Travis Rice Goes On A Legendary Mission in Interior BC
October 14, 2020
The plan was simple enough: Travis Rice, accompanied by three of the world’s best out-of-bounds boarders were to head deep into the Interior of British Columbia to score some goods and scope some terrain. But with any good plan comes a curveball. Sometimes said off-speed pitch is a blessing and sometimes, a curse. In this instance, it was indeed the former, and the end result was one of the most epic lines ever ridden on a snowboard.
Rice was accompanied by fellow Mervin team riders Austen Sweetin—an all-terrain ball of energy exploding inside the frame of a snowboarder, Robin Van Gyn—one of our sport’s best and most accomplished big mountain riders alive, and Blair Habenicht—a rider who is hard to put into words due to the fact that the majority of his time is spent deep in the Mt. Baker backcountry where he is single-handedly reinventing the art of turning in powder. The crew was epic and the locale was even more so, as they loaded up into the heli and set out into the forest seeking adventure.
Pillow Talk in British Columbia
The terrain in the Interior of British Columbia is arguably the best in the world and the same can be said about the snowpack. According to Travis, “The unique thing about BC is the type of coverage and how much variability there is in the rock and the geology. It bridges this harmonious gap between the Rockies and Alaska. It’s unique because you get a somewhat coastal snowpack and you’re a thousand kilometers from the coast. You have these big mountain ranges that get a snowpack that sticks to them and for someone like me coming from Wyoming where it’s very rocky, I’m like a kid in a candy store because it gives me confidence. You just have to be a little smarter and more defensive about how you’re riding where I’m from but not so much in BC.”
There were two missions within one. First and foremost, it was a Mervin team trip to gather photos and video, but on the back end, it was a chance to check out a little something that Travis has had in the works for a few years now. Twelve years ago, Rice created an event called The Natural Selection—an off-piste all-mountain freestyle event with the best riders on planet earth. He hosted the inaugural event at his home resort of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. In the years to follow, Natural Selection would evolve and eventually head north to…you guessed it, Interior British Columbia. More specifically, a powdercat lodge known by every snowboarder on the globe: Baldface. Just last year, Rice officially announced that the Natural Selection was officially back, but this time, it has evolved again into a full-fledged tour rather than a one-off winter event. The second stop of the Tour will take place at Baldface again, so the crew accompanied Travis to take a peek at the course while scoping other terrain in the area. “A lot of riders have had insights and input into this new Natural Selection Tour and it truly is the culmination of the professional snowboarding community coming together to create what we all think is desperately needed right now.”
While this was technically a “work trip” for Rice, Sweetin, Robin and Blair, their work is considered play to 99.9% of the general public, and so they set off into the woods to find bottomless powder, pillow fields as far as they eye can see and chutes galore hidden in the endless terrain of the Interior. Rice has arguably spent more time in BC than most, and it’s almost certain that he has logged more time in a helicopter than any snowboarder who’s ever lived, and it wasn’t long into their trip that Rice stumbled upon an old friend. A wide open, high alpine, hanging boulder field and that he had flown over a few times before in his time up north.
“You know, the funny thing about pillows is that they’re just a series of flat landings,” Rice says with a laugh. “We had actually been up to this area a couple times, so this wasn’t a totally new place for us but like anything, there are so many hidden treasures in the mountains and they also change year-to-year depending on the snow. Lots of times it takes several trips to even start to figure out an area or uncover a new zone. I think it was three years ago when we were flying out of a zone, seeing this hanging pillow face and kinda laughably looking at it, thinking ‘What if?’”
Fast forward back to this trip, and Travis recounts, “On this particular trip, we looked at the pillow field on a cloudy day. The interesting thing about cloudy days when you look at pillow field is that you only see the rocks, so it looked kinda boney and not filled in and because it’s such a steep face, it looks like there’s still a lot of exposed rock. So the second day we went out, again and we got another look at it with some sun on it, and it was like, ‘Oh my god, look at this thing.’ So we were flying over it and it looked like there was starting to be light on it and that’s when it gave me goosebumps because when I saw that it was getting light, that’s when my objective really focused on getting to that face. For the next two or three days we really had to do a lot of problem-solving to figure out how to get into that zone cause there wasn’t a heli landing on top of it. The following day we had to land about a mile away and kind of adventure-board down the ridge and go establish a landing zone. There was one dead tree that had fallen over and we had to move it and dig a ton of snow to get just enough for a landing.
That wasn’t the only obstacle they faced. Travis adds, “Another challenge was there was a huge cliff below the line along the ridge so it kinda looked like we couldn’t make it down to it. But we found this one little chute to get to the line, so again, we had to adventure-board down and find the little exit to get through. Our goal was to shoot this thing at sunset so we had to have everything figured out. On our last day of the trip, the high pressure was still holding and we decided to start prepping for it at 1pm for a sunset shot, and the big challenge was we had two groups of people. Everything needed to go right for it to work. We even had overnight bags in case we needed to spend the night out there.”
Rice continues, “Unfortunately, that final day, Sweetin ended up coming down with a fever and so he wasn’t with us. So the three of us went out and we’re up there and everyone’s trying to get prepped. We scoped it form the side, looked at it from the heli, chose our lines and then went up to the top. For me, it’s trying to remember the most complicated areas of the line. It looked like a 300-foot pillow-filled cattrack so it was pretty intimidating from the top. You wanna ride something like this relaxed, be in the moment. Finally, the heli was up and the filmer called the ‘3, 2, 1’ and for me, it immediately became a series of levels and I started checking them off mentally. By the time I made it through the first two ‘levels,’ I was just so happy to still be riding, and that’s when I was just laughing because I was still going. And so I kinda just kept going and going and finally at the end I missed the line by about five feet and ended up in the treewell, but I was going until it stopped me, ultimately. I was pretty psyched. It was so complex and so beautiful. It was gorgeous.”
Once down in the valley floor, all Rice had to do was look up to watch Robin and Blair have a crack at it. “I got to the bottom and at that point, I was just looking up and was so psyched that Blair and Robin were up there and the light was so good, because with this type of riding, all you can hope for is a shot to ride it. I’m 2,000 feet below in the valley looking up at them and they both came down with such big smiles, because once you get through the line you have another thousand feet of playful pillow line so they came down with sore legs and huge smiles.”
As Travis called it, “Hands down, the most savage pillow line I’ve ever ridden,” and the entire crew realized that they had all just embarked on an epic adventure and ridden one of the most technical lines of the winter, and ultimately, that’s what drives this elite level of rider. The urge to push themselves to the absolute limit, only to succeed and then push on to find the next great adventure to tackle.
Travis has accomplished some of his most admirable feats in the heart of the British Columbia Interior, and this trip was no different. And moving forward, no trip that he takes to the Great White North will ever be any different. BC is a place of endless opportunity for a rider of Travis’s caliber and be it riding technical terrain or hosting industry-disrupting events like The Natural Selection Tour, he will continue to make his way due north in order to evolve, progress and push the sport of all-mountain freestyle snowboarding.