A historic day in snowboarding at the TAE Natural Selection at Baldface wrapped with hometown Kootenay hero Dustin Craven (CAN)—and, fresh off a double medal performance at the Olympics—Zoi Sadowski-Synnott (NZL) on top. Fourteen of the world’s best snowboarders including five women dropping into the revered Scary Cherry venue in competition for the first time, made the second stop of the Natural Selection Tour an event not to be missed.
The stakes were high, as the two-run head-to-head format, with no tie-breakers, rewarded creativity, risk, execution, difficulty and overall flow. Judges considered each riders’ overall run from top to bottom, with the highest score taking the heat. In conditions that varied across the massive Scary Cherry venue stretching more than 2200’ vertical, Mother Nature called the day at Baldface. It’s a freerider’s dream with 80 massive natural and wooden drops, kickers and other features spread throughout the famously powder-coated, 40°-plus slope.
The top four men coming out of the qualifiers posted scores in the 90s to make it directly through to the semifinals. Mikkel Bang (NOR) and Ben Ferguson (USA) tied on their second round for the day’s highest score. Ferguson’s last month in the Canadian backcountry paid off with a confident run, filled with stylish spins including a cork 540. Bang answered back with a fast line punctuated by a big method at the top and holding onto a switch bs 540 mid-venue.
In the semi-finals Bang locked in a trip to the finals over Ben Ferguson, who had the wind knocked out of him on his second run, but rode out of it. Travis Rice (USA) matched up with Dustin Craven (CAN) where it all came together in their second runs, with huge airs, solid landings and big spins. Rice opened up a new section of the course with stylish 360s, a huge frontside 540 and soaring solidly over cliff bands. Craven put down a cab 540 at the top and a clean front 720 mid-course, making it Craven’s day in the semis.
In the finals, Bang led after round one with a massive frontside 720 with a huge grab held solidly throughout. But Craven’s streak continued with amplitude and distance including a straight air that announcers estimated at well over 70-feet, and solid landings on the spins including a 540 in the final run of the day. Bang, who picked unique lines mid-course, caught a tree with his back on run two, allowing Craven to slide past him. He rode out of the spill holding the tree and marveling that his back protector saved him. POC provides back protection to all Natural Selection riders.
Ten years in the making, women made history dropping into Scary Cherry during a competition for the first time ever. On the women’s side, Sadowski-Synnott and Hight (USA) put their years of contest riding to the test and were in the one-two position right from the start. Marion Haerty (FRA) and Hana Beaman (USA) were right within striking distance of Hight, who was in second place going into the finals.
Hight had the eye of the tiger coming off weeks of pre-dawn starts on splitboard missions in the Canadian Rockies. She held solid grabs and stomped clean 360s for a second place finish. But, it was the now 21-year-old Sadowski-Synnott, who landed the highest scoring women’s runs of the day. With big wildcats throughout the comp and a solid backflip in the finals, her long days of big air and slopestyle training paid off with a win at Baldface.
Elena Hight and Mikkel Bang now lead the Tour standings with three and four points respectively. Natural Selection Tour is using a Triple Crown-style format to determine the overall Tour Champion. In this format, each stop of the Tour will have equal weighting and a stand-alone winner. The points will be tallied by finish at each stop: first place = 1 point; second place = 2 points; third place = 3 points. The rider with the lowest score at the conclusion of the three stops will be the overall Natural Selection Tour Champion. So hypothetically, if a competitor places third in Jackson, first in BC, and fifth in AK that rider’s final combined score would be nine (3+1+5). If a tie happens, the Championship tie-breaker is based on which rider had the better finish in the final event in Alaska.
Riders are now on their way to Alaska! Stat tuned for more details on the final stop of the tour dropping soon…