.

 

© Chad Chomlack The women's Tour Champ, Elena Hight

That's a wrap for the Natural Selection Tour 2022, bring on the 2023 Tour! If you missed the action from Alaska, you can rewatch the full broadcast below.

© Chad Chomlack