words :: Ben Osborne
If there is one quality that most people can agree on about Travis Rice, whether they’ve known him for a day or a lifetime, is his innate ability to execute. Known for his machine-like work ethic when it comes to backcountry shoots, producing ground-breaking films, and attracting sponsors, Rice’s work in the snowboard industry—and the outdoor industry in general—is second to none.
So, a few weeks ago, when Rice announced a test event dubbed “Natural Selection”, the outdoor industry collectively craned its neck in the direction of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A test for what?
If you’ve been following Rice for the past fifteen years, the name of the event—Natural Selection—likely triggered memories of the original event, the Quiksilver Natural Selection hosted at Jackson Hole in 2008. In the following years, Rice and his team hosted Red Bull Supernatural & Red Bull Ultra Natural. After a successful run of one-off events, Rice wants to put together a full tour—and he’s brought on help to make it all happen.
Alongside co-founders Liam Griffin and Carter Westfall, during the 2020-2021 winter season the team will host a Natural Selection Tour with stops in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, British Columbia, and Todrillo Mountain Lodge, Alaska.
While Rice and Griffin have had past success with one-off events in the past, the goal for the Natural Selection Tour is to take the competition format a step further, helping to foster growth in the freeride movement, and at the same time create a place for the ski and snowboard industry to nurture its own collective consciousness. To assist with making this a reality, Griffin and Rice have brought on help from the outside in the form of CEO Carter Westfall.
With an international sports business background that includes Olympic Games sponsorship consulting and NBA global business development, the team is better equipped than in the past to make the events a reality—and their goals are bigger than ever.
“The vision is two-fold”, explains Westfall. “One is to create a competition tour that best represents snowboarding. The other is to make mother nature the main character and to celebrate and utilize these amazing mountains we have around the planet.”
With the ability of new camera technology, Travis’s unmatched experience executing in harsh environments, and Westfall’s experience on the business side, the Tour is well set up to succeed—but will the fans support it? While freeriding is on the rise, events like the X Games, US Open, and more seem to take up a lot of space in the realm of competitive snowboarding.
But Westfall and Rice believe they’ve built something people will rally around, regardless of their affliction for sliding sideways. “Kids are more inclined to go into freeriding over park and pipe—and there are numbers that support that. By creating the Natural Selection Tour, we are hoping it will serve as a catalyst for the freeride movement”, says Westfall.
Along with a growing interest in the freeride movement, the team believes that advancement and innovative use of technology will allow the team to deliver a product that attracts much more than just the snowboard world. As evidenced in the test event, the team’s usage of follow cam drones allows for a more immersive experience—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
With a combination of Rice’s snowboard filming experience, Griffin’s event planning, Westfall’s business background and perfectly scouted and curated venues, the team believes that the entire Tour will be much more than a competition, or a three-stop tour. For Rice, the Tour is meant to be a flagpole to broadcast a higher message.
That higher message revolves around the natural beauty of the competition venues, and how we can continue to protect those places. By broadcasting them to the masses, Rice hopes to bring awareness and education in a way similar to another competition circuit.
The World Surf League, surfing’s competition tour, is well known for its giving to charitable causes and ability to attract huge crowds—and that’s not the only way that Rice and Westfall see it as a tour to model theirs after. As surfing has grown over the past decades, the league has entrenched itself in communities around the world. By holding weeklong events around the competitions, the WSL has increased their ability to have a tangible impact on the communities they are involved with.
With a long-standing tour and dedicated following, the WSL has cemented themselves as the voice for the surfing world—and whether you agree with competitive surfing or not, the presence of a platform for the surf community to be able to send their message to the masses is an important thing. So, Rice is hoping his tour can step and take that position for the world of snow sports. If the Natural Selection Tour can land their message in the right communities alongside events that attract masses, Rice and his team have a real opportunity to do the same.
Another competition circuit that the trio hope they can learn from is the Freeride World Tour. While it might seem like Natural Selection would be a direct competition to the Freeride World Tour, the hope is that the two can coexist—and possibly even feed into one another.
“We’re creating something that will complement the FWT.”, says Westfall. “We’re complementing the Dew Tour, the Olympic discipline, and so on—it’s all kind of a rising tide”
If what Rice and Westfall believe about the growth of the freeride snowboard scene is true, then they’re certainly right—the more places for riders to make a name for themselves, the better for the entire industry.
For now, the Tour will hold their first three stops starting in January 2021 with a group of hand-picked riders along with a few avenues of qualification that are not yet decided on. With the test event proving the riders are behind the concept and the continued workmanlike efforts of Rice, Natural Selection could become a staple in the snow sports world—and if Rice has his way, hopefully far beyond. —ML