When it was first announced that Travis Rice was planning a backcountry slopestyle event in my neck of the woods- Baldface Lodge, just outside of Nelson BC- I was stoked to say the least. My first thoughts were that I wanted to be invloved on some level. I had to get my ass up there to see this go down. I had no idea at that time how challenging, and how rewarding this adventure would turn out to be.
My first reaction was to email everyone that I could think of that might have a line on how to get involved on a volunteer basis. I have been snowboarding for 21 years, snowmobiling and riding the backcountry for 11 years, and making amateur films about snowboarding and snowmobiling with my friends for 16 years. So I was offering up me and my sled to work at shuttling riders around the course, being a safety standby dude, or even being an extra camera operator. I was also asking that if none of that was going to pan out, could I at least ride my sled up there and watch as a spectator? I also collect vintage snowboards, and I had visions of bringing a few of them to the event to get autographed by the legendary pros they were designed by. That thought was what I was really stoked about. Jeff Pensiero from the Baldface Lodge became my main contact. Jeff was a really nice guy over the emails, but pretty vague on details. After a few messages back and forth, I was getting the impression that perhaps I needed to be talking to someone from Red Bull, the main sponsor for the event. I got a hold of a guy named Rico over there, and this is an excerpt from our messages that went back and forth:
Stoked you want to get involved with Red Bull Supernatural. It’s gonna be an amazing event!
I wish I had better news for you, but we have all of our bases covered on our end as Travis and the rest of the crew has been working on this project for over a year.
Sorry I don’t have better news for you.
hi rico, i guess i’ll just have to crash the party. i’ll be the guy on the sled throwing a 50ft roost behind it. good luck catching me. hahaha.
Haha you’re the man! =)
Not gonna lie, I would do that same thing if I was you.
So at this point I was feeling kinda bummed out… But wait a minute… did Rico just give me permission, in a round about way, to crash the party? I was kinda just joking, but I think I just found my way in! I quickly messaged Jeff Pensiero again and told him about my conversation with Rico. This time Jeff confirms that “IF” I can get myself up there, I’d be able to hang out and watch the event. Good enough for me! But it turns out that getting up there is harder than it sounds. The main access roads to the lodge and the event site are closed and gated off during the winter months to protect elk habitat in the valley. There are no other roads in or out, and Baldface’s tenure is completely surrounded by steep ridge lines on all other sides. Access to the lodge is done by helicopter, lifting off from the Nelson airport. It turns out that Baldface is a goddamn fortress from December till April!
Riding snowmobiles through protected elk habitat carries with it a hefty fine if you get caught, so finding a way around the elk gates and using the main road was going to be my my absolute last option (but I was still prepared to be an asshole, and face fines, if it were absolutely necessary). So I began scanning the area on Google Earth, looking for a weak spot in Baldface’s defenses. The first order of business was to identify the objective- Where was the event taking place? In one write-up I found about the event, it mentioned that the course was on a north-east facing slope. A great clue. I then referred back to the Supernatural promotional videos that had been circulating around the internet at that point, and picked out a few distinct landscape features in the background as Travis and his crew worked on the course during the summer. Holy fuckin bingo, I found an exact match on Google Earth!
Google Earth Image of “The Rice Bowl”, aka Scary Cherry
Now with the target identified, I was working on finding a route into the site. Again, the area was totally enclosed by ridge line, steep slopes, and heavily forested areas. However, a valley north of Baldface looked like it may have been hiding a few potential routes up the outer mountains, and possibly over the ridge lines. The trees remained questionable. Nearly every possible route I found on Google Earth had a section of dense trees that would have to be navigated, except for one, which would have been about a 30km trip one way- A very long snowmobile ride. The only way to be sure that any of these potential routes were possible at all, would be to actually go and scope them out.
I came up with a plan and picked out the routes that I figured had the best chances of working out. If the first way was no good, I could move on down to the next, and keep doing that if I had to, until eventually I would have worked all the way along the 30km route I mentioned earlier. As luck would have it, my friend Dylan called and asked if I wanted to go snowmobiling on the following Wednesday, Feb 1st. This was perfect, since the event was to be held on whichever day between Feb. 3rd and 9th had the best weather forecast. I ran the plan past Dylan, and he was game. He was gonna invite his friend Chad along as well, which was great. I needed all the help I could get. So the plan was in motion- a day of Recon, 2 days before the earliest possible date that the event could go down. Perfect.
I woke up to a miserable, rainy, foggy mess on the morning of Feb 1st. Disgusting. I was half expecting Dylan and Chad to call and cancel our mission based on the weather alone, but as it turned out, I didn’t know just how determined these two were… yet. I picked up Dylan, and we met Chad along the way. We drove to the trail head that I had picked out, and I took the lead. We were making our way along a deactivated logging road that ended in a cut block. A dead end. This was was the first potential spot that I figured where we might be able to make a break through the trees and then over the ridge line. We were gaining elevation fast. Not good. This mountain side was steep. The rain quickly turned to snow, which I’ll admit is better than rain, but deep, fresh, wet snow isn’t exactly the best conditions for breaking trail through the trees. Once we got into the cut block at the end of the road, Dylan and I were stuck within the first minute or so. Once we got moving again, I pointed out the corner I figured we should be checking out. Chad broke the trail up to the tree line, and made it over the final hill before disappearing out of site. He called back to Dylan and I to come on up. Once there, I had a look at what lie ahead of us- steep hillclimbs and dense trees. I was just about to say that we should turn around and try the next possible route, when Dylan took off. He made the first climb, weaving around 2 trees along the way, and then disappeared out of site. He came back a minute later, weaving through some other trees off to the left. I figured, “Ok we’re done playing now, lets move along”. But then Chad took a run at it. I could hear that he made it a little further. He came back and said, “lets just keep hitting it”. Dylan and Chad kept this up untill there was a solid trail winding back and forth, up till the next small plateau where we could turn around and take runs at the section. This cycle kept on repeating over and over again, and slowly we were making progress right up the side of this mountain. Bouncing off of trees, rolling sleds over, sidehilling in between and around trees, shoveling, getting stuck- these guys were relentless! I normally consider myself to be fairly decent on a snowmobile, but these guys made me look like a complete rookie. I was getting stuck 3 times for every one time they got stuck. Nevertheless, just before dark we punched through the other side of the trees, and picked up the trail that was a home run straight for the event site. Despite complete exhaustion, we were stoked beyond belief that we had hit our target. We played around for a few minutes in a nice open area, and then headed back down. The entire return trip was only half and hour, compared to our 6 hour climb. Back at the trucks, I admitted to Dylan and Chad that this was the most intensive day of snowmobiling I had ever done. They had to agree that it was the same for them- And here I was thinking that they did this stuff all the time, judging by the way they ride! I am still amazed at how these guys broke trail, and it was definitely some of the most skillful riding I have ever witnessed. That night I couldn’t sleep. My muscles hurting and full of adrenaline. My mind filled with the thoughts of how this plan had been coming together, and how attending the Red Bull Supernatural, and possibly meeting the heavyweights of snowboarding was looking like a reality.
The next step was figuring out which day would actually be the day of the event. I asked Dylan and Chad what their schedules were like for the next few days. Chad was definitely busy with work for the next week. Damn! The guy put in so much work breaking trail, and he wouldn’t even get to come along. He admitted that this was for the best, since he is not the type to sit around and watch other people ride. He said that he would most likely piss everyone off because he’d be out ripping around on his sled while the event was going off. I completely believed him. Dylan’s schedule was hit or miss. Good to go some days, but not others. So i referred to the weather network. The forecast was bright and sunny every day for the next week. Good news for the event, but it didn’t help narrow down the likelihood of it happening on one day over another. So I messaged Jeff Pensiero again. As always, Jeff was pretty vague, but did say that the film crews were behind because of the horrible weather we had been having earlier in the week. To me, this meant that Friday the 3rd was really unlikely. Great news, since I could barely move after that day of breaking trail. I was betting on Saturday, since waiting any longer during a stretch of sunny days and warm temps would be bad for the snow conditions. But i didn’t know for sure. Jeff wasn’t confirming or denying any rumors, so I turned to Facebook. I’m not directly friends with any of the competitors, but through my snowboard collecting I’ve made friends with people that ARE friends with competitors, or are at least friends of friends of them. I put out the word, asking for reliable intel on the date of the Supernatural, and word came back from a fellow collector named Rance. Saturday was the day! I got on the horn right away and called Dylan. As it turned out, Saturday was NOT one of the days he was available to ride. SHIT! Now neither of the guys that broke trail were gonna get to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Luckily it’s easy to find riding partners on a Saturday, right? WRONG! My good buddy Whitey was saying, “don’t count on me. i’ve gotta stay home with my son”. Another friend was out of town doing apprenticeship school in kamloops, and another didn’t want to leave his very pregnant wife at home because the baby could come at any minute. My plan was falling apart at the last second. I wasn’t gonna tackle that trail alone.
My one last hope was the fact that I have a 2nd snowmobile that I can lend out. However, I was in the process of putting it back together after a major overhaul. It wasn’t quite done yet, and it was completely untested. I ran out to my shop and got to work right away. I turned the last few bolts, popped the last few rivets, and topped up the fluids. There was just enough snow around my neighborhood that I could take it for a spin and at least make sure that it wasn’t going to blow apart on the trail. To my excitement, it held up to the test ride perfectly! Still to early to tell if the motor was gonna burn down or not, but at least I knew the track wasn’t gonna fly off. Now I just needed a rider for it. My brother Glen hasn’t been on a snowmobile in 4 years, but I called him anyway. I could tell he was nervous. An unknown sled, on a brutal trail, with an out of shape rider. I don’t blame him. He would have went if there were no other option, but as it turned out, my brother-in law Dan was more than willing to step up and take a chance. Glen was off the hook. I had a riding partner. I just had to hope that this damn sled would hold together long enough to get him up there. I spent the rest of Friday getting my gear and supplies together, and loading the truck. I didn’t want to linger around the next morning. Later on, I got another phone call from Whitey. Somehow things fell into place for him, and now he was back in! He pulled through at the last second. Did I ever feel better about that. Sleeping was not an easy task that Friday night.
I woke up early Saturday morning. A quick check of the email reviled definite confirmation from Jeff. “Saturday!”, was all his message said. I knew exactly what he meant. Good thing I believed the hype. This time it was definitely true. Dan didn’t waste any time arriving at my house, and Whitey was way ahead of schedule. We met him in Nelson. Once together, we hauled ass to the trail head, and didn’t waste any time unloading. I strapped the 4 snowboards that I hoped to get autographed to my sled, and we hit the trail. There was a thick fog overhead, but it hung low. Low enough that I knew we would be above it once we got up top.
This time when we entered the trees, the trail was set up nice and hard. The sleds were gripping like crazy. We were getting tossed around a little because of the ruts we made on Wednesday, but with the throttle held and some quick reaction time on the handlebars, we didn’t have too much trouble, and we were making great time. Even the backup sled was kicking ass, and it never missed a beat. We did however, have some trouble once we broke out of the trees and got into the clearing up top. We still had to pick up the trail that led back to the event site, and although we were sitting above the fog, the lower half of the clearing was below the fog, and we couldn’t see the road. Whitey took a chance and plunged in. A minute later he called up, telling us to come down. I was expecting to find him pinned against a tree, or nose down in a creek, but his tracks led right to the road, which was almost non existent due to the mass of snow on top of it. But we were on track! No stopping us now. Just like Google Earth said, the road led right to the Baldface snowcat trail, and right to the event site. We could see the judges tower, a couple of tents, heli’s buzzing around, a bunch of other snowmobiles parked, and snowcats ready to take riders back to the top of the run- “scary cherry” aka, “the rice bowl.”
I began snapping pictures right away, and fired up the video camera. We took a stroll up to the base of the judges tower and peered up at the course. A worker spotted my camera right away and informed me that we couldn’t take any video. Pics were ok, but no video. Damn. Whitey nudged me and said, “that’s Travis Rice over there in the yellow pants.” I looked and said, “no that’s Jake Blauvelt”. Turns out that we were both right, but I was looking at the wrong guy in yellow pants. Travis was about 10 feet away from us, Jake was about 20. I was oblivious.
We had arrived right between the 1st and 2nd round, so there wasn’t any action at first. This gave us time to have a look around and talk to some people. Whitey and I asked around if we could park our sleds in front of the main spectator area so that we could sit on them instead of sitting in the snow. We were directed to none other than Jeff Pensiero, who as I thought, was a super nice guy, and had no problem with us parking wherever we wanted. Soon after that, Dan and I spoke to some other guys, that also came up to crash the party. Turns out that they had just gone straight to the main road and found a way around the elk gate. How unadventurous!
Soon after, the 2nd round of snowboarding started. The spectator area was so far away from the starting gate that it was almost impossible to see the riders on the first section of the course. What we did see though, was fricken awesome! At one point there was a lull in the action, and a bunch of people got up and left somewhere. Whitey figured that this meant that the 2nd round was over, so he went for a sled ride. A few minutes later things got going again, and about that same time Whitey was on his way back. Like a prick, he was brapping the throttle as he hopped over a series of rollers on his way back. If looks could kill, he would have been dead from the glare that the crowd was giving him. What an asshole.
When the 2nd round actually DID end, I went on the search for some of the pros that I wanted to sign my boards, but as I rounded the judges tower, I could see that they were all loaded into the cat again, ready to go back up the hill. Struck out this time.
Riders about to go back up for round 3.
When I came back to the spectator area without any autographs, Whitey and Dan started giving me a hard time. “You’re like a little kid wandering around here, saying ‘mister, will you pleeease sign my board?’!” They were right. And the fact that I wear braces doesn’t help with this image. But I was way too excited to let these meat heads bring me down. And, one of the guys I was looking for was Bryan Iguchi, and he was a judge. I knew he wasn’t in that cat. I mentioned this to the guys, and Dan said “well get your ass up into that judges tower. What are they gonna do, kick you out? Big deal.” Right again. So I grabbed my 94 burton ouija twin, the board Bryan made famous in the film, “Upping the Ante”, ducked the rope to the stairs of the tower, climbed the ladder to the upper deck, and stepped inside the tent. I looked to my left and spotted Andy Hetzel and Tom Burt. Both legendary pros, both also judging. But I didn’t have boards for either of them to sign. So I looked to my right. There he was. “Bryan”, I said. That got his attention, and then he spotted the board. “Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in a long time”, he said. I explained how I collect boards, and how I’d like his autograph on this one. He was stoked about it.
We chit chatted about it for a bit, then stepped outside of the tent, and he asked how we got there. I told him the story, right from the beginning, with Google Earth and all. He loved it. Said that it sounds like something he would have done. Unfortunately for me, he had to go back to work, but not before convincing me that he is a really cool guy. Bryan is awesome. I returned back to Whitey and Dan with my first autographed board. HA! Take that.
I then went for a walk, taking a closer look inside the tents set up beside the judges tower. One had a bunch of NBC people, looking at video screens and talking on radios. The other was wide open, but had 2 lcd tv’s that had live video feeds from the cameras on the choppers. There was also a laptop set up right in between them that had live feeds from the judges as they entered their scores. Pretty high tech.
The 2nd round started as I was looking at the tv’s. Turned out that it was way better watching on these screens that it was looking straight up the hill, because the choppers were way closer, and the cameras have better definition that the human eye! The tv’s gathered a crowd pretty quickly. I was soon surrounded by the competitors that hadn’t made it to the 3rd round, and each 3rd round competitor that had just completed his run.
I took a look around then tent, and to my surprise I found that I was standing right next to Jamie Lynn. THE fucking Jamie Lynn. So I said, “hey Jamie”, and introduced myself. We had some conversation, and I explained how I had brought up some boards to get autographed- one of them being a Jamie Lynn blue girl that I was hoping to get Travis Rice to sign. Jamie agreed to sign it as well, but if i had known he was gonna be there, I would have brought my 1st year Jamie Lynn whale board! Damn!.
Jamie turned out to be a really nice guy as well, and we hung out for a while. I brought the rest of my boards up to the tent, since it seemed like this was where the action really was. I also bumped into Pat Bridges, although I didn’t remember his name at first. I did however recognize his viking beard, and I asked him “hey aren’t you that guy from Transworld magazine?”, to which he responded “no not Transworld”, and then I asked, “well didn’t I see you on a couple of episodes of powder and rails?”, and he said, “yeah I’ve been on about 10 episodes of powder and rails”. Pat and I ended up talking for a bit as well, and we finished watching the end of the competition together. Later he helped me track down some of the guys I was looking for to sign my boards. Another great guy. I had to look him up when I got home because I could have sworn it said “editor” beside his name on those episodes of powder and rails. As it turns out, he is the editor of SNOWBOARDER magazine, not Transworld! Doh! I messaged him about it and apologized. He was totally cool about it. Says it happens all the time. He also collects 90’s boards, so we were stoked on each others collection.
After all the competitors came down the mountain and started hanging out around the back of the tents, I was on the lookout for the final autographs I came for. Pat was helping me out, and just then GiGi Ruf spotted my 1st year Terje Haakonsen pro model. He said “whoa, I have one of those..” and we got talking from there. I showed him a pic of my collection on my phone, which he was right into. He took me over to where his board was parked, and showed me how he is launching his new brand called Slash Snowboards. In particular I loved the topsheet, and the shape. Best of all, he gave me his email address and told me to contact him so that he could send me a board to add to my collection. How awesome is that? He then helped me track down Terje, who was a little bummed because he figured he had just lost his cell phone. He was still a good sport though, and signed my board, and chatted with me about the course. He was staring up at it a lot, and I could tell he wanted to hit it some more!
Not far from Terje, I found Devun Walsh, who I got to sign my ‘sheep jumping over the fence’ Walsh DC board. Wish I had his Shorty’s board at that moment, but I do love that DC board as well. he said, “hey I recognize that”, when he saw it. It was great to meet such a legendary Canadian rider.
Next up, I stopped Travis Rice as he was walking by. I was already so star struck from meeting Bryan, Jamie, Terje, GiGi, and Devun, that I’m not even sure what I said to Travis. He also signed the Jamie Lynn blue girl- a board that I know he rode back in the day (watch the DC mountain Lab video). I do know that he took a step back and said “oh wow” when he saw the board. Whitey was taking pics of Travis and I at this point, and I wasn’t even thinking, but I should have snapped a shot of Whitey with Travis as well. Whitey still gives me a hard time about that, but I just tell him, “well if YOU didn’t have to be home so early maybe I could have got you one at the after party”! Yes, we could have gone to the after party, but didn’t because Whitey had a curfew. I still give him a hard time about that too.
So, since we were now under the gun to get home, we packed up again, and made our way back. We stopped for a bit of play time in the open powder fields along the trail. Back at the trucks it was high fives all around. What an awesome adventure. I highly recommend going out there and pushing yourself to the limits in ways that you normally wouldn’t. Dylan and Chad pushed me way beyond my normal comfort level, and every time that happens to me, I get a new perspective on just what kinds of things people are capable of if they really put their mind to it (or in some cases, don’t have any other choice). Jeff Pensiero from Baldface, and Rico from Red Bull were so vague that they made planning this trip a real challenge, but they also gave me just enough info to keep my hopes up. It doesn’t get better than that. The Supernatural was one of the most invigorating experiences of my life, and I wasn’t even a competitor!
the judges tower
competitors after it was all over
a video I shot of the trail ride on the day of the event, and a few scenes from around the event site.