The high, the buzz, the abject thrill of Natural Selection Day 1 has finally worn off and life at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has returned to a semblance of normal. Snow falling lightly outside, Saturday lift lines stretching far too long, grown men from Tennessee on a “boys trip” filling them out.
Professional snowboarders either getting massages, resting their legs or out on the mountain with Shaun White and his opalescent puffy jacket, making turns, having easy fun.
Day 2 will happen Monday, I believe, or maybe it’s Tuesday and then spirits will soar again, hearts will race, emotions will fire but, today, conserving energy is important.
My young daughter, understanding days off implicitly and being forced to endure a long bar session, stretching deep into the prior night with legendary snowboard journalist Stan Leveille whose Christian name is not actually Stan, was happy for the rest and an early lunch.
I discovered Stan’s Christian name was not “Stan” by digging through his wallet when he left the high top table. Surf journalism is a cutthroat business and I don’t know if snowboard journalists are as hardened or dirty. His name is Kyle, I believe, or maybe it’s Gregory.
In any case, my young daughter was tired and happy to only do one quick pow run then play with her new young friends who happen to belong to Ken Block, the world’s greatest car driver, on the mountain too.
You have certainly seen his smash-hit Gymkhana videos or maybe even caught one of his rally races.
This surf journalist, still enthralled with fluff and jive immediately returned to those long lift lines after lunch, leaving her with the Blocks, and now I have not seen her for hours. Their theoretical plans included hot tubbing and ice-skating but I fear they may have commandeered a Ford F-150 RaptorTrax and are burning hot laps through the Teton Village.
Really ripping one.
I have absolutely no grounding in moto culture. No ability whatsoever. I recently replaced the windshield wipers of my simple Toyota Tacoma and left the plastic coverings on them for an entire 2000+ mile previous journey, over New Year’s, to Jackson Hole through rain, sleet and snow, cursing their ineffectiveness.
If my young daughter enters this moto life, I will be of no value to her.
I head to the same bar, same table, as the prior night to wait. Worry building. Nothing on my phone. Not a text or call from the Blocks.
Did they get their hands on the Ford Mustang Hoonicorn RTR V2?
The star of Gymkhana 5 Ford Fiesta ST RX43?
How can I find her?
The iconic Jamie Anderson sits at the adjacent booth and I consider asking her for help but then remember she is as directionally-challenged as me.
Have I lost my young daughter to a degenerate life of motorsports?
More as the story develops.
Chicken and Waffles: Surf Journalist smashed by poor decision making on Day 1 of Natural Selection redeems self in front of Mikkel Bang, the world’s handsomest professional snowboarder!
Natural Selection, Day 1, will go down in history as almost perfect. The poetry of the world’s best snowboarders, knee deep in fresh powder then flying out of it, into the powder blue sky. The drones, also flying in that powder blue sky, capturing fantastically unique angles. The sun, poking through the grey and bathing the playing field in gorgeous light.
Almost perfect and only almost because a big mistake was made early.
That damned vegetarian breakfast burrito with avocado.
As previously written, Travis Rice’s pre-Day 1 breakfast was a vegetarian breakfast burrito with avocado. Left out, it was mine too.
The waiter at the restaurant brought it to Travis just as he was sitting down at my young daughter and my booth then looked at me and said, “Can I get you anything?”
“Ummmm, what Travis is having…” I lamely stuttered.
“A vegetarian breakfast burrito with avocado?” the waiter asked.
“Yes.” I answered.
My young daughter pulled her eyes from iPad she was supposed to be doing school work on but watching J-Pop videos instead to glare at me with good reason. I don’t eat vegetarian breakfast burritos with avocado. I wear Kith x Moncler horse hair cheetah print alpine boots.
The blunder haunted me into the late night, slumped in the bar area while the world’s best snowboarders, appropriately masked and distanced, relived the singular glories they had just experienced.
A vegetarian breakfast burrito with avocado.
I needed to remedy and immediately, by the next morning if possible, with a more cosmopolitan breakfast companion. Oh, nothing at all against Travis Rice. He is as fine as they come but also from Jackson, Wyoming and I don’t know if he adequately appreciates Kith x Moncler horse hair cheetah print alpine boots as his colors of choice are generally burnt orange, various shades of forest green, many yellows.
I furrowed my brow, that vegetarian breakfast burrito with avocado, and it was as if the fates, sensing my profound shame and wanting to alleviate, sent Oslo’s Mikkel Bang into my orbit. He sat to talk with my snow-famous wife about something rather else, our young daughter, inexplicably there, stole his stocking cap then gave him a strange top pony.
My wife invited him to breakfast the next morning at the Four Seasons and he accepted.
What absolute mercy.
I couldn’t wait to retire for the evening and hasten the morrow’s light though lightly stressed my decision-making capacity. Would I mishandle the menu again?
Morning came, though it was difficult to see through the dumping snow. At least a foot overnight, much more coming down. A pow day and a good omen. My wife, daughter and I slog from our hotel to the Four Seasons, are seated at a corner table and panic begins to percolate. Olivia Kelly joins us and it reaches boiling.
What if Mikkel orders the Healthy Bowl featuring an egg white and tofu scramble, avocado, asparagus, tomato, crisp quinoa and kale salad?
What if I say, “What Mikkel is having?”
He comes in, stocking cap-less, minutes later, at the peak of my trepidation. A fine Viking specimen, no doubt, tall with exquisite bone structure, piercing blue eyes, a floppy shock of blonde hair and slight Norwegian accent hinting at the twelve other languages he likely knows and speaks fluently.
Oh, nothing at all against Travis Rice but… Jackson, Wyoming.
I nervously make small talk. He politely responds. My young daughter keeps her eyes on the iPad she is supposed to be doing school work on but watching slime making videos instead. My wife on the phone working solutions to various Natural Selection problems… more later.
The waiter approaches and says, “What would you like to have?”
My young daughters orders chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. My wife orders a fussy personalized omelette. Olivia Kelly doesn’t order because she already had breakfast. My heart is pounding. Mikkel orders… the Kurobuta ham and spinach eggs benedict.
Regaining my footing, and in the spirit of Natural Selection, I order the spiced pecan butter, bourbon bacon maple syrup chicken and waffles.
A full hammer.
Confidence restored, we chat openly. I have spent much time with many professional surfer, skater, snowboarders throughout my days but Mikkel Bang shines. He’s both interesting and interested, a rare combination. Opinionated without fear, intelligent, unguarded, fun.
A gold tooth, down the back, that glimmers not ostentatiously.
He says the Natural Selection Hunger Games-esque seeding system was nerve racking. Drawn riders got to pick the person they would go against and imagine the psychological strain. Clearly the move is to pick someone you think you can beat. Mikkel was picked by Austrian Werni Stock, who apologized profusely for the perceived slight then got beaten.
He says he had three runs lined up in his head, having never ridden the course, but had to throw them each away after his first hit and pull solely from native inspiration. He says Oslo is a fabulous cosmopolitan city with many skate spots just out the front door, epic mountains nearby and surf too. Like, proper point breaks that fire under the glowing northern lights. He says that the very idea of Teahupoo, that famed Tahitian monster, scares him even though he runs from avalanches for a living. He says that the Canadian mountains are the ones he knows and maybe loves best. He says he can’t wait for Natural Selection Day 2, having now ridden the course and loving every second of it.
The waiter comes with our food, laying each plate in front of its orderer. Mikkel looks over at my chicken and waffles and says, “I should have gotten that.”
A heat winner and I am back.
Natural Selection, Day 1, achieves objective according to surf journalist: “Young daughter got to watch Hana Beaman backflip then went out, attempted herself, landed on head and believed helmet spoke to her!”
Travis Rice, holding a vegetarian breakfast burrito with avocado in one hand, an iPhone 11 in the other, sits in a bright hotel restaurant booth between two attractive blondes, one fading, exhausted. He hadn’t slept the night before and his eyes, peeking over face mask, under Red Bull stocking cap, reflect it.
“Why didn’t you sleep last night?” The fading blonde smirks, knowing full well why and not partying or nervousness. More later…
Travis ignores and asks the non-fading one, “What did you think about the bunny avalanche?”
“I hope they don’t die,” she responds keeping her attention on an iPad she’s supposed to be doing school work on but is watching J-Pop videos instead.
“You headed up, Trav?” a production employee, masked, comes over to inquire.
Travis lugs himself up, Shaun comes over. They clasp hands and bro hug. Travis thanks him for coming out with real genuineness then turns toward the cadre of other production employees waiting for him.
Natural Selection kicks off in, exactly, less than an hour and the overall vibration should be one of sheer terror but it isn’t. Launching not only an event, but a tour, in the lap of a pandemic with a roster of international stars would be extremely ill-advised but, then again, so is everything else Travis does.
Shaun ambles back to his table. Travis is gone.
And in exactly less than an hour international star, Austrian, Gigi Ruff is pulling himself out of a reclaimed wood Yeti branded Quonset hut at the top of course dreamt, built, willed into existence.
Two attractive blondes, one fading, sit captivated in front of the computer upstairs in hotel room, watching every move, every line, the angle of god, quickly smashing the volume down key to drown commenter drone, filling it with a J-Pop soundtrack.
It is magnificent.
So magnificent that the non-fading one says, “Daddy, we need to go snowboarding right now.”
Natural Selection fulfilling its true destiny after only one international star. Moving an eight-year-old so profoundly that she had no other instinct than to jump into her Burton Grom Boas and tighten the nob.
Granted in was Gigi Ruff but still.
I’ll let those who truly understand snowboarding at this level to weigh in on the specifics, winners and losers, bests and worsts. I spent my day tracking that eight-year-old hunting ramps into pow while intermittently streaming the live broadcast volume down.
She got to watch Hana Beaman backflip, while we were at lunch, before going out for more. She then attempted a backflip, landed on her head and told me her helmet spoke to her.
Long live Natural Selection.
Natural Selection Day 1 is a go with the sun poking through grey clouds casting a glorious light on the future!
An exciting day about to unfold at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Natural Selection kicks live in less than an hour. Travis Rice just finished a veggie breakfast burrito with avocado and is headed up to the course.
Shaun White hovers at a corner table wearing an opalescent jacket.
The day will be wrapped here, later, but soak in the rider list, below, and make quick side bets with friends or enemies.
Much money to be made.
Mikkel Bang (NOR), Werni Stock (AUT), Victor de La Rue (FRA), Eric Jackson (USA), Pat Moore (USA), Blake Paul (USA), Austen Sweetin (USA), Elias Elhardt (GER), Ben Ferguson (USA), Sage Kotsenburg (USA), Nils Mindnich (USA), Mark McMorris (CAN), Chris Rasman (CAN), Travis Rice (USA), Gigi Rüf (AUT) and Bode Merrill (USA) who earned entry via the judge-selected Wildcard contest. In the women’s field, it’s Jamie Anderson (USA), Marion Haerty (FRA), Anna Gasser (AUT), Hana Beaman (USA), Elena Hight (USA), Robin Van Gyn (CAN), Hailey Langland (USA), and the judge-selected Wildcard winner, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (NZL).
More after the story develops.
Official: Natural Selection will run tomorrow morning with the world’s best snowboarders attacking the world’s best professional snowboard contest!
I woke up at 4:30 this morning with a terror pulling me slowly then quickly from sweet slumber, viciously. That sort of full-bodied terror that takes multiple minutes to semi-recover. Shortness of breath. Picking up the phone to check the time every three minutes. Heavy questioning of one’s life choices. Full knowledge that sleep would never return.
Sure, I learned from my shame and willed myself into what I imagined passed as acceptable form, cutting into the trees every now and then, finding a quadrangle untracked slightly off a groomer, but that form had never been truly tested since.
Even worse, I’ve made it my life’s work to shame VALs on the world’s most anti-depressive surf website BeachGrit.
Vulnerable Adult Learners.
Those who pick up surfing, or any extreme sport, late in life and make a mockery of the whole business by having no internal gauge on how, when, where they should do.
What they should wear.
I have a pair of Kith x Moncler cheetah print alpine boots.
I don’t have a backpack with transponder, shovel, poles, airbag.
Thankfully the greatest custom snowboard maker in the world, Mikey Franco, lives in Jackson Hole and my loving wife hooked up the backpack though I, still high on a pillow of fine beer and sausages, insisted I’d be ok with my young daughter’s sequined unicorn backpack filled with American Girl Doll clothes.
I picked it up an hour before the tram was set to depart, awake and terrified for three hours prior.
Getting into the tram line, I gingerly asked legendary snowboard journalist Drew Zieffwhere I should put my transponder, when to pull the ripcord on the airbag that would, theoretically save me from avalanche burial.
Guides, wonderful and friendly, knowledgeable, speaking to the general knowledge of the heavy crew not me.
Then it was go time. I traversed behind, dropped in to a bowl and….
….had more fun than I have ever had in my life.
Straight VAL fun.
The best thing I had ever done in my entire life and I didn’t care if my arms were akimbo, legs unbent, dumb, dumber and kooky. I was loving every entire second and loved the next drop and the next drop and the next drop through the trees even though I can’t pick a line to save my life.
Snowboarding is the greatest extreme sport on earth, truly, and I’m a VAL for declaring in my hideous VAL style but it just plain is and I don’t care if the world knows it.
Though I don’t know how anyone jumps on a snowboard and looks smooth. I was forced to, at some point, and it was 1 foot, not Hawaiian, of air and ungainly, giraffe-like, which makes me marvel, all the more, at Travis Rice’s Natural Selection which officially goes live tomorrow at 9:30 am (Jackson Hole time) on Red Bull TV.
The very definition of a buried lead but I am still celebrating not getting buried myself and vibrating with glorious VAL synapses.