After having achieved proof of concept in 2022 at Baldface Lodge in British Columbia, the Natural Selection Tour has expanded upon their Duels showdowns turning these intimate one-on-one battles into the first tier of the 2023 Tour. So what is the snowboarding community seeing take place when they tune into Natural Selection Duels? Basically, more of the same head-to-head action that has become a hallmark of the NST, albeit on more varied terrain, as opposed to a single set venue on one day.
For those who haven’t caught the sidebar events that took place in 2022 at Baldface Lodge, The NST Duels involve two riders going run for run against each other in a session within the confines of a unique, multi-featured, natural zone. The result is a dense, action-packed faceoff where ultimately one of the two riders rules the day.
The Duels stage of the 2023 Natural Selection Tour involves 24 riders. The top eight overall men and top four female finishers from 2022 have each chosen their own backcountry zone for the Duels to go down in. The 12 challengers were selected from tour newcomers with Red Gerard, Ulrik Badertscher and similar senders getting the nod, as well as past Tour standouts from 2021 like Gigi Ruf, Hailey Langland and Leanne Pelosi receiving their chance for redemption.
By now it’s worth stating that Duels are replacing Jackson Hole as the first stage of this season’s NST schedule. In turn, with Duels there isn’t a traditional podium, instead 8 of the 16 men and 4 of the 8 women going head-to-head are christened winners and advance to the next stops of the 2023 Tour the first week of March in Revelstoke, BC and the last week of March outside of Valdez, AK. In Revy the 12 Duels winners will once again compete live in the conventional NST brackets, on one venue and one day for a chance at a traditional victory.
A randomizer was utilized to determine who each of the seeded riders face in their Duel. At this point the returning riders selected the spot for the session in an approximation of having home field advantage. For example, Kimmy Fasani chose the famed Hemlocks side country of Mammoth for her match against Darrah Reid-McLean.
With a Natural Selection provided media team and a snow safety squad in tow all that was left was for each battle to go down. Over the course of one session each pairing was presented with a minimum of four runs to face off. The winner of a ro sham bo drops first.
While not quite as formidable as the challenges the riders face, judging the Duels definitely isn’t easy. Tasked with making heroes and breaking hearts is an esteemed cadre of experienced, conscientious and opinionated jurists including Connor Manning, Chad Otterstrom, Guillaume Morissette, Bryan Fox and Jody Wachniak. This crew of judges collectively have not only scored contests from the US Open to the X Games to past Natural Selection Tour stops, but a few of ‘em have either podiumed at, or even won a few of them.
The judging criteria for this third season of the Natural Selection Tour, including the Duels continues to be based around the C.R.E.D.O. philosophy which is broken down as follows:
Creativity – Line choice (new or previously unridden lines), variety of tricks, combinations.
Risk – Includes features chosen (width of take off/landing, size of features), amplitude on chosen features, placement of tricks in the line etc.
Execution – Style, grabs, landings, stability, etc.
Difficulty – Trick difficulty, combinations, specific challenges within the line, feature difficulty, switch stance riding and landings.
Overall – Flow, speed, control, navigating instabilities.
The above criteria helps to decipher the lens through which the judges are viewing each of the Duels, yet the four plus runs that comprise each battle are all taken cumulatively into consideration, as the outcome is based upon the whole session. In other words, the best single line isn’t necessarily what gets rewarded, rather the winner is the pro who rides away at the end of the day having made the best impression on the judges.
It’s also worth noting that what is broadcast in each individual Duel edit isn’t what the judges based their opinions on. Rather, each judge was presented with the raw footage from the entire session meaning what we see at home is a curated highlight reel. Therefore, if a rider paused mid-line for five minutes to regroup and get their bearings or took their time continuing down the fall line after a brutal rag doll then that was edited out to keep the action on pace. There were also multiple angles available to the judges, some unshown to the public. This is worth noting because it’s possible that some riders benefited from the curation leaving viewers befuddled by certain outcomes.
Ultimately though what we all like to see happen on a snowboard is subjective. We all have a bias towards different styles or tricks or line selections. This is why a diverse cadre of judges is employed and ultimately consensus is reached. So while Duels is a departure from the compelling competition we’ve witnessed the past two seasons in Jackson Hole, there is still amazing riding on display from the best riders on earth with the requisite drama, wish you were here terrain and endless talent on display.
Judge Chad Otterstrom provides us with some insight into what he is looking for from the Duels competitors. According to Chad “I look at it like filming a snowboard video. Last part is the best and first part is the second best. If each Duel session was a video part, which rider got the ender?”
While Jody Wachniak may be a new addition to the ranks of judging he is not only a student of the pro snowboarding game but also a standout player. Jody’s modus for assessing the duels is a bit more detailed than Chad’s. Jody explains, “The main things I’m looking for when judging Natural Selection are flow, control and style. The beauty of backcountry riding to me is the ability to read the terrain, adapt to its imperfections and bring your creative vision to life. So for me I don’t want to see riders squeezing in a bunch of unnecessary tricks to try and collect points or long periods of traversing with starting & stopping and other forms of hesitation or mistakes that take away from the overall flow of a run. When the rider looks at the terrain, how is the face asking to be ridden? Each face has a unique rhythm to it. Does a rider try to match their run to that. Remember this is a contest so progressive and tasteful trick selection or feature selection are key to standing out from the crowd. A good idea is to ride the terrain as if you’re filming an ender line for your video part.”
“As a judge for The Duels we were given string outs of every shot of every run of both” states veteran NST jurist and Vermont-native Connor Manning. “We judged on the riders overall body of work in all of their runs on the day. I was really looking for riders that chose creative and difficult lines that flowed well and weren’t forced. I was also really watching rider execution on both tricks and riding. To me a rider who executes well is able to put their own personality and style into their snowboarding and add that extra tangible that’s so hard to describe. The riders who won their Duels showed us multiple difficult and creative lines while spicing it up with tricks and showing a mastery of riding their snowboard.”
“Whatever terrain that's there, I like to see the rider utilize it as best as possible” is how 2000 US Open Halfpipe Champion and member of Robotfood’s Afterlame ensemble, Guillaume Morissette explains his approach to judging the Natural Selection Tour adding, “ Just like a surfer with his own unique wave... might there be a nice lip that suddenly forms and the surfer uses it for let's say an alleyoop and it seems like that was meant to be, that is pure beauty of surfing! The same applies with the Natural Selection Tour. Might there be a nice cliff to throw a method off of, or a lip that seems meant to pull a Mctwist and the rider pulls it all off with sweet smooth flow and under control, pure beauty!”
Here is the breakdown of the 2023 Natural Selection Tour Duels:
- Mikkel Bang vs. Ulrik Badertscher
- Brock Crouch vs. Blake Paul
- Darrah Reid-McLean vs. Kimmy Fasani
- Jared Elston vs. Gigi Rüf
- Nils Mindnich vs. Ben Ferguson
- Elena Hight vs. Enni Rukajarvi
- Red Gerard vs. Travis Rice
- Werni Stock vs. Dustin Craven
- Zoi Sadowski-Synnott vs. Marissa Krawczak
- Torstein Horgmo vs. John Jackson
- Mikey Ciccarelli vs. Mark McMorris
- Hailey Langland vs. Leanne Pelosi