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​Sage Kotsenburg And Elena Hight Win Natural Selection Jackson

Following a day of intense head-to-head snowboarding in challenging conditions at the YETI Natural Selection at Jackson Hole, Sage Kotsenburg and Elena Hight emerged victorious. This marks the second year of snowboarding legend Travis Rice’s manifestation of a new type of big mountain freestyle snowboarding contest. The unforgiving head-to-head heat format meant that riders were given two chances to best their opponent with judges rewarding risk, flow, creativity and freestyle elements on the course that included a plethora of natural and enhanced features.

The day kicked off with eight men going head-to-head in the quarterfinals. Natural Selection rookie Jared Elston (USA) kicked it off as the first rider to drop, he came out swinging to overtake Dustin Craven (CAN), following that with a huge win against fan-favorite Torstein Horgmo (NOR)—who himself had just earned the second-highest score of the day in qualifiers to advance against event founder and GOAT Travis Rice. Elston’s semi-finals run included a stylish double Wildcat, which announcer Pat Bridges dubbed “easily the best run so far of the day” to earn his place in finals. Sage Kotsenburg (USA), in a 2021 rematch with an alternate outcome, took out Ben Ferguson (USA), after defeating his younger brother Gabe Ferguson in Tuesday’s qualifiers. He then proceeded to put down a styled-out inverted backside 720 to take out 2021 Overall Natural Selection Tour winner Mikkel Bang (NOR) in the semi-finals.

And so it was Kotsenburg and Elston in finals—an Olympic slopestyle gold medalist versus an up-and-coming rookie Natural Selection rider whose pro contest winnings begin and end with the 2016 Drink Water Double Tap race. The two finalists previously filmed together for the 2019 film Halcyon. Kotsenburg took the lead in the first round, stomping a backside 720 Japan, a massive frontside 720, ending with a Cab 900 to close it out. Elston answered back with his double backflip, a Cab 540 before crashing on a huge backside 720, sealing Kotsenburg’s victory.

The women’s semi-finals field featured four women, local favorite Hana Beaman (USA) versus Elena Hight (USA), with Hight overtaking Beaman landing a clean run with her signature method. In the second heat, it was Freeride World Tour champion Marion Haerty (FRA) versus inaugural 2021 Natural Selection Overall Tour winner, Robin Van Gyn (CAN). Van Gyn put down two huge backside 360 tail grabs, which announcer Pat Bridges proclaimed to be “the highlight of her first and second runs,” to eliminate Haerty.

That left Hight versus Van Gyn in the finals—with Hight, a halfpipe contest rider turned big mountain freerider, versus Van Gyn, a backcountry rider since day one. It was back-and-forth as Van Gyn took the first round, and Elena answered back on the second, taking the women’s finals into a third-run tiebreaker. This full reset run saw Hight throw down a backside 360 into her undefeated method, milking the last of the powder and launch pads on her way to the win in a Herculean effort to finish off this huge day of competition. “We’ll battle again!” declared Van Gyn.

Elena shared what this win meant to her: “This event is truly made by snowboarders for snowboarders, and it truly is a mashup of everything we all love about snowboarding—the freedom, the creativity, the style and the contest aspect meshed together. I think that this event means so much to snowboarding as an industry. I’m just honored to be here with all these women and the men, they are so impressive and all of my heroes, so to win this event doesn’t even feel real.”

Rice, the visionary behind the Natural Selection Tour, says, “It was a big day, even though conditions were sporty—we’ve had literally six inches of snow in the last month—to have riders perform the way they did today was incredible. Conditions were incredibly tricky. I think that’s the type of thing that’s going to come through the most is being able to ride with the speed and tenacity that riders rode today in these kinds of conditions, is super impressive.” 

About The Author

stash member Max Ritter

I manage digital content here at TGR, run our gear testing program, and am stoked to be living the dream in the Tetons.