Difficulties, Drama, the and Overall Radness From Natural Selection Revelstoke 2024

Dustin Craven, in terrain that would never get a blue rating. Photo: Tom Monterosso//Natural Selection

The Inertia

Truth be told, I wouldn’t wish organizing a snowboard contest on my worst enemy. At least not one of this level, with millions of dollars, millions of viewers and millions of things that can go wrong all wrapped up in a process that’s at the mercy of Mother Nature’s mysterious ways. I love that contests happen though. Because then we, the people, can watch them.

Yesterday broke in Revelstoke for day one of the Natural Selection Tour with almost half a foot of fresh snow and a couple layers of cloud cover that could’ve wreaked havoc on the broadcast if it weren’t burnt off by the sun. The high-noon start saw riders milling about at the base of the resort, drinking coffee, waxing boards and trying to figure out what to do with themselves. 

Friends and I rode the gondola with Nils Mindnich, who got his ticket punched to Revelstoke after trouncing Victor Daviet in their duel. He was chatty, gracious and calm, giving off the air of a man about to do well against the world’s best snowboarders. Nils said he was up to do a couple “cruisers” before heading over to the venue just south of the resort. Later reports from a chairlift bystander indicated that said “cruisers” involved stomping a series of 720s and cab 540s in the terrain park.

I suppose we’ve all got our routines.

We made our way to the venue, a north-facing knuckle of gnar peppered with trees, pillows and man-made kickers. The mood was low when we arrived, because an avalanche had ripped through the entire east half of the course. Ski patrol triggered the beast with explosives that morning, so no one was involved. Better to have it before the event than during, but the slide set the tone for a day that would prove challenging for the NST crew. Not to mention the curveball it threw at all the riders who picked lines on that side of the course.

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If you’re reading this, you probably watched the broadcast too, so I’ll spare you some of the who-beat-whom and who-hucked-their-meat-off-what. I’m actually watching the replay as I write this, because there’s only so much you can see from the bottom of the course.

One thing that really set this comp apart from last year’s was the crowd at the bottom. There were just a select few of us gathered at the bottom of Boulder Park in 2023, and our applause was almost entirely absorbed by the deafening backcountry silence. This year’s crowd was a whole other story, with the local shred community able to make its way over to the base of Montana Bowl where applause could be showered  upon much-deserving riders.

There was a motley crew of spectators on hand to support their boy Dustin Craven as he dropped into the course that he’d worked so hard to enhance. His chosen line had never been done, largely in part due to a few gatekeeping trees that Craven and the crew managed to raze off the entrance this summer. Alas it wasn’t meant to be on his first attempt and Dustin made good use of his CCM Hockey Helmet as he ragdolled out the bottom of the line. Round Two went better and the crowd – especially Revy’s Wasted Youth Crew – lost their collective sh*t when Dustin rode away clean from the spine.

It wasn’t enough to get past Sage Kostenburg, whose backside 360 will live in NST Highlight Reels forever (and also helped him walk away with a brand new Skidoo). This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think it’s almost more entertaining when Dustin gets knocked out of the contest early and he goes into full chirp mode, reminding all within earshot that snowboarding, at its core, isn’t always made for mainstream TV.

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose as long as everyone thinks you’re a total psycho,” he said after his run.

With McMorris, Craven, Rasman and Van Gyn all being knocked out over the course of the day, it was a treat to see Whistler’s Mikey Ciccarelli – the field’s most stylish underdog – come through for Canada, taking out Blake Paul on his way to the finals.

“I wanted it!” said Mikey, electric in the finish corral after the fact. “Blake’s such a good rider and always stays on his feet, so I knew it was going to be a battle. He’s looking really nice out there, so I was just ecstatic when I landed that last front three.”

The Women’s field showcased four upsets in four heats, with four former NST champions bested by their opponents. Tour newcomer Mary Rand put in a solid performance over Hana Beaman, and didn’t stop smiling the whole damn time. But I think that Hana could’ve crushed the whole field were it not for the avalanche debris at the bottom of the east side of the venue. She was the first of the entire field to commit to that side of the course.

But it’s hard to say, because Hailey Langland absolutely flashed the course from top to bottom, earning herself the highest run score of the day for the women and a brand new snowmobile. France’s Marion Haerty – who won the Freeride World Tour three years in a row – took out NST veteran Robin Van Gyn in a close heat that ultimately rewarded Haerty’s spicy line choices.

It was a call with which not everyone in the finish corral agreed, though the applause-ometer (which only works on the bottom half of the course) would suggest that maybe the judges got it right.

After all that, it was time for the second men’s quarterfinals, with the eight remaining riders forced to pick lines through the scraps of those that had come before. That didn’t deter Jared Elston, the boarder from Bend who looks like he’d be as home tackling quarterbacks as he is crushing pillow stacks.

Craven whispered a few sweet nothings in his ear before (and after) his second run, and Jared stepped to Craven’s spine line, stomping it with ease.

Tom Monterosso/Natural Selection

Travis Rice and Red Gerard patiently waiting for score. Photo: Colin Wiseman//Natural Selection

The heat between Mikkel Bang and Nils Mindnich was the first proper battle on the spicier, east side of the course. But it was Nils – the man with the dad moustache – who came out on top over the handsome Norwegian. 

I didn’t want to jinx him when I saw him in the gondola, but Nils was my sneaky peak for the day.

“Good job, but from now on we are enemies,” joked Mikkel to Nils as he ambled almost happily out of the corral to crush beers with Craven.

The battle between Torgeir Bergrem and Kevin Backstrom was kinda low key, even though it showcased some of the day’s strongest riding. Backstrom’s butters over the knuckle at the bottom of the course would’ve gone down in history had the landings been cleaner, but Bergrem proved unshakeable in every style of terrain that the venue had to offer.

And then it was time for the most divisive battle of the day. Red Gerard versus Travis Rice. The drama that unfolded over the course of this heat is why, like I said at the beginning, I wouldn’t wish organizing a contest of this magnitude on anyone. The live feed fell apart and, depending on who you talk to, maybe the judging did too.

“Yeah that was probably the longest I’ve ever waited for a score,” said Red after the fact. “I’ve been a part of some long waits before, but yeah it kinda just came down to the end. Me and Travis landed both of our runs and it was pretty neck-and-neck, but he beat me in the first one and we tied on the second one, so he took it.”

“It’s alright,” he went on, taking it all in stride. “I was just happy to come out here and put down two clean runs but yeah that was a rematch and he took it again and now he’s two for two, that jerk. Haha, nahhh. It’s all good though.”

One of the strangest parts of the day, and a first in NST history is that the battles we witnessed didn’t declare a victor, only 12 finalists who – at time of writing – are probably all sh*tting their pants on the heli ride into the backcountry finals venue. There’s a heat wave coming, so instead of having a day to decompress, the finals are kicking off a mere 14-ish hours after the quarters and semis wrapped around 6:15 PST last night.

And now we, the people, will have to wait until those finals are streamed “as live” April 4 on RedBullTV.

Think how much arguing we can do on the internet in the meantime!


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