Words: Pat Bridges
Photos: Ryan “Huggy” Hughes
Nelson, BC. (Feb. 17, 2013)— The name may have changed but the spirit still remains. Under slightly overcast skies, fifteen of the best freeriders in the world heeded Travis Rice's call to not only test themselves on Baldface Lodge's infamous Scary Cherry face, but to celebrate the legacy inherent to all riders who aspire to push the boundaries of descent and find flow amongst nature's unbridled bounty. These are the fundamentals that drove Travis Rice to create the Red Bull Supernatural in 2012 and, in spite of a litigious hiccup handed down by the Tourism BC over naming rights, rebrand the event as the Ultra Natural in 2013.
As a part of the much-hyped Red Bull Signature series, the snowboarding world was introduced to the future of freeride competitions with the 2012 Supernatural. In preparation for the 2013 Ultra Natural, Travis tweaked Scary Cherry's manmade pillows, bonks, elevated butter pads, and booters to space the features out and in turn make it easier for riders to delineate their lines. At the same time the invitees arrived at Baldface in 2013 knowing what to expect. The uncertainty of a year earlier was replaced by confidence and the competitors took a raw approach to the alpine, knowing that the fifty-plus degree slope lent itself to going large and sending it.
Pat Moore was bestowed the honor of rechristening Scary Cherry and his debut Ultra Natural performance was flawless until he brought too little speed into the main booter three quarters of the way down the course. Fourth to drop was the prodigious patriarch of modern riding, Terje Haakonsen. With a last minute invite from Baldface owner Jeff Pensiero, Terje dropped into Scary Cherry and charged the zone, flowing five features at the top of the face where others struggled to find one. Terje took the outermost of the four mid-course wedges crosscourt with a method air lofting nearly a hundred feet down the fall line. Had he not tumbled after coming into an alley-oop 360 tranny finder too hot, Haakon would have been hard to beat. Still, this run was enough to earn the most highly regarded snowboarding champion of the last twenty years 4th place.
Sixth to drop was Gigi Rüf and the Austrian put his spontaneous approach to freeriding to the test immediately by vaulting onto the multi-story "Caterpillar" pad, a holdover feature from 2012 that had yet to be attempted. From there, Rüf rode out his landings clean with a blend of tech trickery and surfy style, including taking a backside 180 well into the shallow part of the main kicker's landing.
Last year's third place finisher Nicolas Müller came into the Ultra Natural as an odds-on favorite for a podium repeat, and in 2013 he didn't disappoint. Nicolas' first run wasn't flawless, but where he had folly he still maintained the flow and his approach to the high consequence sections separated him from the pack. While Nico's first run scored higher it was on his second trip down Scary Cherry that his presence was truly felt. Early in his run Müller pointed it off a launch gapping over a three-story bonk, stomping perfectly nearly seventy feet down the hill, only to throw two quick turns after touchdown and immediately boost another treeside booter.
It was another X Games slopestyle win that earned Mark McMorris a return engagement at Ultra Natural. The Mark McMorris who arrived at Baldface this week was a completely different pow rider than the rookie performer who pocked the piste in 2012. On this day, McMorris carried his speed, stomped his landings, and held a respectable line through both runs, even going so far as to stomp a clean double cork on the quirky sixty foot-long tabletop on his second go. Make no mistake, in bounds or out of bounds, McMorris' talent knows no bounds.
With cloud cover consuming the sky, shadows and flat light set in for run two, causing poor visibility and noticeably firmer conditions. This gave riders who handled business on run one an advantage while those who were hoping for redemption in the 2nd half of the showdown were left with an even greater challenge. Bryan Fox is one of snowboarding's true anti-heros. He employs momentum whenever he is on the mountain and harnesses this trajectory with a subdued dexterity. When Travis granted SNOWBOARDER and TransWorld the opportunity to invite one rider apiece to the Ultra Natural, Bryan Fox was our obvious choice. The Northwest staple dropped 7th on the second run and did what few could on this day, a full pull from the top of Scary Cherry to the bottom without a fall. Bryan stuck each of his spins and a variety of grabs to prove that you can have a snowboarding conscience and still have a shit ton of skill. In other words, Fox made SNOWBOARDER and snowboarding look good this day.
Another standout on the second run was Lucas Debari. The lifelong Mount Baker local used his Cascadian DNA to stomp several exaggerated drops on the formidable upper face of Scary Cherry. Unfortunately, a miscalculation on a 360 on the tabletop ended Debari's late charge for the podium. As the impetus behind the Ultra Natural, Travis Rice has nothing to prove, but you wouldn't know it from the way he approaches his runs. His rider's left line on his second lap avoided the other high-traffic areas which were rife with ruts and craters. Once he had back-to-back booters line up and set down, he looked to be on track for a repeat victory, yet his unique approach to the tabletop left him with too little speed to make the landing, thus opening the door for a new champion to be crowned.
Head judge Tom Burt was joined by Peter Line, Temple Cummins, Jamie Lynn, and Andy Hetzel in determining the outcome and while every rider who strapped in atop Scary Cherry on February 17th showed greatness and grace there are but only three positions on a podium. Despite being branded as a wildcard, Bryan Fox proved his place amongst freeriding's elite by earning 3rd place within this ultimate arena. At the end of the day Nicolas Müller emerged in 2nd place, leaving none other than Gigi Rüf to hoist the most coveted trophy in snowboarding above his head as the 2013 Red Bull Ultra Natural champion.
While the aspirational aspects of Ultra Natural may seem unrelatable to many, the long tail of what Travis Rice created has reverberated far and wide. The Super Natural and now Ultra Natural has provided the inspiration for a host of new rider-created events, both grassroots and grand, and allowed others like the Mount Baker Banked Slalom to be seen with renewed appreciation. To that end, what happens for one day, high in the hills above the sleepy streets of Nelson, BC is something for everybody to celebrate.
"Judging this contest is tougher than any other contest, period. The sixteen best riders on the world, put to the test on over 2,000 vert, with the ability to hit over fifteen hits on a run is a lot to contemplate, let alone judge. The riders teed off, all having incredible, mind-blowing, moments. Judging those moments was both fun to watch and difficult to place in any kind of order. However, at the end of the competition, the riders decided their own fate and the results speak for themselves"
–2013 Ultra Natural Head Judge Tom Burt
"Today I was able to witness the evolution of a sport, again! I was super stoked to be able to watch the best riders in the world shred down something that I had only imagined could exist a few years ago. Last year we really didn't know what to expect and the riders all exceeded what we all thought was possible. But I think that after the concept was contemplated for a few months most of the competitors for this year were able to think out their lines and be able to set up an 'ultimate line' for their own individual style. I'm just so happy to have been blessed with the opportunity to be able to be a part of this process and the evolution of something that has been so good to me. I'm feeling quite blessed tonight."
–Baldface Lodge Owner and Operator Jeff Pensiero
"Today was what it needed to be! Weather and natural forces dictate when we ride, and while conditions were not ideal it was incredible to see the level of riding crescendo from the event's inception just last year. Terje came out inspired today and just about won the event short of a 150 ft. air to tumble. Bryan Fox, as SNOWBOARDER Mag's wildcard pick took down a podium spot with proof that he is the snowboarder we secretly knew him to be! What is there to say about the European 1st and 2nd? Nico and Gigi, this is snowboarding. They once again set the bar for backcountry freeriding, period! With the culmination of a second successful event the only thing I am truly sure of is that this is just the beginning!"
–Ultra Natural Founder Travis Rice
"The last couple of days have been incredible. Watching the best snowboarders in the world ride down that hill was magical. Terje can control speed like no other. Wolle has one of the most relaxed surf styles around, no effort. Pat Moore went first. Lucas Debari has the biggest (meat)balls. Nico and Gigi, fluid and powerful. Travis won best trick in my eyes, air into the spine face, bad motherfucker. I was pretty nervous coming here. Travis had explained who the judges were going to be: Jamie, Peter and Temple are three dudes I have immense respect for. The idea of them watching and literally judging my riding was very intimidating. The first board I had was the Jamie board with the rainbow topsheet, second board was Peter's board with a lizard on it. Full circle I guess. The day before the contest I went catboarding with Terje. That is probably on every snowboarder in the world's wish list. One of the best vacations of my life. Thank you SNOWBOARDER Magazine and Travis Rice."
–2013 Ultra Natural 3rd Place Finisher Bryan Fox.
1. Gigi Rüf 82.6 72.4
2. Nicolas Müller 76.4 71.4
3. Bryan Fox 44.6 75.4
4. Terje Haakonsen 66.2 60.2
5. David Carrier-Porcheron 62.2 39.2
6. Mark McMorris 61.6 45.4
7. Eero Niemela 61.0 34.0
8. Pat Moore 59.0 38.0
9. Lucas Debari 57.2 53.0
10. Travis Rice 56.2 49.2
11. Jussi Oksanen 27.8 55.4
12. Bode Merrill 48.8 45.2
13. Jake Blauvelt 46.8 48.0
14. Wolfgang Nyvelt 45.6 42.8
15. Torstein Horgmo 32.6 44.8
16. Mikey Rencz 39.6 40.0
To catch the 2013 Ultra Natural on TV, tune-in to NBC on March 30th at 1:30 p.m. ET.