The Red Bull Ultra Natural 2013
Snowboarding’s elite tore the feature-riddled run Scary Cherry to pieces at Baldface, British Columbia during the 2013 Red Bull Ultra Natural. Dudes went massive. No one died. Powder was shredded. Full story and photos below.
If you were king of the castle, how would you hold court? Would you hold another jester match or try something new? Would you construct your own private training terrain or invite friends over for a show? Say you eventually created your own paradise. For Travis Rice that path to the throne is one of the most prominent snowboarding careers. For Jeff Pensiero the royal tenure is a physical place, a snowboarding Shangri La called Baldface Lodge outside of Nelson, British Columbia. Combined with the help of a few big sponsors they welcome a select crew to one of snowboarding's most elite and experimental gatherings, the Ultra Natural.
Formerly the Supernatural (a lawsuit over the naming with Tourism BC spurred the name change), the Ultra Natural is a 16-rider roster of snowboarding's best competing, or rather celebrating, in the British Columbia backcountry. Littered with handmade wooded lofts, bonks, mushrooms and diving boards stashed in the upper trees, the 55-degree pitch of the "Scary Cherry" run is no joke. The riding can go from mellow to massive in a split second. "You never really get a good perspective on your feature until you hit it. I didn't really know until I was on the pillow, like falling out of the sky from forty feet was a little excessive. And the park jump was the first one I've hit since last year here." Lucas Debari affirms after boosting one of the largest airs of the day. Riders loosely knew what to expect from last years' event, yet Travis Rice and crew were busy over the summer adjusting the wooden structures. One of the most challenging parts to the course overall is deciding what to hit and what to do on said hit.
After cleaning the tree section, the run funnels into various natural hips and handmade hits before a long straightaway into a massive five-lipped tabletop (courtesy of Snow Park Technologies) with an untouched pow landing. A few more hits and bonks are added to the mix before the run finishes at the bottom of the gully. All told the course is roughly three times the length of the X Games slopestyle and more dynamic than any snowboarding creation to date. Talk about leg burn. Watching riders tear up the stack of creative hits tucked into the hill was kind of like a cross between a real life Mario game and watching an artist perform. With hits everywhere and sixteen of snowboarding's best with the freedom to roam, each rider left their signature mark.
The runs and resulting scores came from the scrutiny of a legendary panel with the likes of Peter Line, Tom Burt, Andy Hetzel, Temple Cummins and Jamie Lynn who judged this new breed of event. "This contest is probably the hardest contest to judge and separate because there are so many different styles. You have people like Lucas who are charging down the hill, you know, going big and fast, but then there are riders kind of trolling around and doing more tricks and technical things. So how do you judge that? No matter what you're basically comparing apples to bananas, so it still comes down to overall impression, flow, air and some technical aspects." says head judge Tom Burt. While it was technically a contest, it felt more like a one big session of friends with a massive production in tow. One big show. One that's best watched on the big screen for full effect.
Above is the Full Recap Video from the Red Bull Ultra Natural 2013.
Pat Moore was the first rider to take on the untouched. He took the top course smooth with hits before pointing it into the jump. Being the first rider to even test the speed, it was a guinea pig gamble. Unfortunately, he knuckled into a poof of snow. That may have shook him up for his second run as he tumbled through the top trees with some serious speed and consequence. Falls and all, Pat still put together some solid lines, earning him 8th place a spot in next years event.
Terje Haakonsen carried the controlled speed and composure that he's known for, lining up hit after hit in the top section. From frontside bones to crails and methods--Terje styled out his run keeping it clean and huge, and enough for 4th place. In a similar style, Jake Blauvelt carved smooth lines into the rider's right side of the course picking off hits and clean airs, notably a clean butter to front seven off one of the wedges. However the simple, stylistic approach wasn't quite enough to match the rest of the field and Jake finished 13th.
Nicolas Müller took to the course on the far rider's right and into quite possibly the largest hit of the day. Nico ramped up a diving board wedge before snapping cross-court nearly fifteen feet over an already elevated pillow putting him well over thirty feet up. While he didn't quite stomp it, he repeated the hit on his second run with a white-roomed landing of sorts. "Yeah, you didn't stomp it, but you went fucking huge and surfed out of it, which gives you points in my book," Peter Line told him later that evening. Combined with smooth spins and hits for the rest of the run, Nico barged into second place.
Lucas Debari also had one of loftiest airs of the day, over sets and sets of features, somewhere in the range of eighty feet or more down the course. He has a hungry, go for broke approach and when he's on, it's insane. While Lucas stomped some big tricks, he botched the park jump and a few other hits, barely edging himself out of a return trip with 9th place finish.
Mark McMorris returned via another X Games Sloestyle gold. And this time he was in prime powder form. Mark took like a kid in a tree fort to some of the elevated platforms and ladder rides, carrying speed and fluidity rather than hesitation throughout the run. While he wasn't completely free of tomahawks, Mclovin did stomp a badass double cork over the park jump on his second run and edged out quite a few big names for a 6th place finish.
Snowboarder Magazine's wildcard pick Bryan Fox proved himself worthy with a third place finish. By linking back-to-back threes, drops and grabs throughout his runs and a smooth seven on the park jump, Bryan put together some solid runs. He was the only rider to stay upright through the course, but didn't quite have the creativity or spunk of Muller or Ruf's runs. "I expected very little of myself, my main goal was to not look stupid on TV. So that was the most nerve-racking thing. Because when you film video parts you eat shit all day and no one ever sees it. It was kind of like filming a video part in public. And it was cool to stand next to those dudes on the podium, I was so happy, So but at the end of the day there are thirteen other dudes who are kind of bummed, so I kind of felt like shit. That's just the nature of contests and pitting people against each other."
Fellow Quiksilver teammate and last year's Super Natural winner Travis Rice couldn't quite muster a podium run. Although he stomped some clean drops and airs in the upper section, Rice cased the park jumps twice. Regardless of finish, Rice deserves a massive award for creating one of the best gigs around. Not only did he invent the event's formula, he's been heavily involved in the day-to-day production from sun up to sun down everyday we've been here.
First place finisher Gigi Ruf charged the hill with the spring, style and spontaneity he's know for. Rather than tying to fine-tune one run, Gigi took too different approaches on either side of the course. From the massive "Caterpillar" pad and long down log to a few huge wedge hits and utterly huge back one over the park jump. Gigi's smooth stylish riding and beasty airs couldn't be beat.
With limited space for only 16 riders, next year's invitations will be interesting. The top eight finishers earned a return trip. The 2014 X Games Slopestyle contest is yet to be decided, Snowboarder and TransWorld may still get some wildcard picks. One question though, with a 10th place finish, will Travis be back?
Something that's not captured in the two runs and a half day's broadcast coverage is the pulse of snowboarding's creative genius, power, and camaraderie pooling around in the snow nested lodge. Many of these riders know each other, but they've never all ridden together as a group. Other than the contest day, riders have been lapping pow and milling together in the lodge as good friends in celebration. It's a rare gathering of the tribe. While it is a massive TV production and technically a contest with huge corporate investment, it's done right. It's an event created by snowboarders to celebrate and push the boundaries of sliding sideways. And what better place to hold it than Baldface? A spiritual and cultural place engrained in snowboarding where the spirit of Craig Kelly is alive and well, and it rubs off on everyone. Outside of the two scored runs, riding and fun matter most. As Nicolas Muller recalls from his time here, "It's a festival in the name of shredding. Thanks to Travis, thanks to everyone for creating it."
Watch the Red Bull Ultra Natural Videos Here
Check out more photos from the Red Bull Ultra Natural Freeride Days
Check out last year's Super Natural
2013 Red Bull Ultra Natural Final Results
NAME RUN 1 RUN 2
1. Gigi Rüf 82.6 72.4
2. Nicolas Müller 76.4 71.4
3. Bryan Fox 44.6 75.4
4. Terje Håkonsen 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