Travis Rice is a name that has been tattooed onto the timeline of snowboarding, and not with the shaky haste surrounding that ungodly shoulder portrait of your ex-girlfriend, but rather a progressive focus that continues to grab the sport by the horns and steer down previously uncharted terrain.
Rice’s incredible talent has not gone under the radar, and over the years, he has won countless accolades, from Snowboarder of the Year, to X Games gold, to even #13 on Snowboarder Magazine’s list of most influential riders of all time. This sort of notoriety is something that a budding athlete in any sport could only dream of, but it is what Rice has done beyond his fame to shape the sport that is uniquely compelling and powerful.
After successfully competing against the highest echelon of snowboarding’s elite, Travis Rice took his massively inventive style and spearheaded filmmaking, starring in and creating some of the most widely acclaimed, bestselling videos in the sport’s history. Positive feedback surged around films such as 2008’s “That’s It, That’s All” and 2011’s “The Art of Flight,” yet he continued to expand in ambition, eventually setting his sights on creating a new kind of competition – one that would wholly enlist his vision of what competitive snowboarding has been progressing towards all along.
Following a one-off appetizer with Quicksilver called Natural Selection, Rice’s competitive concept was eventually adopted by the bright minds at Red Bull, and in their traditional spirit of working with athletes and making big ideas a reality, Supernatural was born in 2012 as part of their signature series.
This weekend marks the dawning of another killer installment in the Red Bull Signature Series: the Ultra Natural, bigger and better than anything previously seen, and broadcasting across the country, Saturday, March 30th at 1:30 PM ET on NBC.
The event is not only another one of Rice’s trademark creations, which blesses it with inherently mesmerizing watchability, but unique in the fact that it stands apart from conventional snowboarding contests.
In your mind’s eye, try to conjure up a few images regarding televised snowboard competition. Dew Tour? X-Games? Surely, this mental picture wouldn’t be complete without snippets of footage involving highly pre-meditated, rehearsed insanity, all bursting forth from the legendary superpipe, slopestyle and big air events that viewers have grown accustomed to since snowboarding hit the TV screen.
To get an idea of what NBC is broadcasting this weekend, you may want to wipe the aforementioned slate clean and transplant in a heavily powdered, 50-degree slope, peppered tirelessly with countless features that allow for an infinite number of line, trick and style variations. The concept of a singular path with rehearsed action points is out the window, and in its place steps the looming beast that is Bald Face, British Columbia. This is the arena that Rice handpicked to host this year’s Red Bull Ultra Natural, and on Saturday, you owe it to yourself to watch 16 of the world’s best snowboarders showcase their extreme talent and battle for gold.
BE: What is life like as a competitive snowboarder as opposed to making movies and pushing new contests?
TRAVIS RICE: You know, it’s been a nice change of pace. I don’t really consider myself done or retired from competitive snowboarding, but I always used to balance filming in the backcountry, then rushing out to park contests. A couple years ago, I dedicated two years to just going out and filming. The last film we did was “The Art of Flight,” and after that, I kinda got on the tangent of the contest we did last year, the Red Bull Supernatural. So I think it’s been a nice change of pace. I still do competitions, but definitely have not been doing the big grind.
BE: So I’m assuming the competitive circuit is pretty demanding, with constant travel and pressure?
TRAVIS RICE: Yeah, it’s heavy, especially the level of competition these days. It’s nuts, for me. To do well, and be in the top tier of those events, you basically have to spend the majority of your season riding park and training. Which, and for me, it comes down to the fact that the majority of my season is spent in the woods. And exploring, you know, which basically makes it impossible for me to do both at this point.
BE: With the competitions usually being geared towards things that you may not be focused on, such as backcountry?
TRAVIS RICE: Yeah, and it’s kind of one of the beautiful things about snowboarding, right? There are so many avenues you can pursue. You know, for years, I just tried to do it all, and in recent times I just got a little more realistic – where it’s like, pick a subject and really fall completely into, and stick with it – so the last few years it’s been filming, then spending the majority of my time trying to create this new type of contest, which, this year, was the Red Bull Ultra Natural.
BE: Definitely. During your rise to notoriety, was there any issue you had, if any, with the entire snowboarding culture and the direction it was going that prompted you to go out and push things in this new direction?
TRAVIS RICE: You know, I think it was kind of just a natural progression, really. For me, I love it all, kinda the variety, being able to do so many different types of riding that keeps it super interesting because I don’t care what you do, if you do something day in, day out, if you don’t change it up a bit, it’s probably going to get a bit old. And for me, that’s kind of what I was doing. Let’s be honest, I’m 30 years old, and I’m watching these incredibly talented 18-year-old kids stomp time and time again. It’s incredible, but doesn’t interest me anymore.
BE: Was there a single recognition or award that you hold above the rest?
TRAVIS RICE: I think awards that are peer-based, boding in from other people who are like-minded individuals, are definitely special to me, but ultimately being able to at least attempt to give a little back to snowboarding, because it’s given me so much, and that’s why during the last two years I’ve been trying to do these contests. Last year was the Supernatural and this year was the Red Bull Ultra Natural.
BE: What about Natural Selection? Was it sort of the beginning to all of this?
TRAVIS RICE: Yeah, that was the spark. I spent a couple of years just wanting to do a different type of event. And Quicksilver was awesome enough to want to back that up in Jackson Hole, basically giving us a key to the mountain for about a month, and we got the whole shred world out to this amazing event. Jackson is my home mountain, and it snowed harder than I think I have ever seen it snow in my life, right here, for that event, and you know it really was like the beta version of what we are doing now up in Canada.
BE: What would you tell people who are seeing this competition for the first time? How does it differ from conventional snowboarding contests and what does it bring to the table?
TRAVIS RICE In my humble opinion, I think that this is by far the most dynamic, purest form of snowboarding. I mean, I come from a park and pipe background, I have nothing but respect for those types of events, but I really feel that this is the type of event that is the next step for the career of a snowboarder. Doing tricks, and linking together a line in natural conditions, is incredibly challenging. You don’t get to practice.
BE: It does seem like the Red Bull Ultra Natural is a big change from what most people are used to, in a competing sense, so were there any riders who shied away and weren’t sure, or was everyone eager to hop on board and show their skills in this more freestyle environment?
TRAVIS RICE: I think people were pretty eager, given the fact that it was one week, with a legendary cast of characters going up Bald Face. You know, the whole week is much more than the event itself. The event is the reason we get to go up there and do this, so I think guys that weren’t totally ready for it, completely embraced it and came up and made the most of it.
BE: The Ultra Natural seems to have a heightened physical aspect to it, as opposed to conventional contests. Do you feel that there is a need to come out and be more physically well-drilled in order to be successful in it?
TRAVIS RICE: I mean, it’s different. I think that out of all the events, you gotta be in good shape to ride a halfpipe, but even riding halfpipe, your typical run lasts maybe 20 seconds, and the average run down the Ultra Natural course is about two and a half minutes. So if you can equate that, it is really demanding.
BE: I imagine you had a thorough vision regarding the entire Ultra Natural. Did you have to concede on any ideas or were you able to make everything happen?
TRAVIS RICE: It was pretty close to that. I owe that to Red Bull, and I think we are just going to get the course closer and closer every year we run the event.
BE: You have had a history of mapping and riding entirely new terrain. Taking that into account, do you feel that you have a unique planning skill that allows you to be successful in this avenue?
TRAVIS RICE: Yeah, I do. I just don’t think that it is completely unique. That’s sort of the reason, the root of why we do this event, is cause when it comes down to freeriding, it’s based upon the principles of creative expression. So the goal of this contest is to give enough options to let the riders’ true expression come out. That is what it is all about – picking a line – and to loop it back to your question, I see it the way that I’ve done it and there are definitely a handful of people out there who see it differently, but who see it just as clear, if not more. Take a look at the top couple guys out there who placed at this event. Those guys interpret the mountain in ways that I don’t – I think it’s just the idea of time and energy put in. I’ve been doing this for the better part of my life, and so have a lot of the other guys. With that much time placed into something, you learn a few things.
BE: You speak of other riders with equal talent, yet how did you manage to maintain your enthusiasm for driving attention to the sport and taking a bigger command on changing the future of the sport, as opposed to just being a talent who goes and wins contests?
TRAVIS RICE: That’s a good question, and if anything, for a bunch of years I was just riding and filming, and that got a little old and I wanted to try my hand at putting a little of my own spin on things, and that goes for the films we do as well. I think we would all be a little burnt out if we were all still trying to make the same movie we did ten years ago, like, film a part, put it to music, now this. Same goes for this event, it almost came out of necessity. Like, I wished I had something like Red Bull’s Ultra Natural. I try to go to some of these big scene contests and conditions usually suck. Sometimes they can be really good, but the format is not set up to have the best possible conditions period, or the best possible terrain period. For me, I feel like it was something that was missing.
BE: You have stated before that you look up to the CEO of Virgin, Richard Branson, and in the spirit of entrepreneurship, it seems like you have made a lot of smart, persistent moves. Is it safe to say that snowboarding is much more than a physical outlet, but is all-encompassing within your life?
TRAVIS RICE: There is totally a connection, and I don’t think that I ever really set out to do something personally unless it was something that I was completely interested in or passionate about, or that it wasn’t going to be symbiotic for all parties involved. I think that is something that I have tried to keep consistent. I don’t know if you know anything about Asymbol Gallery, our photo art company out of Jackson, but I’ve been working with Asymbol for the last four years, and it basically came from so many talented people – artists, photographers – and I felt that there was no bridge from creator to creator, so I set up a platform to showcase the works of incredibly talented people within board sports. That has been an amazing project for me, and it goes along with the same principles I’ve applied to doing films, contest series… to projects I’ve done with my sponsors, from creating gear, to working with non-profits. I like to enter into things that are not just self-serving and can help all parties involved.
BE: Red Bull’s Ultra Natural is obviously just a stepping stone along a timeline of your influence within the sport. Where do you plan on taking your legacy next?
TRAVIS RICE: That’s a good question. In the short term, I absolutely have goals about taking the Ultra Natural formula global. I never wanted it to be a one-off event and I really wanted to make a tour of it. It’s gonna take a lot of time and some great partners, but it’s totally something I am committed to. We’ve been throwing out the idea of possibly doing another film. It’s not gonna be for a few years, but between those two and continuing to work every day at Asymbol, there should be plenty to do.
BE: How is it being back in your hometown?
TRAVIS RICE: It’s good, man. It’s a community, you know, and there is something to be said about bumping into your first grade teacher at the supermarket. It’s good, though, man. It’s healthy, it’s fun.
BE: You seem to be squeezing every last drop of enjoyment out of snowboarding. What advice would you give those who are looking to start snowboarding, or already partaking, in order to maximize the experience?
TRAVIS RICE: A lot of it is an attitude. Every day is what you make it. I find that with a lot of people, and even in my mind too, will come up with reasons not to try something, like, “I may suck or look like a fool,” but you just gotta take that leap. I mean, everyone has looked like a fool and sucked. Take a good spring day or if you are lucky enough to have a powder day to try it, and the learning curve with it is actually really sharp. Within seven days, you will probably be able to go around most of the mountain.
BE: Lastly, every athlete has a schedule surrounding competition or to ensure skills are at their peak. When would you say you perform best?
TRAVIS RICE: I tend to sense that I do best when I am having a good time – it’s that simple. Some days you train for weeks on end and get burnt out and then take a few days off and come back to it and you surprise yourself. I think the best competitive season I ever had… usually I snowboard for six weeks and train with strength training… but instead, I went sailing for a couple of weeks, then a came back a couple of days before the contests started and I won every event. I think it was just because I was so excited and pumped to be riding. I think it s really just have fun with it, don’t take it too seriously.
Did I really end the interview on such a non-sequitur question? Perhaps, but I’ll blame my unconventionality on the freethinking theme that parallels much of what Travis Rice has accomplished.
Now that you have had the chance to hear it from the mastermind behind the event, don’t forget to catch Red Bull’s Ultra Natural this Saturday at 1:30 pm ET on NBC.