Thirteen of a total 16 riders are now one week away from snowboarding's ultimate proving ground: The Red Bull Ultra Natural at Baldface Lodge, outside of Nelson, British Columbia. Feb. 15-21 marks the weather window for the one-day event that pits the sport's backcountry freestyle legends and top contest kids against a one-of-a-kind course built for boundless expression.
The top finishers from 2012 return to the feature-rich environment: Founder and winner Travis Rice, Gigi Rüf, Nicolas Müller, Lucas Debari, Kazu Kokubo, Jake Blauvelt and David Carrier Porcheron. John Jackson, who finished fourth last year when it was called Supernatural, will sit out injured but attend as an on-air personality. In his place is Eero Niemela. New attendees chosen based on stellar film parts and contest results include powerhouse Bode Merrill, B.C.-based Mikey Rencz, the ultra-progressive Torstein Horgmo, and style-master Pat Moore. Overall, 2013 will be a more youth-focused field than 2012's veteran-stacked roster.
"Ultra Natural is everything snowboarding has to offer," Müller said. "Basically everybody's dream run that includes any obstacle you could imagine with powder landings. Some of the best in the game will be up at Baldface to give it a shot. Two runs, no practice, just strictly first tracks. Maybe the best flow wins."
Last month's X Games Slopestyle victory means Mark McMorris of Regina, Saskatchewan, will return to Baldface to try and translate his triple-cork mastery and groomed-snow grace to this wilder, backcountry environment. He's the only rider to return who didn't make top eight in 2012.
Right after his win at X Games Aspen, XGames.com asked McMorris if he knew about the wild-card spot and he said, "Yeah, but I just tried not to think about it because it made me too nervous. I'm so stoked I won though. I love it up there. It's the coolest contest, and I really can't wait to go back and [laughs] maybe redeem myself this time around."
Three more wild-card spots chosen by media outlets and Baldface will be announced Monday. If you saw last year's insane course, straight from the brain of Travis Rice, this year's will be even better and matched by a new format and new judges.There's no other channel in snowboarding that pits fearless kicker kids against backcountry video vets and no other contest can claim to crown "the best all-around rider in the world" with such conviction as The Red Bull Ultra Natural.
For more information, see here. The event will air March 30 on NBC.