"This is the most I've studied since leaving high school."
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott has been on a pretty good run as of late, and we are not just talking about her snowboarding. Considering she has stood on the podium at every contest she has entered the past two seasons, it should be no shock that she ended up on top at the Natural Selection Tour Final last month in Alaska. It is a realm she is still somewhat new to compared to the amount of time spent lapping slopestyle courses, but she has become a force among the top riders of the field, learning from them and then applying it on the stage that is NST. After spending a week up in Valdez with the 22-year-old during the contest window and a few days sledding in Whistler, we caught up with her post-Natural Selection to get a download on her big AK win and what she has been up to since. – Mark Clavin
[Phone rings….] “Wifi call will be charged as per your inter…” [Phone is picked up.]
Oh. Hi, Mark.
Hello. Where are you at right now?
I’m in Whistler, still. Where are you?
Mammoth. How’s the snow?
It’s finally turned to spring. But Whistler’s closed. We just got back from a hut trip shooting splitboards with Burton.
So no more sledding this year?
No. I broke my sled. Well, it’s broken. I rode it off a cliff. But it was already acting up.
Yeah. But I was on it this time. And I jumped off. And it hit another rock.
Are you going to get another one from Natural Selection? That’s the one you won last year, right?
Well, I won another one this year for winning the Tour. I’ll ask them to give me two this time, haha. Another backup.
Are you okay?
Yeah! Haha, wait. Maybe don’t put that in the interview. Because I haven’t called them for warranty. I’m hopefully getting it on warranty. But I don’t think they’ll read that. The sled was faulty.
It’s definitely going in the interview. Did you win the full Tour last year, too?
No. Elena did. I just won Baldface. And then I came third in Alaska. I got a snowmobile for winning the Baldface stop. And then this year, the overall winner won a sled.
How many wins is this in a row for you, at contests?
Wins? I think this is two.
Oh, I guess podiums, then. Sorry.
I think 23 or 24. I don’t actually know. Someone said 23.
Do you get tired of winning?
I don’t know what you mean.
Do you get tired of being on the podium?
Not at all. It feels pretty good to stand on the steps. Just to know that you’ve worked toward something and then you get a bottle of champagne to spray… that’s pretty cool.
Where does the overall Natural Selection wins stack up against your Olympic wins and your X Games medals?
It’s pretty even, I think. As a snowboarder, Natural Selection and doing well at this comp means a lot. And every time I get to compete in it, I feel really grateful to have the opportunity. So, yeah, winning an event for Natural Selection feels pretty up there next to X Games and the Olympics.
Is this year’s contest the most you’ve ever studied to win a snowboarding event?
Yes. This is the most I’ve studied since leaving high school.
For the people that don’t know, could you explain what you had to study?
Yeah. To plan to ride a line, you look at photos of the face. We get drone videos of the drone going down and up the face, and maybe across. But you have to figure out how to get from the drop to the bottom in a way that you think is sick–and have fun with it, but also get gnarly.
And also stay safe.
Yeah. It’s just hard. Because when you drop, then you can’t see anything–any of your markers–and you have to figure out how you’re going to make your way down with all the blind rollovers and convex rolls, while descending, possibly into the abyss. You don’t know the scale of anything until you’re actually on it, which is super gnarly.
How many hours do you think you put into studying this course?
Oh, a lot. Maybe ten, fifteen, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but for someone who hasn’t studied in five years, it’s a lot.
Did you phone a friend while you were studying the course?
I actually talked to Kimmy about lines, because we ended up not getting put against each other, which was nice. And I asked advice from her, which was super sick, because she’s got a lot of experience up there. That was special.
How was the snow for finals day?
It was better than expected. We had a little bit of a wind event the day we were meant to scope the venue, so it meant we couldn’t fly and go look at it. And then, when we did go look at it, the conditions were pretty variable, wind scoured, and maybe wind loaded in some spots. So we waited a couple more days and knew the conditions were going to be variable, which changes your approach and how confident you are going into a run, and just how much you can descend it.
If you had to snowmobile into that zone, do you think you would’ve gotten there and/or still won?
It depends. I think if you were with me, I wouldn’t make it! But no, I don’t think I would’ve been able to navigate getting to the zone. It’s pretty far out there.
When you’re dropping, how’s the drone noise? Can you hear it? Or does it fade away? Or is that just the new standard for contests?
No. You drown it out and forget it’s even there…until you crash. And then, it’s suddenly the only thing you can hear or think about, like someone watching you.
Which venue did you like better in Alaska, semis or finals?
I think I like the finals venue the best because the snow was better. And after riding the semis, you could trust the snow a little bit more. But honestly, I really like the boys’ semis venue. Watching that looked super fun.
You took a midday nap before finals, right?
You think that benefited your riding?
Yeah. Well, honestly, I didn’t think I rode super good in semis, and I was a little bit bummed on myself because I think I approached it the wrong way going into semis–only just scraped through, so I needed to reevaluate. The adrenaline come-down after dropping into an Alaska line is crazy. So, I needed to reset and think about what I wanted to do for finals.
Was this year tougher than last year with the course and venue, and all that?
Well, last year we were camping on the glacier, which threw a spinner in the works for me. You also gain a little bit of experience every time you get to ride up there. So not exactly sure on which year was tougher, but it all has the name and the prestige for a reason. It’s so gnarly and the mountains are so big. There’s so much that can go wrong, but you could also have the best run of your life every time. So yeah, not exactly sure!
What was your overall review of Valdez?
Alaska looks like a massive New Zealand to me–with way more snow, I reckon. I love Valdez. I really enjoyed the Fat Mermaid. I think the hamburger there, with bacon on it, was the best thing I had all week. Valdez is super sick.
How was it riding with your fellow competitors, Kimmy, Hailey, and Elena, up in AK?
It was sick riding with those girls, because each and every one of them is such an amazing snowboarder in their own way. And getting to ride with Kimmy again meant so much to me because I’ve looked up to her for so long. We’ve been teammates for a while, but never really gotten to ride together. I’m stoked that we didn’t have to compete against each other. Because, yeah, she rode so good, and I’m so stoked for her.
You’re ticking off a ton of accomplishments. You have golds and overall wins at most of the major stuff. What’s next for you?
For me, I love competing. I love doing X Games and I love doing Natural Selection. So yeah, just keep doing that and try to keep progressing and learning new tricks, but also try balance that with spending more time in the backcountry and getting out sledding. I filmed a little bit this year for a project for Burton that’s coming out later in the year. So yeah, I’ll be stoked when that comes out. And I don’t know, just snowboard. You know?
Alright, that’s all I had. Congrats again!