Interview: Theo Acworth & Chris McAlpine
Job done, congratulations! And congrats on the new family addition too!
It’s been a big year of bringing things into the world! We couldn’t be more proud of getting through it, especially this season. There were a lot of complications and it was a really challenging year, so being able to finish off with a bang in Alaska, we’re psyched.
Pun intended there? Finish off with a Bang..? Anyways, it seems like you guys had to roll pretty continuously with the COVID punches this year, so to have actually pulled it off and adapted as much as you did is pretty amazing. You must be pretty used to it now though?
It’s in the nature of the business I’m in. Oh, you had plans about how you thought this was going to go? Yeah, well, the weather is the weather, nature is nature.
What have you learnt from the last year?
We’ve learned a lot. There’s not progression without being hypercritical about the work that you put out into the world. This year was amazing, but there are so many holes that I could poke in it. Room for growth and improvement. We just had to get it out into the world and build a foundation, and that’s really what this year was about. I’m excited that we did as well as we did, because it’s just going to set us up for success in the future to build upon what we’ve done. So what did I learn? I learned it’s really hard to run an international tour in a global pandemic. Can’t say that we didn’t see that coming, heading into this season.
In a normal year would you have planned to broadcast each stop live, like you did in Jackson Hole?
That’s the dream. I laugh internally when we post things and and you get a bunch of comments saying ‘It isn’t live? What the shit! Why isn’t it live!’. To do a live event from remote backcountry locations, the amount of added complexity, and especially cost, goes up exponentially. So inevitably this is something that we’re working towards. I’ll definitely say that the event and level of coverage that we saw take place in Jackson Hole is what we’re pursing. This tour is nothing without a fan base and without the riders being so enthusiastic about participation. Jackson was a prime example. We had a lot of people from around the world tuning in, and because of that is was successful. So I’m super grateful that we have a lot of people who think this is interesting and worth their time. Without that support, this thing really just falls flat on its face.
People are definitely hyped on it. It’s entertaining and exciting, and these are words that we wouldn’t usually use to describe snowboard competitions. So to have brought those elements to it, hats off to you and your team.
I appreciate that. I feel like it’s been heading in this direction for fifty years, and we’re happy to take a bit of a stewardship role. Our team and myself are in a unique position to usher something like this in. But it’s been so many people’s opinions and time put into it, and the visions of a lot of riders. We shouldn’t get too much credit for the ideation and bringing this forward because it’s been a really collaborative and group effort.
Each location allows for different types of riding to shine, is this something that you want to keep pushing?
Our intention is to support the natural style of the places we go to. The ultimate goal is to not homogenise the terrain and the venues, and let each location be it’s own unique character. And we think that a varied approach on a full spectrum of riding styles - from backcountry freestyle to pure freeride - is within that window.
Thinking about locations and stops, Europe? What’s going on with that?
What is going on with that! We’re definitely missing a major component. I’ve had a lot of conversations with European riders like Elias Elhardt and Victor de le Rue who have been super helpful. I’ve visited maybe fifty resorts in the last four years. There’s a lot of dynamic components that need to come into having a proper resort host partner. I’m exited for the future. Coming back to the foundational components about what this year was about, a European stop is an obvious component about where we need to be if we’re to grow and expand. There are so many characteristics of riding all over the world. Just Europe alone, there are at least five or six countries with venue potential. Russia? For sure there are venues in Russia. Also Japan? The Southern Hemisphere? There are three or four countries all with potential, that are all uniquely themselves. Where we go, time will tell. We’re excited at the potential.
Which was your favourite stop from the tour this year?
Jackson. We went all in on that event, and I think we took the biggest risk by doing two days of live. We had such a great team and it ended up working out incredibly well. From the storylines, the way that it was captured and the conditions that we had. That was my favourite event of the year. The finals in AK were also really dynamic in their own right though.
We spoke to Mikkel and Robin a few days ago, and as well as both having very nice things to say about you, Robin was saying that for her Jackson was hands down the best event and something that will stay with her forever, just down to it being the first gathering of the shred community for a long time, and being at the start of something new.
Amen. That’s awesome to hear. To throw a shoutout to our COO Liam Griffin, we somehow had no COVID cases. Our staff and riders also had to get tested in order to leave the event, and for all three events we not only had no COVID cases brought in, but no COVID cases attributed to our event afterwards. I really don’t know how that happened. There must have been a golden sphere of light following our tour around for the season.
Yeah that’s kind of a miracle. And I guess a testament to how seriously everyone takes it and how much everyone wants it to work. Are you competing next year? And are you already planning ways to get inside people’s heads like you did with Rasman? We saw that, and we liked it.
Yes, always. We’re currently on the heels of this event and working towards what next year holds, and part of that is the criteria about how riders make it back on the tour. Inevitably some riders will earn their way back on through their performance this year, and some riders won’t. We don’t totally have that nailed. I luckily made it to finals day in Jackson, but time will tell. I would love to compete again next year.
Well we loved seeing how you rode the Jackson course, you were mixing it up pretty constantly and hit a bunch of things that others didn’t touch.
Everyone spent so much time and effort putting that course together, so I was more hunting the features that weren’t being hit as much because I wanted to make sure everyone felt good about all the work that was put in and that every feature got hit! I was definitely looking for lines that weren’t being taken.
That’s very nice of you, you’re a good host. So to wrap up, how would you summarise this year for you? You happy with how it all played out?
It couldn’t have played out better. Zoi came through with what I think was the MVP performance of the year, she crushed. Perseverance was a big theme for us this winter. The relentless nature of trying to adapt and put these events on. Honestly I have nothing but gratitude that people showed up as well as they did. This year only happened because a lot of people believed in it and put time and love into it. It’s a group effort, and I think this year is just going to let us take it further. We’re excited to start working out some more details for next year, and to release some more information about what that might look like.
If you want to look back and rewatch the 3 Natural Selection Tour stops from Jackson Hole, Baldface and Alaska then you can below:
NST at Jackson Hole
NST at Baldface
NST at Tordrillo Lodge Alaska