2023 Natural Selection Duels Match Ups Breakdown – with Updates

The window for the Natural Selection Tour’s first event of the season, NST Duels, is a go and in North America all over the West, Mother Nature has set the stage with a seemingly never-ending storm cycle from BC to Utah and everywhere in between. Some of the duos are already together, sussing out terrain and planning their attack (Kimmy Fasani and Darrah-Reid McLean kicked things off at Mammoth immediately), but NST is letting out the pairings one per day, keeping us guessing and also causing schisms in the snowboarding-logic continuum with the match ups that have already been set (Ferg against Nils, really? Big Air Jare verses Gigi? How have we even arrived at this place in snowboarding?) Each match has been eye-widening in the best way possible and we expect that to continue as is there really any going to be any situation between these riders that isn’t fantasy-league worthy and a definite heartbreaker when only one person can advance?

With a heap of anticipation toward the Duels videos coming out in early February, we’ll be updating the list of rider pairings and locations as the information comes out. Here’s what we know right now.

WOMEN’S DUELS (as of 1.12.23)
Kimmy Fasani vs. Darrah Reid-McLean
Elena Hight vs. Enni Rukajarvi
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott vs. Marissa Krawczak

MEN’S DUELS (as of 1.12.23)
Torstein Horgmo vs. John Jackson
Jared Elston vs. Gigi Rüf
Ben Ferguson vs. Nils Mindnich
Travis Rice vs. Red Gerard
Mark McMorris vs. Mikey Ciccarelli
Mikkel Bang vs. Ulrik Badertscher
Dustin Cravin vs. Werni Stock
Blake Paul vs. Brock Crouch

All of this is pure speculation, don’t base any bets off our thoughts–the talent vs. talent of these duels makes our heads hurt.

TORSTEIN HORGMO vs. JOHN JACKSON
location and terrain selected by: Torstein
Really? This is the first match-up you dropped, Natural Selection? As with many iterations of competition we’ve seen over the past two years of the Tour, these are two names we never thought we’d see go against one another in a competitive situation. This will be John J’s first time competing at Natural Selection–in 2021 he was a fan-selected alternate. It’s no hot take that John’s power and finesse in the backcountry is the kind of riding that is imprinted on snowboarding’s collective consciousness, so we’re eager to see how will he adapt to this contest situation. He’s going up against one of the 2022 Tour’s most successful competitors. Torstein is the archetype of the ability to remain calm and controlled under pressure, whether in a contest situation or when navigating technical terrain or consequential man-made features. Last year, he made it all the way to finals in AK only to be shut down by a fast-moving storm that squelched his last run in a battle for the ages between him and Travis. What would have happened had the weather not come in? No one can say, but we’re sure that Tor is ready for another go at things this season.

KIMMY FASANI vs. DARRAH REID-MCLEAN
location: Mammoth – selected by Kimmy

This is a really excited match up by two of snowboarding’s favorite riders–and it’s the only Duel where both the riders are new to the Tour. Kimmy Fasani is the Defender in this match up based on her seniority riding in the backcountry among the new additions to this year’s NST. (The Tour had one open spot for a Defender because Hana Beaman is taking this season off on injury leave. Don’t worry, she’s okay, just getting her knee strong for 2024.) Kimmy and Darrah met up in Mammoth as soon as the competition window opened. They’re capitalizing on the storm systems that have dumped 174 inches as of January 4th. Mammoth has plenty of exciting terrain for their Duel to take place on. Does Kimmy have home-court advantage? Of course, she is one of Mammoth’s most knowledgeable locals; she’s knows the mountain’s terrain like the back of her hand and her experience in the backcounty runs deep. Darrah is quick to adapt, though; she’s been cutting her teeth in the mountains around Whistler, which is a serious place to gain experience in the backcountry. Both riders enter the Duels with lots of momentum. Darrah has long been a force in the streets, but this fall she released her strongest backcountry footage to date. Kimmy is back on her snowboard after beating breast cancer in 2022 and is fired up to be back in the mountains. Can we just advance both of them to Revy, already?

JARED ELSTON vs. GIGI RÜF
location and terrain selected by: Jared

It’s like Natural Selection just wants to make us unhappy. Forcing an elimination of one of these riders in the first round? Seriously? What are you trying to do to us. There’s nothing good about this match up other than the fact that we’re all going to get to witness two incredible and creative snowboarders apply their unique takes on the same swath of terrain. We can’t wait to watch this, but we’re also very unhappy about the fact that someone will be eliminated. Elston came out as the dark horse in 2022 and quickly became a Tour favorite. Gigi is indisputably your favorite snowboarder’s favorite snowboarder and was the first to drop on day 1 in 2021. We are ecstatic to see him back, even though this Duels has made our heads explode.

BEN FERGUSON vs. NILS MINDNICH
location and terrain selected by: Ben

NST announced the fourth match up today and it walks the knife’s edge of excitement and gutwrenching-ness just like the others. Ben verses Nils? Are we kidding? Two style kings raised in the park and pipe who now focus on applying their flawless aesthetics to big mountain terrain are going head to head in the first round of the Tour? A Lick the Cat match up? West Coast verses East Coast upbringing? Bend vs the Wasatch? We’ve been looking forward to Nils’ triumphant return to the Tour since day 1 of Jackson in 2021, and Ben has been an artistic joy to watch at every event the past two years. Watching these two ride together/against one another on the same terrain is going to be a show. Projected Duel outcome: probably a tear in the universe of some sort.

TRAVIS RICE vs. RED GERARD
location and terrain selected by: Travis

Today, January 6th, NST dropped this doozy. Two Quiksilver teammates will go up against one another in round one and this one is classic Natty Select. The veteran verses the up-and-comer. Travis will be dictating the terrain for their Duel, which could give him an edge, but Red is so adaptable in any situation (especially in the backcountry as seen in his recent footage in Fleeting Time) and has nerves of steel when it comes to competition. Travis possesses that same iron-clad calmness in consequential situations. Could Red knock out the 2022 Tour Champion and NST creator in round 1? Will Travis’ wealth of experience and limitless abilities prevail? This is the definition of a high-caliber nail-biter. We’re stressed out.

ELENA HIGHT vs. ENNI RUKAJARVI
location and terrain selected by: Elena
Natural Selection just dropped this finals-level match up between 2022 Natural Selection Tour Champion Elena and newcomer-to-NST Enni. This is a heater! Both riders have left marks in competition: Elena is a world-class pipe rider and Enni is one of the best slopestyle riders in the world. They are both Olympians. All this boils down to the fact that both women perform exceedingly well in pressure cookers. And they both have serious backcountry chops. In addition to Elena’s 2022 Tour win, she released absolute hammer footage this past fall in Ark, further cementing her ascension into the realm of backcountry royalty. But while Enni is best known for her work in the park, her snowboarding isn’t hemmed in by the ropes. Over the past few years, she has put out a glimpses of what she is capable of when she steps into natural terrain. What will happen when they’re paired up in Elena’s pick of terrain? Elena’s home-court is setting up nicely given the amount of snow that the Sierra have been receiving lately. Will that, plus her experience on Tour, give the Tahoe-native the advantage? Or will Enni’s ability to adapt show the world what she can do in a new zone? No matter what happens, this is going to be a hell of a Duel!

MARK MCMORRIS vs. MIKEY CICCARELLI
location and terrain decided by: Mark

Mark vs. Mikey. A Canadian backcountry battle between two riders whose big mountain abilities are reinforced with slopestyle-ready bags of tricks. Mark is one of the most competent–and of course, successful–competition riders ever in snowboarding and has two years of NST experience under his vest. Mikey has plenty of comp experience too, though, and if you watched his part in Ark this fall, you’re aware of what this Ontario-born boarder is bringing to the table (spoiler if you haven’t watched Ark yet: A LOT). Will McMorris take the Duel to BC? This is an interesting component as both riders have familiarity with the area. This Duel is going to be an absolute heater between these two rippers from the Great White North.

MIKKEL BANG vs. ULRIK BADERTSCHER
location and terrain selected by: Mikkel

It’s a Norwegian head-to-head in this match up between Tour veteran Mikkel and newcomer-to-Natural-Selection Ulrik. Mikkel’s consistency and innate adaptability to both terrain and moment the past two seasons of NST has landed him in top standings, but Ulrik is a definite dark horse who will no doubt put the pressure on. Going along with every other match that has been unveiled so far, this is going to be a heater!

ZOI SADOWSKI-SYNNOTT vs. MARISSA KRAWCZAK
location and terrain selected by: Zoi

The third of four women’s match ups, Zoi verses Marissa, pits one of the most dominant competitor on the women’s side in contests in general against a backcountry ace from Bend, Oregon. Over the past two years, Natural Selection has provided an opportunity for riders to make a mark in a big and unique way, something that Zoi took advantage of in 2021 (similarly Jared Elston came out swinging in 2022). Now Marissa has the opportunity to do the same, but Zoi isn’t going to make it easy! Zoi has undoubtedly excelled the past two seasons on the Tour, but Marissa brings with her experience in the mountains and a mental toughness (see: America’s Toughest Race – Adventure Oregon) that shines when presented with a challenge. The only thing for sure is wherever Zoi selects for the Duel location is going to provide a canvas for two riders to showcase their individual creativity and finesse.

DUSTIN CRAVEN vs. WERNI STOCK
location and terrain selected by: Dustin

BLAKE PAUL vs. BROCK CROUCH
location and terrain selected by: Blake

HAILEY LANGLAND VS LEANNE PELOSI
location and terrain selected by: Leanne

This is an exciting one! (Every match up is exciting, of course.) Last year in Jackson, Leanne made the decision to pull out of competition because of her pregnancy. She announced it live on the Jackson broadcast, a momentous occasion, not only for Leanne and her partner, Jeff, personally, but for showing support for the duality of being an athlete and a mother. Now, as new mom to son Khyber, Leanne has returned to Natural Selection. In 2021, at the first NST at Baldface, Leanne won the video part portion of the event; no surprise there, as the British Columbia local is backcountry royalty who has been filming (as well as helping others to film) for years. This is her first head-to-head match up, which is a unique scenario, but her abilities, composure, and experience will undoubtedly serve her well. Of course, Hailey is also incredibly talented and is also returning to the Tour for the second time. In the Jackson Natty Select premiere in 2021, Hailey competed with a broken arm, limited her ability to ride how she wanted. In Duels, she’s undoubtedly going to be fired up. Hailey’s got a big bag of tricks with style to match, years of experience working within the pressures of competition, and she’s coming off celebrated backcountry clips (that front seven!) in Ben Ferguson’s Fleeting Time. Leanne is selecting the terrain for this Duel and regardless of what happens, we are in for a show from these two impressive boarders.

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