Helicopters, cats and snowmobiles are the modes of transportation at Baldface Lodge, in Nelson B.C., the pristine home of Red Bull’s Ultra Natural. A paradise lost, in the best kind of way and the perfect setting for the most elite snowboarders in the world to ride a course that Travis Rice, perhaps snowboarding’s greatest visionary, designed to be the best run in the world. Pillows, wood platforms, trees and powder kickers are the norm on steep “Scary Cherry.”
Ultra Natural was set up in a surf-inspired format, with weather and the riders first in mind. “We have 7 days to run this event,” said Travis. “Collectively we have some really brilliant backcountry weather minds and we knew we just had to pull the trigger Sunday morning.”
Travis invited Gigi, Nicolas, Terje, DCP, Pat Moore, Lucas Debari, Mark McMorris, Torstein Horgmo, Mikey Rencz, Eero Niemela, Bode Merrill, Jake Blauvelt, wildcards Jussi Oksanen and Bryan Fox, and Wolle Nyvelt who took Kazu’s spot. “This course is set up to be the best run in the world. Are you kidding me, we’re definitely going to take full advantage and party that thing as hard as we can,” said Rice.
On the contest day it was up to the riders to pick their line. Each of the 16 heavy hitters had 2 runs to claim the Ultra Natural title. This isn’t X Games. No crowds, no chaos, just pure, Ultra Natural terrain to be shred. And Jamie Lynn, Peter Line, Temple Cummins, Andy Hetzel, Sandy MacDonald and Tom Burt in the judges seat. No pressure!
Prior to the competition I asked Peter Line for his judge-mental perspective on what it takes to claim the Ultra Natural win. “I have my own theory of who’s going to be the best,” said Peter. “There needs to be some mandatory straight airs, a mandatory method, and obviously creativity is the biggest thing. Amplitude, chuckiness and probably to land is pretty good too.”
Standing at the top of the course while the best riders in the world pick the heaviest lines is surreal. The sound of the chopper flying overhead to film as riders got the countdown of when they were supposed to drop, and exquisite views everywhere the eye could see. The guys rode hard and when all was said and done it was Gigi’s day. I definitely got lucky,” said Gigi. “I don’t really consider myself a ‘winner,’ I believe in luck and coincidence. My friend told me about a great quote that says a winner doesn’t need luck, but I believe there was a little bit of luck involved today just because of how Mother Nature played out and how she played into my vision.”
“We gamble with mother nature, “ adds Rice. “She giveth and she takeith away.” Ultra Natural was graced with blue skies up until mid-way through the second runs, then visibility became an issue. “It’s a contest, everyone has to ride the same conditions and that’s the beauty of it,” says Rice. “Everyone rode really incredible, but because of tough visuals I was a little heartbroken just because I know what the capabilities of everyone here is. Not to put a negative spin on it, but I know that with the right light and good snow 80% of the people would be stomping the entire run.”
Travis concludes, “I feel that the level of riding was much higher than last year. I feel the course was much better than last year. And I just really look forward to another successful year here. This event continues to propel itself into the future with incredible inertia and support from the entire snowboarding community.”
Props to all the guys who threw down at Ultra Natural. Thanks Travis for all you do for snowboarding… We love your work!
Ultra Natural Highlights: Travis Rice breaks it down
“Debari stepping to the King Kong pillow top. He didn’t land it clean, but I don’t know in these current snow conditions if it was even possible to land it clean. You need 3 feet of blower in order to land that drop. But the fact that he lined it up, tapped it perfectly with the last foot and a half of his board on that pillow. The guy is such a mentally strong rider and the precision it takes to do that… he’s one of maybe 2 or 3 dudes that probably could have done that today. That was incredible.”
“Terje’s first run made me want to cry. It was so epic! A little heartbreaking with the fall on the back 3, but I mean Haakonsen came in 4th today… Are you fucking kidding me? His whole run was incredible.”
“Gigi’s first line, the line that he won with, that kind of sky bridge feature that he hit, you can hit tranny on that if you take it really small and go to the right. And he hit it fast and aired out super deep, I mean he aired 60, 70 feet off the end of that, landed and because he’s Gigi, he stomped it and actually made it through the rest of his run, including a backside 180 that if you were to bring a tape measure out it probably would have been in the 200ft range. His whole run was totally incredible.”
“Pat Moore’s first run made me want to cry too because he destroyed it. That was a winning run he had and he knuckled out. Pat Moore dropping first was able to set the tone, set the bar for everyone with that run. That was a very high point for me, for sure.”
“Mikey Rencz had a front 3 tap on the tree pillow at the bottom that was incredible.
That was awesome.“
“Mark McMorris! That kid is legendary. I fucking love that kid!
His main inspiration for winning X Games slopestyle was to make it back to this contest. That alone is incredible. The fact that he came back and he made top 8 and he’s a got a ticket back next year and doesn’t have to go and win X Games again. He probably will anyways, but I think that was pretty incredible. Torstein too, man. Torstein stepped up. His second run, from his 1st back 3 into it, those guys are really incredibly good. I’m happy they’re able to get out and ride a course like this because inevitably they’re going to get sucked to the dark side, but really it’s the opposite, brought into the light. Those guys are killing it.”