Adrenaline was pumping heavy through veins, this February 9 morning, before the sun poked over these Grand Tetons. Adrenaline, nervousness, excitement, thrill. Natural Selection is set to kick off its championship day, in a few short minutes and the matchups are stacked.
Heat 1: Austen Sweetin vs. Blake Paul.
Heat 2: Ben Ferguson vs. Sage Kotsenburg
Heat 3: Travis Rice vs. Mark McMorris
Heat 4: Mikkel Bang vs Pat Moore
Heat 1: Hana Beaman vs. Zoi Sadowski-Syn
Heat 2: Elena Hight vs. Marion Haerty
Inspired: Surf journalist finds friendly big wave star amidst ultra-exclusive aerial tramway then rides untracked powder with mountain royalty and childhood hero!
The aerial tramway creeps into the swirling, whirling below-freezing snow billows halfway up the grand teton, chilling the air but not the mood. An impossible-to-suppress energy percolates and for good reason. The corrugated metal floor, red siding, tinted windows with iconic silhouette of cowboy bucking bronco is the very lap of luxury.
Two trams head from the base of the mountain 4139 vertical feet to the highest point at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort each morning before official day opening leaving a virginal expanse for an hour, or such. Slots on those trams are allocated to certain guides, celebrities, professional snowboarders and skiers, politicians, persons of note.
That lame Tom’s Shoes guy, who refuses to mask up, and I wish he would not due Covid but because he is spewing some utter nonsense to his pals.
A surf journalist, today, but not because he is a surf journalist. The only perk in a surf journalist’s life is increasingly rare text messages from the World Surf League’s senior vice president of brand identity.
No, he is here because his young daughter’s godmother is mountain royalty.
A rare American blue blood psychotherapist who alternates time fixing inmates at New York’s Riker’s Island, chatting with the Karmapa Lama over yak butter tea in Tibet and snowboarding faster than anyone I know.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort belongs to her and, today, she is bringing this surf journalist and a famous chef Fredrik Berselius, owner of two Michelin stars, co-owner of Aska, one time model, from New York as her guests.
It’s colder, now, and I look around the lap of luxury and see big wave professional surfer Ian Walsh. He comes from Maui but, like many surfers, has a serious powder addiction. I don’t know who his patron but also know it’s not as good as mine. I see professional snowboarder Blake Paul and we discuss his Natural Selection Round 1 victory over Elias Elhardt, his upcoming heat against Austen Sweetin. The two rode together the previous day, spending time in Dick’s Ditch, and are chuffed that one will knock the other out.
It’s coldest, now, as the tram docks at its final station and that impossible-to-suppress energy bursts through the sliding doors into a blizzard but deep, fresh, fluff lies below, untracked, and everybody knows it.
Even Ian Walsh.
The lucky few huddle outside Corbet’s Cabin, the waft of freshly baking, legendary waffles floating through the door, cleaning goggles, jumping, keeping warm. A sense vibrates through that the ok will be given soon.
The group moves, as one, onto the snow. And when the ski patrol lifts his hands, giving the go, a hoot fills the air. I already have my bindings strapped down, having received a stern talking-to, the previous night, from my ex-professional snowboarder wife who seethed at me not to hold anyone up. I am taking her spot and promised not to bring shame upon the family.
Jody snowboards fast.
Down I slide, traversing blind across the windswept ice until vision and snow magically reappear and…
Knee deep, at least, and entirely smooth, without a mark. I put my ugly scrawl on it but didn’t hold anyone up, racing after Jody and Frederik, following them into the trees and feeling silly joy, hollering and hearing their hollers too. In front of me but not so far in front that my wife would seethe.
We float all the way to the Sublette quad and kick on with the resort still unopened. Chasing at least one, maybe two, more tabula rasas.
On the chair, Fredrik talks about how much he loved t-bars in his native Sweden. I knew he was Swedish, living in New York, but it struck me for the first time in that moment.
He is a Swedish chef.
A Swedish chef.
The Swedish Chef is my childhood hero, artistic inspiration, north star in practicing surf journalism.
And now snowboard journalism.
Börk, börk, börk, börk, börk, börk, börk.
I spend the next two stainless canters carefully observing Fredrick’s lines, soaking in the wizardry.
Learning everything I can.
Trying to keep Jody in my line of sight.
Trying not to bring shame on my family.
At the end of the day, stumbling back to the hotel, I see Ian Walsh. We fist bump, surfers in a strange world, comrades. I ask him how he liked it.
“Felt like heli drops…” he says. “Mind blown.”
“Börk,” I respond.
Lay Day: Surf journalist caught up in singular glories of professional snowboarding and not paying attention loses young daughter to degenerate life of motorsports!
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.