Last week was all about the conditions. With riders all falling after one another on the soft walls of the pipe into the slushy flat-bottom, how could it not be about the conditions? Well this week is completely different. In action sports, the only competition that should ever matter is the one where the riders push each other to do more and elevate their sport. Unfortunately, we’ve added a score to their runs and a difficulty factor for their tricks. Sure, these athletes can say that it’s always fun to ride the hill with their buddies, but lets be real, these guys (and girls) are just as competitive as any other athlete you’ll meet if not more so. And despite what it may look like sometimes, every rider on there has a game plan down to which run they will ride, what line they’re on, and how many tricks they’ll hit. It’s all about the end game: how to get the highest score.
So what do you get when you place a ton of weight on minute details of a run or a particular trick? You get a rigid focus on sports that often have “freestyle” in the names. This is also known as the eventual death of freestyle anything. Sure that may be jumping a bit, but when you place too much focus on the details, riders get robbed. Just ask, Joe Parsons how he felt when he was robbed a higher spot on the podium when he landed the first ever “gator hater,” solely because Bodin went off the 100ft gap. The thing about “first times” is, though, they only happen once. Okay, so maybe a 100ft gap isn’t really a minute detail, but the message is the same. You can’t elevate action sports without progression and progression can’t happen with when winners and losers are decided based on things like hand placement on a board or ski during a grab. So how do you ensure the type of competition that allows riders just to ride? You get Travis Rice, Red Bull sponsorship and call it “Ultra Natural.”
First runs went down fine, but then the clouds rolled in, killing the light and hardening the snow. With Scary Cherry being a steep 45-degree face, riders were going faster and farther down slope than they anticipated. Add low visibility to the mix and it is a recipe for some spectacular crashes. Due to this, Rice, who is often known as king in the land of perfectionists, was visibly bummed out by the conditions in which his friends had to ride at the end — to the point of wondering aloud at the end of it all if it could even be considered a success.
He should know though that this event will always be a success, because of the fact that it happens at all. Setting up a venue for the world to see this side of snowboarding is such an incredible gift that Rice has given us. He has created a run that is as close to something like surfing that snowboarding is ever going to get. In surfing no two waves will ever be alike, so there is always an element of chaos that allow a surfer to have complete freedom in the water. Well just like in the water, there are tons of ways to ride down the Ultra Natural run. And if you add in the weather and snow conditions will change from year to year, no two contests will ever be alike.
The Ultra Natural is an event that gives the best snowboarders in the world a canvas and asks them just to go ride the hill. Every rider has a different style, a different way of looking at a mountain and deciding how best to ride down. Snowboarders like Rüf and Müller are so light of frame that they just play, effortlessly popping off little features. Riders like Debari like to pick the biggest features on the course they can find and just send it. Both are completely different ways of getting down a mountain, and are equally as fascinating to watch.
Because style is such a subjective thing that is almost impossible to judge, legendary style masters Peter Line and Jamie Lynn were brought in to join Andy Hetzel and Temple Cummins and Tom Burt in the judging tower. Because of this, almost every rider threw a method not because they talked about it before hand, but just because, individually, it seemed like the right thing to do. That is what snowboarding should be about.
Be sure to check out how all the action went down at Red Bull Ultra Natural airing March 30 at 1:30 p.m. on NBC.