There’s a forcefield surrounding Travis Rice, and it intensifies when he’s up against the ropes in competition. After his second run in the semifinals at the YETI Natural Selection Revelstoke, Rice had the air of a pacing tiger in the finish corral.
Dustin Craven, on the other hand, looked like he was patiently waiting to catch a bus.
“I think sometimes when people come to the bottom there’s so much going on with the TV screen and everything, I just kinda zone out,” explains Craven. “People were telling me afterwards that Travis looked like he was upset, I honestly just wasn’t really paying attention.”
These were the moments, and the reactions contained within them, that led up to the most controversial call of the whole Natural Selection event in Revelstoke. Craven went into the second run of the semis with a one-point lead after flossing one of the cleanest runs of the day, a seamless top-to-bottom affair that — in retrospect — he might’ve made look a little too easy.
Both Rice and Craven utilized the playful, top part of the course more than the other competitors. Craven opened up his second run with a beautiful, high stakes method that looked like it was straight out of a movie part. Then he threw down a lofty frontside 360 as he flowed towards the more consequential part of the course. After that, things didn’t go exactly as planned.
“Well, I mean I didn’t nail the pillow line. I landed on the flat and stopped for five seconds,” says Craven. “That’s the hard part about the terrain here, you only get so many looks. I peeled over the pillow line and jumped probably ten degrees in the wrong direction and the next pillow was flat. If I would have been a bit more off my toes, I would’ve flowed down it the way that Travis went. To me that run was still great, I didn’t technically fall I just stopped.”
Travis’s second run in the semis showed similar gusto up top, with the kind of high-level riding that could’ve easily yielded a wipeout. He made his way to the same knuckle that Elena Hight had opened up earlier in the day and used the blind rollover at the top as an opportunity to lay out a backflip. It was hard to tell what happened within the powder cloud after he came down from the maneuver. But he wheelied out on his tail and augured into the snow for a second before regaining his momentum and connecting a filthy stack of pillows to complete his line.
An insane run, to be sure. But was it enough to beat Craven? The decision will probably keep the judges up at night (see the exchange at the 2:29 mark above). But due to the near-death with which Rice was tangoing, Travis ultimately got the nod to go into the finals against Blake Paul.
“That had to have been a really tough call for the judges,” said Rice after the fact. Canadian fans could be heard yelling through the internet in support of Craven.
And while Craven may or may not have reason to be upset about the outcome, he’s taking it all in stride.
“I’ve never been a big fan of the amount of people who complain,” he says. “For sure at the end of the season we put in our opinions and try to get things to change for the positive. But I think when we’re in it, doing the competitions, everything just unfolds and you just kinda gotta let it go and try to be the best rider you can be, because if you get caught up on the negativity, it’s easy to carry that into the next event.”
Craven, who dispatched Rice on his way to winning the Baldface stop of the tour last year, is ever-appreciative of the chance to duel with one of his heroes.
“Yeah I think at Baldface, just showing up on the days and being able to punch back against him, there was more of a level of respect,” he explains. “And that’s kinda cool to have a guy you admire, and everyone admires, who looks at you like an equal.”
“Dustin has the most experience, hands down, on this type of terrain,” explained Rice before last week’s competition. “He lives here in Revy and this is the kinda terrain he rides all the time, so he’s an absolute weapon out there.”
Indeed, Dustin was heavily favored going into the Revelstoke stop. Originally from Calgary, Alberta, the 34-year-old has spent the last six years in Revelstoke where he’s truly managed to hone his craft.
“I’m really excited to watch Travis go because in my mind he’s one of the best pillow riders in the world,” explained Dustin before the event. “And I’m trying to also be one of the best pillow riders in the world, so it’s nice to see someone you respect do it.”
Dustin filmed some with Travis early in his career, but the two riders have gotten to know each other a lot better in the last few years.
“I have a bit of crazy sarcastic sense of humor. Last year you could tell Travis wasn’t used to it so that would kinda catch him off guard and it was frustrating him a bit,” says Craven. “Now when I say something he doesn’t skip a beat, it doesn’t really seem to faze him anymore.”
“But there are very few people who chirp Travis, so I think that’s part of having fun with it all,” he adds with a laugh.
So we’ll see what happens when all 12 riders head to Alaska in the next couple weeks. With a last place finish there last year, Craven’s keen to rebate his performance. But he’ll be approaching the competition with the quick-witted, casual nature that’s come to define him.
It’s easy to get distracted by all the hullabaloo that surrounds The Natural Selection Tour. But at the end of the day, it’s only an extension of the one thing we all know and love: Snowboarding.