The first leg of the Natural Selection Tour in Jackson Hole ends with the final on Tuesday. These are the snowboards pros ride in this uncharted terrain for 2021.
First day of Travis Rice’s Red Bull-sponsored Natural Selection Tour started on Thursday. The opening action at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort delivered on all fronts: epic deposits, mind-boggling tricks and tough competition (Watch the replay here).
But at the end of the first day, the venue was tracked down. Fortunately, a storm filled the tracks on Friday – and a few more.
With nearly 3 feet falling to an already solid base in the past 48 hours, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has exceeded the 300-inch benchmark for the season. (At the time of this writing, the total season is 336 inches.) That said, the storm has kept the final Jackson Hole competition in plenty of powder tomorrow.
Half of the drivers were eliminated on the day of the final: only four women and eight men are left. As a gear nerd, snowboard tester and GearJunkie reporter, I was curious: what will these top talents ride tomorrow? Chances are they’ll ride these boards.
Quarterfinals of men
Austen Sweetin versus Blake Paul
This is the Mervin matchup. PNW snowboarder Austen “Froth Goblin” Sweetin rides for Lib Tech, and Jackson’s very own Prince of Powder, Blake Paul, rides for Gnu. Both brands are subsidiaries of Washington-based board builder Mervin.
Austen Sweetin: Lib Tech Dynamo Snowboard
The Dynamo Sweetins board is the choice every day, from hardpack to hip-deep powder. A 1-inch setback and a 3-mm taper make this directional shape powerful yet still suitable for the landing switch.
C3 Camber tucks a rocker bag between his feet that helps Sweetin find the sweet spot as he surfs through Jackson Hole’s lush blowers.
Blake Paul: Gnu Hyperkyarve Snowboard
Paul started riding this directional freeride board a few years ago and never took it off. He liked it so much that Gnu made it his pro model.
It has stiffened a bit over the years, but Gnu still rates it a 5 out of 10 on the stiffness scale. Paul appreciates a softer club than many of the riders on the Natural Selection Tour: it’s quite slim and has a smooth, nimble riding style.
Pronounced rocker supplies float, and a directional freeride outline with a moon tail suggests that Paul might be closer to throwing 720s than 540s in a potentially bottomless finale.
Ben Ferguson during qualifying on day one; Photo credit: Tim Zimmerman / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool.
Ben Ferguson vs. Sage Kotsenburg
This matchup is natural talent versus pure grain. Ben Ferguson, a Burton team rider from Bend, Oregon, has arguably the best method in natural selection. And Sage Kotsenburg, the die-hard Olympic gold medalist from Utah, has arguably the deepest bag of tricks.
Ben Ferguson: Burton Family Tree Hometown Heroes Snowboard
Ferguson is known to ride a – and tear Burton Custom, but given the deep conditions in Jackson, he rides Burton’s Family Tree Hometown Hero. This directional twin can throw in powder, change country and jump to the moon – as Ferguson has repeatedly shown.
Sage Kotsenburg: K2 Manifest Team Snowboard
Kotsenburg often drives the futuristic K2 Alchemist in powder, but decided on the first day of the competition for the Manifest Team. With its twin form, the snappy, spin-savvy Manifest Team is an all-mountain aerialist.
Thanks to the gentle “tweakened” rocker profile of K2, catch-free, flowing curves are also possible. (The 2021 Manifesto Team Board has the same basic template as that already radical manifesto.)
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Mark McMorris versus Travis Rice
This quarter-final is arguably the most anticipated matchup of the event. Canadian Slopestyle King Mark McMorris and Natural Selection Maestro and Backcountry Freestyle GOAT Travis Rice have both been dominant in their disciplines for the past decade (in Rice’s case, you can go on for a few more years).
Mark McMorris: Burton Family Tree Hometown Heroes Snowboard
McMorris’ pro model, the Process, is park tuned rather than powder, though it comes in both a hardpack ripping camber version and a gentler, livelier Flying V rocker version. Like his teammate Ben Ferguson, however, he opts for the Hometown Hero at Natural Selection.
Travis Rice: Lib Tech Golden Orca Snowboard
A hybrid between Rice’s big mountain destroyer, the Gold memberand its cult classic Orca, the Golden Orca, is an inch or three shorter than your regular freeride board.
It is wider than the Goldmember, but narrower than the Orca. The nose is orca-like, but the stern has been redesigned and is more of a landing pad.
I happened to be testing the Golden Orca on Friday. While the 157 I’ve ridden doesn’t have the buoyancy of my 153 Orca, it’s much better at landing and riding.
Pat Moore vs. Mikkel Bang
This matchup is another one that snowboard fans never expected, but can’t wait to see it go down. Mikkel Bang, a longtime Burton professional and star of the brand new film “One World” holds back quite a bit.
Nevertheless, he is considered to be one of the most stylish and naturally gifted riders there has ever been – using the example of the Switch Backside 540 on the first day of the tour.
He’ll face Pat Moore, East Coast pride and a backcountry security advocate who laced 720s in a row in the best run of the event yet.
Pat Moore: K2 Manifest Team Snowboard
Like K2 comrade Kotsenburg, Moore rides the manifest team. He has a quiver of manifestos and chooses between 159, 162 and 160.
Mikkel Bang: Burton Custom Snowboard
Bang is not afraid of driving on a large board. He’s gauging his custom for Float, especially in conditions like we saw them in Jackson this week. This extra length increases buoyancy.
Thankfully, Bang is a strong rider who can make the most of the pop and switch abilities of this all-mountain favorite.
Pat Moore during qualifying on day one; Photo credit: Chris Wellhausen / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool.
Women’s semi-final matchups
Elena Hight versus Marion Haerty
Tahoe ripper Elena Hight recently made the transition from SuperPipe to Powder, a journey she has been part of TGR’s “Blank Canvas” film. The French freerider Marion Haerty, on the other hand, has three Freeride World Tour titles under her belt and is no stranger to big mountain riding.
Hight will try to differentiate itself with freestyle flair, while Haerty will focus on flow and line choice.
Elena Hight: Jones women’s flagship snowboard
The Women’s Flagship is a stiff, powerful, freeride-focused board with a contoured base that allows effortless swimming and turning in powder.
Despite the recessed stance and decent taper, it can still stomp tricks – and switch, too. This board is the basis for Jones’ bestseller Solution splitboardwho have favourited Hight rides as she explores the backcountry.
Marion Haerty: Rossignol After Hours Snowboard
Rossignol built Haerty’s new Pro model, the After Hours, to pursue the Freeride World Tour podium places. Urethane strips help transfer energy to the sidewalls and hold edges in place in icy terrain, although Haerty will mainly rely on the generous nose of this big mountain blade to find its way through the final day.
Elena Hight during qualifying on day one; Photo credit: Dean Blotto Gray / Natural Selection Tour / Red Bull Content Pool.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott versus Hana Beaman
Up-and-coming New Zealander Zoi Sadowski-Synnott exploded on the scene when she took bronze at the Big Air at the 2018 Winter Olympics and won multiple medals at the X Games. (Sadowski-Synnott won one of the two wild card spots ride in the tour.)
After her own successful career in competition, Hana Beaman became a legend in the backcountry with a catalog of video parts and film projects.
This matchup is a fresh challenger against established OG – and it’s not to be missed.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott: Burton pedigree hometown hero snowboard
Like McMorris and Ferguson, Sadowski-Synnott rides the unisex Burton Hometown Hero. A theme seems to be afoot here – unsurprisingly the biggest brand in snowboarding has more team riders in the finals than any other, and the Hometown Hero is by far the most popular board in the entire event.
Hana Beaman: Ride Psychocandy and Ride Warpig Snowboards
Beaman is known for making money Ride Psychocandywhich is similar to the popular men’s warpig but has a more manageable flex and a waist size that is suitable for smaller boots.
Beaman also drove stiffer Warp during her stay in Jackson Hole. These boards are both volume shifted shapes and are meant to be scaled down from your typical decks.
Natural Selection Tour: How the Finale Works
The final day begins with the quarter-finals for men and the semi-finals for women. Each driver receives two runs and each receives points. A new twist: if a win is achieved in the driver and semi-finals, the driver with the highest total score will advance.
The winner in every head-to-head fight moves on to the final. If the drivers each achieve a victory in the final, they will compete as tiebreakers in a third run.
Watch the finals on Tuesday at 9:30 am MST.
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