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Natural Selection, Jackson Hole Wyoming

Sage Rules Natural Selection At Jackson Hole

Jan 312022

He came, he saw, he conquered! Without losing a single round, Sage Kotsenburg blazed through the competition on the final day of Stop 1 of the 2022 Natural Selection Tour snowboard contest at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

From the quarter-finals all the way to the ultimate one-on-one showdown, the 28-year-old Park City resident put down perfect run after perfect run. Battling the world elite of raw freestyle talent, the Olympic gold medalist turned backcountry pioneer left no doubt about the final outcome.

When all was said and done, Sage claimed the Men’s trophy in the YETI Natural Selection at Jackson Hole snowboard competition by doing what he does best – shred the backcountry like no other rider on the planet.

“Walking away with the win is unreal!” said Sage Kotsenburg.

Clinching the Win


When it comes to looking steezy in the backcountry, few riders own it like Kotsenburg. At Natural Selection Jackson Hole, he once again put his reflexes and unique technical bag of tricks on full display. Where other riders bobbled and lost their lines amid the rough conditions, Sage used patches of fresh snow to slow down and exploded into high airs with practically no time for set-up.


In the quarterfinal, Sage faced off against Ben Ferguson, his co-star in the ‘Joy’ snowboard movie. Ferguson also happened to be the rider who eliminated Sage in this very contest in 2021, so viewers were in for an epic battle. Except it ended quickly, with Sage stomping two perfect runs including a fully inverted Cab 540 and backside 720 Indy to go straight to the semifinal.


Next, Sage unveiled a whole new set of tricks facing off against Norway’s Mikkel Bang. Blasting into the line with a huge backside 720 method chicken wing air on the top kicker, Kotsenburg posted a frontside 360 Indy nosebone and a switch 540 off the next hit. While Bang struggled to put down a run, Sage landed the line he wanted – backside 540 into a switch 540 – and punched his ticket into the final.


In the final showdown, against American Jared Elston, Sage put down a strong first run highlighted by Cab 900 and huge backside 720 method air, interspersed with stylish and spontaneous tricks like alley-oop 270 over a natural bump and stalefish at the bottom.


As Elston took a bail on his first run, Sage had a chance to seal the deal on Run 2. Wasting no time, he followed up the backside 720 at the top with a bionic frontside 720 right below and held on all the way to a final stalefish air off the booster. Although Elston fired back with a flawless run featuring a double wildcat, the judges had their winner: Sage Kotsenburg with 93 points and a three-point lead!


In his post-contest interview, Kotsenburg dedicated his win to the course designer of the Natural Selection Tour who was killed in an avalanche accident in 2021. “I came into it like, ’This one’s for Mike!’”


Speaking on his opponent Jared Elston, Sage said: “He’s been riding insane all year and all week, I’ve seriously been tripping on his Instagram. Like, ‘You’re riding so good right now.’”


The Journey Goes Full Circle


In a way, the win at Natural Selection Jackson Hole brings Sage Kotsenburg’s pro snowboarding career full circle. Because let’s not forget that, just ten years ago, he counted among the most dominant riders on the ‘regular’ competition circuit.


Sage won every A-list snowboard contest. Some he won several times. He then clinched gold while representing Team USA in Slopestyle’s premiere at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and was invited to the White House. Got props from President Obama. Then came home and decided to hang up his contest boots and focus on shredding backcountry powder spots instead.


Just like that!


While everyone else at the time questioned Sage’s sanity, he single-handedly carved out a path to remain relevant as a pro snowboarder. By putting out heavy video parts that garnered millions of views and pushing the limits of trick innovation on natural terrain. He somehow convinced his sponsors to keep supporting him, although such a career change was unheard of at the time. He thereby opened a door for other riders to follow in his tracks.


Even more incredible, Sage even continued to claim medals on the merit of critically acclaimed video parts. Milestones included Rider of the Year and Most Valuable Video Player honors (for his part in the ‘Joy’ snowboard film) in the 2020 Snowboarder Magazine Awards. Also the 2021 Men’s Rider of The Year title in the Slushies awards by Slush Snowboard Magazine for his ‘Halcyon’ video project. Plus, X Games gold in 2021’s Real Snow video comp. But it took a special contest format for Sage to compete again.

The One that Got Away


On paper, Natural Selection sounds like the perfect contest format to bring Sage back on the competitive roster. Even though he seemed done with putting down ‘runs’ for ‘scores’ and impressing ‘judges’.


But then again, few people shine in the backcountry like Sage.

So from the beginning, Natural Selection proved a natural fit. But as already mentioned, in the previous year, Sage found himself kicked out in the quarter-final by Ben Ferguson. Which makes this year’s win in the same spot even sweeter.


“Today I knew coming in that it was going to be pretty cowboy and the snow was good this morning. It was kind of stick with what you know, I was going the same way and it was working. It was rowdy in here!” said Sage Kotsenburg.


The Ultimate Backcountry Snowboard Contest


Invented by pro snowboarder Travis Rice, the Natural Selection Tour is an iconic backcountry snowboard contest. Now in its second year, the format engages the world’s best outdoor riders in head-to-head elimination battles. In a field of 16 invited pro snowboarders, winners advance by outscoring their opponents twice in a round.


This year, Jackson Hole kicked off the action with the snowboard competition supplemented by the Natural Selection Tour’s ‘Stay Wild’ Festival featuring film and music showcases. Next, the tour is headed to Baldface Lodge in British Columbia, Canada, in February. The backdrop for the epic finale will be the Tordrillo Mountain Range outside Anchorage, Alaska, from March 20-27 to crown the champions in Men’s and Women’s all-mountain snowboarding.


Here’s the thing about competing on a natural downhill slope in the wilderness: It’s unlike hitting a pristine slopestyle course at the X Games, perfectly engineered for maximum flow and airtime. No way! Out in the backcountry, the going gets a little rougher.


Out here, nailing the best airs off the jumps and kickers is just part of the bargain. Adapting to the rough mountainside, not losing that momentum after heavy landings in deep powder snow, and most of all, finding a feasible line on the way down – that’s how winners are made on the Natural Selection Tour. The best of the best can make it look easy (and steezy) from dropping in at the apex all the way to the finish line.