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.