One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of “supernatural” is “departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature”. For about two months, I kept wondering why Travis Rice’s innovative snowboarding event was called “Supernatural”. Then it aired on TV, and I understood. Travis took what nature had to offer snowboarders, built upon it with a team of lumberjacks, and then gave it back to nature to add the finishing touches. The result was a hybrid wonderland for backcountry boarders.
The riders themselves seemed to transcend human limitations. The idea that a snowboarder can literally “bonk a tree” (translation: tap the tree mid-air with the board) sounds like a move from a video game. I had no idea how the contest was scored, and I didn’t really care. It was enough to see these guys take on Mother Nature and appear as though they may take flight. Red Bull Supernatural brought in the poetry in motion found in snowboarding films to the one-upmanship and pushing of personal limits that naturally occurs with competition.
The question remains: is this the future of snowboarding? Putting my personal hopes aside, I don’t really know. It could go either way. X Games has already brought in the video element with their Real Snow competition, and I know people who don’t find snowboarding that exciting because “it looks like a bunch of spins” to them. I can see some of these people enjoying a contest like Supernatural because the course is constantly changing as more riders get on it and the weather shifts. With the help of Contour, they can actually witness how steep the drop is and how fast these guys are going. Plus everything just looks cool when there’s powder flying everywhere and natural obstacles popping up in unexpected places.
On the other hand, the contest is a bit like modern art. People generally like to understand what they’re watching, and Supernatural may be too out there for a mainstream audience. Judging is subjective, and it’s hard to see what the riders are doing from a distance. People also like drama. I found that the broadcast could have been improved because there was a lot of dead air from the commentators as the competitors looked for the right hits. Supernatural doesn’t give us the high tension moments of who’s going to land the first triple cork or is Shaun White going to defend his gold. The mystery of a rider’s run that makes the contest more interesting for some causes others to be bored with the lack of suspense.
A shot taken by Terje Haakonsen of Scotty Lago freeriding with Mark McMorris in the background. From Mark McMorris’ Instagram.
In the end, Red Bull Supernatural isn’t focused on getting viewers to watch a new type of contest. As Travis Rice has explained to ESPN, he created this event to unify snowboarding: to bring together vets and newcomers, slopestyle and backcountry, art and sport. It has reminded us that snowboarding isn’t about the number of spins you do or how many gold medals you have; it’s about finding new lines in untouched snow, conquering the fear you feel looking down a 55-degree incline, and above all, having fun.