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Snowboarder Travis Rice's Theory of Evolution
A world-class rider brings the sport back to its backcountry roots.
Text by Lucas Pollock
   Photograph courtesy Scott Sullivan

Photo: Snowboarder Travis Rice

Snowboarder Travis Rice both conceived and won Jackson Hole's
Natural Selection, the first backcountry snowboarding contest in the U.S.

February 25, 2008
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Atop of a giant tower of scaffolding covered with fake snow, plastic sheeting, and neon advertisements somewhere in Japan … or maybe it was Europe, snowboarder Travis Rice had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity: This was not how the public should see his passion.

"You just drop in straight, chuck your carcass as far as you can, land, and that's kind of it," says the 25-year-old Jackson Hole native. And while Rice, one of the world's top snowboarders having won X-Games gold and multiple U.S. Open medals, is well aware of the fact that these events pay his bills, he fears something very important may be lost in the process. "A lot of these contests are entirely on these man-made parks." said Rice. 

Earlier this month Rice, along with his sponsor Quiksilver, launched the antidote–Natural Selection, a progressive invitational in Jackson Hole. On the heels of the X-Games, the contest featured 17 top riders in two venues of entirely natural, backcountry-style terrain. Some of Rice's peers claim this event will change the face of competitive snowboarding forever, reforming the pro tour in a more organic direction. Others just call it a chance to ride competitively in the style of their choice–just as they would on a "pow' day" with their friends. All told, the two-day event (within a seven-day holding period) represents an evolution in the sport and a movement on by its leaders.

Adventure caught up with Rice in his Jackson home the day before the contest to hear his thoughts on everything from LEED certified buildings to Natural Selection in snowboarding.

Many board sports, which have gotten incredibly commercialized, seem to share an undercurrent of people working to restore their simple roots. Does Natural Selection fall into this movement?
Travis Rice: You know, there's a lot of symmetry between what we're trying to do and what pro surfing went through making its 'dream tour.' About 15 years ago Quiksilver put on the first surf contest with a holding period. Before that, people said, "Even if the waves are only knee-high, we're still going to run the contest." And now you see some of the tour stops from around the world and they're all in epic conditions where the surfing just excels. There's a lot of symmetry there with what we're trying to do.

So what about the pro life made you want to push things in this direction?
There's such a duality to what I do in snowboarding. There's the contest scene, which is usually groomed stuff–halfpipes, a good park, or quarterpipes. It's actually kind of abusive after a while. Then there's the film scene, which is the complete travel, exploration side of my job. You're deep back in the wilderness with the greatest natural terrain you can find. That's what I'm passionate about in snowboarding. So, out of those elements came the idea for Natural Selection. Why couldn't we have a completely revolutionary contest and hold it in the kind of environment that all of us love? 

Can you tell us about the course?
The contest is meant to embody natural riding at a resort with a backcountry element to it as well. To do well in this contest, you have to have pretty serious all-around skill. It's broken up into two venues. One of them is kind of like a natural slopestyle; 2,500 feet [762 meters] down this run called Dick's Ditch. It's kind of a tight gully filled with all kinds of hips and natural features. We kind of let the lay of the land speak to us in designing it.

Was it fun designing a course on terrain you grew up riding?
Absolutely. I've had the idea in the back of my head for some time. But working through it over the past year, I've probably hired 40 people I know here in Jackson to help out with the course. The mountain's ecstatic; the whole community is completely backing the event. Really, Jackson is just such a powerful mountain and this contest really stays true to its roots. When I was able to bring in Quiksilver and all of the true logistics needed to do this, we were able to communicate the fact that this contest was really something that held true to their ideals at the same time. 

Having grown up in Jackson, do you feel like you have a different perspective on snowboarding and being in the mountains than other pros?
I think there's definitely an enlightened few–and probably most of them are actually at this contest–that shares a similar love for backcountry. Quiksilver was a great partner for this contest. The company is really surf and mountain culture-oriented and very eco-aware. A lot of contests on the pro circuit spend hundreds and hundreds of hours of Cat time just pushing around the snow. For this contest, we didn't use a single minute for any of the course construction.

What are you hoping Natural Selection will show people about snowboarding and the state of competitive snowboarding?
It's been my latest big push to change people's ideals and open up their minds to the possibilities. We can actually hold contests in more natural environments. People watch snowboarding movies to see some of the best riders on great terrain. That's where you see progression in snowboarding. I think this contest is going to show the world that there's more to snowboarding than chucking 900's in a park. I would just love to show people how much fun snowboarding can be and help them to go seek it out. You don't have to have baggy pants or be a king of the park to be legit. Just go out and enjoy yourself.

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