Frigid morning in Jackson for the finals of the 2022 YETI Natural Selection at Jackson Hole, the first stop of this year’s Natural Selection Tour, with morning temps in the single digits, negatives factoring in the wind chill. Stan clocks it at 5 degrees come start time.
However, snow conditions are a bit better today to start the event compared to Day 1 thanks to the more northerly aspect of the finals run and a recent spurt of freezing temps.
Here we go, starting with men’s quarterfinals:
The men’s field features three Natural Selection first-timers—Torstein Horgmo, Dustin Cravin and Jared Elston—along with Travis Rice, Mikkel Bang, Blake Paul, Sage Kotsenburg and Gabe Ferguson, all returning competitors.
In the first heat we see two, sort of dueling truths about the today’s event: 1.) the snow is certainly better than in qualifiers. Jared takes advantage of this, putting down a pair of smooth, calculated runs with backflips and back and front threes. The opportunity to advance is there if Dustin can send it.
2.) In Dustin’s more aggressive approach, going switch back 1, back 720, and then front 360 before washing out on an already tough run out, we get a glimpse of the other side of the coin: it’s clear that not only is the course going to be just as challenging as Day 1, but that more favorable snow that’s present up top at the start of the event is going to get eaten up quick. Dustin’s frustration is visible – he probably would have been in a good place to force a tiebreaker had he stayed on his feet. Jared advances.
Next up is a legendary pairing: Torstein Horgmo pitted against Travis Rice. After choppy first runs, and much stronger seconds from both, this one goes to a tiebreaker that Torstein captures with a front 7 to back 7, switch back five (goes down a bit), and a pair of straight airs to finish, scoring a 90. It’s the highest score of the day thus far, reward for big back-to-back tricks and spinning in different directions.
In the Mikkel Bang vs. Blake Paul showdown, third and fourth finishers respectively at last year’s Jackson stop, a tiebreaker, or free snowboarding, as the judges likened it, was also in order. Each took a different approach to their run, with Mikkel ultimately knocking off the local favorite. Blake took a more conservative run: backflip nose grab, back 360, front 360—masterful speed control—straight air off the plank, straight air to end. And stayed on his feet. Watching Blake ride, there’s no doubt he is one of the best out there. Mikkel went for bigger tricks, like a switch back 5, but also took a fall. Judges leaned to Mikkel’s approach.
Ben Ferguson vs. Sage Kotsenburg, another unreal head-to-head. From run 1, it’s clear that Sage is on one today. “Completely masking nerves, going up against Ben is gnarly,” he says at the bottom of the course. It’s a rematch from last year, when Ben ousted Sage, but this time it’s Sage on top, advancing to the semis. Course is looking so fast.
The women’s semifinal featured Elena Hight against Hana Beaman, Robin Van Gyn against Marion Haerty, all making their second appearance at the Jackson Hole stop.
In the first pairing it was Elena going big and unleashing monster methods with tons of style to best Hana in consecutive runs, securing her place in the finals.
Then it was Robin who turned up the heat immediately in her pairing with Marion, launching a big backside 360 tail grab, followed by a pair of airs to lock in a solid opening run. Marion demonstrated her world-class freeriding ability while mixing in a backflip and front 3, but it’s last year’s tour champ, Robin Van Gyn, who goes on to meet Elena in the finals.
Next up, men’s semifinals. Bend, Oregon’s Jared Elston is once again first to drop, breaking out the double backie on jump one that we get to enjoy for the rest of the day, taking it all the way to the bottom, switching around for a cab 5, to back 3, to backie off the plank. He scrubs out but damn, came out firing. Obviously we’ve moved to another level of riding for the semis.
Torstein struggles on run 1, taking a heavy slam and a knee to the face that sends him riding down with goggles up. Jared’s out front, and starts run 2 similarly to his first before taking a pounding slam of his own. “Tommy Bahama” he says to himself as he shakes it off atop a Yeti cooler. It’s looking cowboy out there no doubt.
Torstein bounces right back like the G that he is but isn’t able to put together a run to beat Jared, who finds himself in the finals at his first Natty Select appearance. What a thrill that’s gotta be.
Sage vs. Mikkel, two competition vets, long removed, once again demonstrating just how damn good they are regardless of the arena. As mentioned, Sage is clearly on a ripper, and lets ‘er eat right out of the gate with a huge back 7 chicken wing, one he’d later tell Jack was a complete improvisation forced by excess speed. “That’s how she goes,” he says. Followed by a front 3, and a cab 5, it’s the score to beat.
Dropping switch, Mikkel clearly gets that, going switch back three tail, to switch back 540 – pretty sick start – before taking a big league slam and ragdolling a few times on a back 7. If he puts this one down, it will be a high-scoring run.
Laughing at the bottom with Sage and Jack, Mikkel calls it the hardest slam he’s taken in a long time. “This is an amazing course, it is like a video game,” Mikkel reports to Jack. With Mikkel unable to nail that run in his second attempt, Sage rides into the finals, stoked, and stoked to be in one piece. “The conditions are pretty buck right now. I am glad we are all riding away safe.”
In the first runs of the women's final between Elena and Robin, conditions and fatigue are taking a toll. These are super hard conditions to ride in, to say nothing of trying to land and control speed. “Taxing on the body and the lungs” as Tom “T-Bird” Monterosso called it in the broadcast.
Both take some bruises on run 1, but Robin edges ahead in the heat with a four-point win.
A die-hard competitor, Elena evens the score with a strong, and clutch, second run: backside 3, big method finding fresh powder on a tracked landing. Robin’s second run hopes are dashed with the slight under rotation of a back flip on jump 1, sending her over the front. You can hear the adrenaline pumping as she goes for a cab 5 underflip. We are going to be headed to a tiebreaker. Elena claps her into the finish.
One full heat left, Jared versus Sage, film collaborators in “Halcyon,” opponents today. Sage gasses it up. Back seven chicken wing, front 3, cab 9, stalefish to the tent…. Wow. Jared’s turn. The Temple of Stoke at the top of the course is buzzing, everyone’s pounding on the walls.
Jared drops: double back, cab 5, backside 7…absolutely sends it and cannot hang on. Sage jumps out front with a 91.
Run 2. Another 720 start from Sage, this time followed by a frontside 720 – he’s on fire – cab 9, stalefish closer. The pressure is on, and yes, the vibes and the camaraderie are high, but you can also see the tension. Jared begins once again with a double backflip, nails it, cab 5, nails it, back 7, he’s got it! You can hear the crowd roar in the live stream. Big straight air, finish with a backie where Sage did his stalefish. Sage greets him with a “Holy.” Jared returns a, “Good lord.” It’s in the judges’ hands, not in mine, thankfully.
The scores come in and, to me, they both looked a little surprised. Sage has Jared by 3 points, and seals a victory in Jackson! Insane runs from both of them but the bigger spins from Sage seem to give him the edge. Jared put it down, no doubt; he's clearly disappointed. Sage takes the opportunity to pay tribute to Mike McKelvey, who worked on the team in Jackson and put a lot of love and work into this course. He passed away in an avalanche last year.
Final showing of the day, the women’s final tiebreaking runs. Elena takes a similar approach to her previous runs, beginning with a back three, but this time washes out on the method, and on straight air and front 3 attempts that follow. The door is open for Robin.
After over rotating a bit this time on the opening wildcat and going down, Robin isn’t quite able to recover with the massive backside 360s she showed off earlier, and it is Elena Hight who secures the W at the tour’s first stop and heads to Baldface as the Women’s tour leader.
Before the broadcast wraps, Travis takes a bonus run, chasing down a few untouched features as a tribute to the labor and love his colleagues put into this course, and this revolutionary event. Congratulations to all the riders, organizers, hosts and the rest of the NST crew! Thank you for another great show.