Zoi Sadowski-Synott and Travis Rice Win Gnarliest Natural Selection Event Ever
The white dust has now settled on Boulder Park, a gnarly patch of terrain in the Canadian wilderness outside of Revelstoke that Natural Selection athletes call their spookiest spot yet. By all accounts, the face had never been ridden before. The entire competition day served as a collective first descent.
The runs were watched almost in silence by the small crew of organizers, media and other athletes at the bottom of the course, while the riders weaved their way through the spiked-cushion headwall at the bottom of the venue. Only when they safely entered the corral was everyone able to relax and give the well-deserved round of applause.
“Alaska will look so relaxed afterwards,” said defending champion Elena Hight after being defeated by New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synott in the women’s final.
Of course, this victory was not an easy task for Zoi. On her first run, Elena glided smoothly through the playful portion of the course, then weaved her way onto one of the more technical lines of the day: an ugly little bunch of pillow stacks guarded by an ice fall at the entrance.
But Zoi clinched the win by charging through the mega gnar with her signature flow in the second half of the course and using her freestyle skills in the upper part of the course.
“To be honest, I was pretty nervous because I didn’t have much experience with cushion riding,” says Zoi. “I was just glad to have made it down in one piece.”
The best part? It was her birthday.
Boulder Park has a sort of party-at-the-top, business-at-the-bottom vibe.
“It’s basically the pow run of your life into the scariest run of your life,” said Dustin Craven.
“And just to put it in perspective,” added Rice, the Revelstoke Champion. “This venue is 4.5 times the size of the Jackson venue.”
Craven, the local favorite, was eliminated in the semifinals by T. Rice with a tough call. Rice’s run was ultimately rewarded for his technique, which not everyone (particularly angry Canadians on the internet) agreed with. But Craven said goodbye in class and seemed happy enough to hang at the end of the course and disrupt Travis ahead of his final against Blake Paul.
Someone shouted, “C’mon Blake, take it home,” before the two powered up for their finale.
“He’s just a man!” adds Craven.
But that’s really up for debate, because the crux of Travis’ next run was the culmination of what Boulder Park was all about: redefining the word “ridability” with a 360-degree back as a bonus. The jury awarded him a 90.8, the highest score of the day.
“I think Craven and my semifinals could have gone either way,” Travis said afterwards. “That must have been a really tough decision for the judges and I feel like Dustin would smear that line I drew in the finals so I felt like I owed him that.”
Blake Paul made it to the finals against Rice by flowing top-down and making the boulder park look easy, which is a testament to the technical skill behind his effortless style.
Travis’ lines, on the other hand, didn’t look easy. He went pillowless, smashing the stacks with such ferocity that van-sized chunks of snow rolled down the slope beside him whenever he left his lines.
Earlier in the day, Travis had picked lines he wasn’t sure were possible.
“If I’m putting a run together and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I know I have that,’ then I’m not trying hard enough,” he said in an interview the night before the race. “I’m ruthlessly confident that I can do it, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Now that competition day is behind us, we know how it went. Nature called the day and the mountains crowned two champions. But the biggest takeaway is that 12 riders completed 40 runs on the gnarliest spot in NST history and all escaped unscathed.
“Everyone is healthy and everyone is excited. I think that’s the ultimate win,” Rice said. “Big thanks to all the drivers who behaved so professionally on the big, wild, critical and dangerous Megaface.”
And kudos to the Selkirk Tangiers security team too. They’ve been controlling this wall and the overhead hazard around it since December and have it in perfect shape for the contest. Not to mention the tech crew that made such a seamless transmission possible from the depths of the Revelstoke woods.
As it turns out, the mountains can be a lot less dangerous when all the people involved know what the heck they’re doing.