Natural Selection

After three days home in New York, I am now in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for the inaugural Quiksilver Natural Selection snowboard contest, an all-mountain freestyle contest hosted by pro snowboarder Travis Rice. These rider-inspired-and-run contests seem to be a blossoming trend in action sports, and mostly, I believe, out of necessity.

When the industry isn’t responding to trends quickly enough, established athletes ask their sponsors to get behind a forward-thinking contest or event. It’s a way for an enterprising athlete to push the sport in a way that is beneficial to all athletes. And because they are conceptualized by athletes, they tend to be extremely athlete-friendly, well liked and attended. This event is also surprisingly well attended by the mainstream media.

When the women’s surf tour had to drop a couple events two years ago due to a lag in sponsorships, seven-time world champion Layne Beachley organized the Beachley Classic in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, and helped save the season. She even bankrolled a portion of the event. The Aussie government funded the remainder.

Peruvian surfer and former world champion Sofia Mulanovich worked with the Peruvian government for nearly four years to establish the 2007 Mancora classic, the first WCT ever held in Peru.

And this April, Gretchen Bleiler will hold a women’s-only snowboard contest in her hometown of Aspen. The goal of the event is to provivde women with a legit halfpipe contest that’s all about them (read: no guys to steal their thunder—or powder). Each woman will be partnered with a photographer in hopes of getting her images out into the magazines—and getting her paid.

Here in Jackson Hole, 17 of the best freeride snowboarders in the world were invited to take part in two contests held over six days on natural-terrain courses constructed throughout the mountain. Today’s contest was held at Dick’s Ditch, during one nasty snowstorm. Various storms have brought snow to Jackson during the week, including 21 inches in the past two days—and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down any time soon.

The winner of the first contest will be announced tomorrow, and then pick up a $75,000 check. Not bad.

The best part of today’s event actually happened last night (which I missed). Rice decided the best way to determine today’s start order was with a mechanical-bull-riding contest at the Jackson Hole Playhouse. Local rider Mick Carter, a real rancher, won. Rice, also a Jackson local, held on for second second.

This should be fun.

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