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King of the Mountain: Interview with Snowboarder Travis Rice

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Travis Rice has had a big year. After the success of “Art of Flight,” a huge hit of a film in which he starred and co-produced, Rice, 29, went on to be named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year. The big-mountain snowboarder and X-Games gold medalist then saw his years of hard work come to fruition with an event, the Red Bull Supernatural, which is a snowboarding competition he pioneered and unlike anything the snowsports world has ever seen.

Travis Rice poses above a set of Red Bull Supernatural ramps

Held in early February at Baldface Lodge in Nelson, British Columbia, the Supernatural event (which will air on NBC at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 31, 2012) presented its 18 competitors with a semi-natural, super steep powder playground on which to test and show off their skills. Huge wooden ramps, drops, gaps, trees, and steep terrain throughout make the course a kind of fantasy super park in the backcountry.

Rice helped design the course, and he also won the inaugural comp. We caught up with him to talk about Supernatural and the future of big-mountain snowboarding.

GearJunkie: You were named a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year for 2012. What does that mean to you?

Rice: It caught me by surprise when I learned I was nominated for that. It put it in perspective for me. I was surprised about how much reach we had with “Art of Flight.” It kinda came out of left field. We operate in the snowboard world, and to National Geo it is something that is in the periphery. We worked super hard on a couple projects. We gave everything that we had on it for about two years that it was in the making. It was good to see all that work and effort acknowledged.

Start area of Supernatural

Tell us about Red Bull Supernatural. How did you choose the venue at Baldface Lodge?

It was a long process. It was several years in choosing that location. It had to be northeast facing to preserve snow quality. It had to be high enough elevation that if a warm front came in it wouldn’t destroy the snow but couldn’t be too high to be exposed to wind scour. We had to be able to build structures. We looked in northwest, western and interior B.C. Finally we found the run on Baldface. They are our preferred partner. They were a true pleasure to work with. I brought the event to Red Bull and they gave the green light. Then I found 12 of the most badass Canadian arborists, they went to work, spending five months building the course. There’s kind of a revolution taking place in snowboarding contests. This is the highest echelon. It’s going to be a really amazing show. It’s really going to showcase what we are trying to do. We’re already green-lit for another two years.

Chainsaws and lumberjacks: Scene from the making of the Red Bull racecourse

So are you hoping this sort of event grows to, say, a circuit or tour?

We built the venue for about an eight-year lifespan. I believe this year the event was kind of the experiment to test the concept. My original goal was to never have it as a one-off event; the goal is absolutely to start a movement, have a tour, worldwide. For us, a lot of the guys who have come off the contest circuit, the tricks get crazier and the ages get younger. You go through that and graduate to backcountry riding. The only outlet was photo and film.

Conditions looked great for the day of the event. What did the other riders think?

Everyone was pretty blown away. They were a little aware of what we were trying to do, when people showed up they, well, it was a pretty dynamic course. It’s about a mile long, I mean, it has a 300-foot wide powder kicker. They were like a little kid in a candy store.

Wooden ramps, trees, deep pow on the Supernatural course

An event like this, part competition and part filmmaking, must take some unique gear and planning. What are some of the things that you used here that you may not normally use in day-to-day riding?

Our crew with Brain Farm productions shot it with 15 cameras. The production crew was like 35 people. We had two Cineflex systems and two angles from the air, so you could see the action both on a microwave feed to the judges’ tower and on screens at the top and bottom of the course. It was set up like a live event and was judged by a combination of naked eye and microwave live feed from aerial systems. It’s a pretty huge course.

Have you seen the final production that is going to be shown on NBC yet?

I got to see it last week. It is a super great show. It’s really entertaining, X-Games type entertainment. Our goal was to turn a two-minute contest run to equal a two-minute video part.

Action on the Supernatural course

You ride Lib Tech snowboards. Which board did you use in Supernatural?

I rode my Horsepower board. It is a little more lightweight and has a snappier core. The board has basalt stringers, which are made from volcanic rock. Lib Tech is definitely on the forefront of board technology. Last year was the first year that the Horsepower board hit the market. It’s amazing. Anyone who gets the chance to ride it can feel the difference.

Lib Tech Horsepower board

What boots do you ride? Do you change depending on conditions and terrain?

I ride D.C. Boots, the Status model. The beauty of the D.C. Status is it has high-end double BOA [lacing] system. I really love them. They’ve been able to reduce the volume so you get less toe and heel drag. They also have a really awesome system — the whole liner is a honeycomb material that vents into your gaiter. As the foot gets hot all the sweat and moisture and heat evaporates upwards and is able to leave out of the top of the boot.

What other gear do you use that we might not know about?

There’s a goggle project that I’m working on. We spent two years creating a goggle where you can actually see about 95 percent of your peripheral vision. I was always baffled by why goggles are limited to tunnel vision. These give you the peripheral vision you need for aerials, riding lines, even just seeing other riders in a resort. They are from Quicksilver, called the Hubble. The name is due to better vision. You put it on, it sits really close to your face and you see almost no goggle rim all the way around.

Hubble goggles

For bindings, I signed on with Union a couple months ago. For the Supernatural event they have a binding that’s called the MC and that’s what I used. It’s the lightest weight binding on the market. It’s an amazing binding, really comfortable and totally stripped down.

We’re all about light weight gear. What does it mean for you as a top snowboarder?

It’s just nicer to have a lighter setup. For me, I weigh a buck-85 or 90, but when I have all my gear on, it’s more like 230 pounds or something. If I can shed some weight, little bits and pieces here and there, it helps me ride more to my potential. Like this binding, it’s carbon injected, got a lot of carbon fiber in it. The metal is all magnesium, even magnesium screws and buckles.

What is you typical backcountry setup? Do you carry any unique items that you’d like to share?

I always have on a little digi-camera. Red Bull did a collaboration with Leica. They made like 1000 of these little digi cams. I use Contour headcams. The new one has an app for my iPhone that Bluetooth syncs the camera to my phone. You can switch the camera settings from phone. I think that is a pretty awesome little element.

Leica/Red Bull camera

Any other cool gear you use, maybe anything unusual?

We started with a new Swiss watch company called Home. We started the company because we couldn’t find any we really liked. I guess we just wanted our own take on it. The company just dropped last year. I like the Model-G-Class. It is lightweight, has a weather band, and it’s not overbuilt.

You’re probably the first person I’ve ever talked to who is featured in a video game. Is it a weird experience playing yourself?

It’s a little dynamic. I’m at home, playing with myself [laughs]. It’s cool. We talked to designers of the game. They are big fans of our films. I remember the fist time we sat down, it was like, wow, this is a lot like our film. That’s where a lot of the similarity comes from. I think it’s awesome that they’ve been able to blend the reality of what we do and mix it into a mind-boarding kind of game.

—Sean McCoy is a contributor based in Denver. Connect with Travis Rice on his Facebook page.

King of the mountain: Travis Rice atop the Red Bull Supernatural podium

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