My Experience: Guiding Travis Rice’s “Natural Selection Tour” 2022 in the Tordrillo Mountains, Alaska

Miles Clark | BackcountryBackcountry | Trip ReportTrip Report
Travis Rice about to drop into his semi-final run. image: snowbrains

In late March 2022, I was honored to be a part of the Pulseline Adventure guiding team that guided Travis Rice’s Natural Selection Tour in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska.

The Natural Selection Tour (NST) Alaska stop was one of the most impressive operations I’ve ever seen.

The NST Venue. image: snowbrains

I saw some insane things go down including three helicopters flying, a large drone buzzing, and two planes flying and landing all in the same zone at the same time while at the exact same time some of the best snowboarders on Earth absolutely threw down including Travis Rice, Mark McMorris, Ben Ferguson, Mikkel Bang, Elena Hight, Hannah Beaman, Marion Haerty, and more.

Miles skiing the NST Venue in the sunset light. image: snowbrains

I’d like to tell you about my experience guiding the Natural Selection Tour stop in Alaska and I’m going to break it down day by day to have it all make the most sense.

Miles on top of the NST venue. image: snowbrains

March 15, 16, 17

Travel To Winterlake Lodge & Tordrillo Mountains

Unloading the Otter I flew in on at Winterlake Lodge. image: snowbrains

On March 15, 2022, I was violently ripped out of Anchorage via Turbine Otter Airplane (my favorite plane) for a one-hour flight to Winterlake Lodge deep in the Tordrillo Mountains of Alaska with Pulseline Adventure heliskiing.

I knew I was there to heliski guide, but I didn’t know exactly in what capacity…

There was some secrecy surrounding the whole trip.

Winterlake Lodge. image: snowbrains

It was revealed to me when I arrived that I’d be guiding Travis Rice’s “Natural Selection Tour” and that it was imperative that I didn’t reveal what I was doing nor where we were.

They even had me sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Anchorage on the flight out to the Tordrillos. image: snowbrains

I proceeded to sit in bad weather eating the exquisite food of Winterlake Lodge for two days before the weather cleared.

Our friends at Pulseline had been working on building a monstrous glacier camp just below the venue for a week by the time we finally showed up with the helicopter on March 18.

Winterlake Lodge dessert. image: snowbrains

March 18

Set Up Landing Zones at NST

Over there! image: snowbrains

I didn’t ski on March 18.

I helped unload a couple of Beaver planes, put up two tents with my friend Harlan, then heli bumped up to the top of the venue to build landing zones and a zone for the competitors to hang out while they wait for their starts.

Sauna and a cold plunge in the lake (four-foot-thick ice on the lake) were welcome treats back at Winterlake Lodge that evening.

Venue, bird, tents. image: snowbrains

March 19

NST Exhibition Runs

The NST Venue. image: snowbrains

On March 19, I did ski.

We flew out to the glacier camp in the morning with the plan of getting the competitors out in the ‘exhibition zone’ just west of the main venue.

The exhibition zone is commanding with long spines and features galore.

We skied just skier’s right of the venue, dug pits, evaluated the snow, and ripped a run down to the bottom.

Video of the run just skier’s right of the exhibition venue at NST on March 19, 2022:

The snow was superb.

Once we gave the green light, we flew all the athletes to the top of the exhibition venue.

The athletes went off, of course, and it was a great practice run for athletes, filmers, drones, helicopters, guides, administrators, everyone.

Beaver dropping off supplies at NST glacier camp. image: snowbrains

I was on slope approximately where I’d skied down the previous run with two videographers.

We filmed the run, then skied a fun one down to the bottom and back to camp.

Back to Winterlake Lodge for hot showers, Michelin star food, and dart games with the pilots.

Spiney venue. image: snowbrains

March 20

No Competition, Yes Legendary Marushka Spines

On March 20, we flew straight to the venue for the competition.

On the flight in from Winterlake Lodge, we already saw high clouds moving in from the Southeast.

For a warm-up run, we took the athletes across the glacier to ski a spine zone that turned out to have a bit too much South in it.

Chris Rasman dropping into Marushka. image: snowbrains

The snow wasn’t great and the high clouds began to skuz out the sun as we dropped.

By the time I dropped last, the light was as flat as a pancake and the run was pretty rough.

We all headed back to glacier camp to await the weather decision for the competition.

The decision was “No Go”.

We hung out in camp for a while before the light started to improve.

Suddenly the sun started to shine so we piled the VIPs into the heli and zipped over to the zone where Cody Townsends “The Crack” lives.

We skied an open face and two sweet spines near “The Crack” then buzzed right over “The Crack” and started for home.

On our way home, we soaked in the sunset gleam.

Suddenly, the heli sneakily turned right and we were staring at the legendary Marushka spines…

I was baffled.

Gabe Monroe running out Marushka. image: snowbrains

The skiing of this zone is a whole other story unto itself so I’ll let you enjoy it in its full story and video forms below:

After the epicness that was Marushka, we finally went home to Winterlake Lodge and simply freaked out over the day we’d just had during dinner…

Even I had a beer!

Cody Townsend’s “The Crack”. image: snowbrains

March 21

NST Competition Quarter & Semi-Finals

On the morning of the competition, we took the VIP clients heliskiing for a few banger runs.

The comp wasn’t going down until the afternoon when sunlight would finally grace the tentacular spines of the venue and bring the zone to life.

We took full advantage of the morning skiing sick lines all over the Tordrillos including this spine line below that kind of blew my mind.

After three great laps in the Tordrillos, we contentedly coasted into the NST glacier camp where things were heating up…

I was shuttled straight to the top of the venue where I began continuously landing helicopters and unloading baskets full of gear and athletes.

I was also in position, along with fellow guide Eric Boyd, to be the first responder in the case of an accident or injury.

I spent the day on top of the venue landing and unloading no less than ten helicopter loads of athletes and gear.

Travis Rice about to drop into his semi-final run. image: snowbrains

After the last athlete was unloaded, I moved over to the athlete staging station with Eric Boyd and watched Travis Rice drop into his legendary, winning, semi-final run.

I saw him throw a cork 5 then a big 360 and he was gone…

Guide Gabe Monroe dropping into a beauty on 3/21/22 before the NST comp. image: snowbrains

The run scored a 97 out of 100.

Once the comp was done, the light was just getting started.

The last of the evening light illuminated the venue’s delicate spines in an evening glow that gave every wind ripple and divot a life of its own (see video above).

Venue and tents. image: snowbrains

The NST VIPs were flown to the top and brought to the top of the venue along with lead guide Gabe Monroe.

The VIPs had at the spines and faces hooting and hollering and being bewildered by the light.

I dropped last and picked out the only untouched spine I could find.

The world flag at the top of the NST venue. image: snowbrains

I felt as if everyone in the whole camp was watching me cut through evening light and illuminated snow.

I worked the spine the best I could.

I’d never studied this line nor how it moved, but I flowed along its right flank in subtle snow and towering spiney shark fin accents.

NST Venue light. image: snowbrains

I’d wished I’d done more with the spine and its other-worldly shark fins, but in the position of guide with the eyes of the world (it felt like) on me, I worked the spine cleanly and simply and had no regrets.

I can’t wait to come back and ski these spines properly with a light backpack and rowdy friends in tow!

Looking down a sweet spine zone we skied on 3/21/22 before the comp. image: snowbrains

March 22

NST Finals Day

On finals day, we knew weather was coming in.

We flew straight to the finals venue which was just across the glacier from the main venue.

The finals were Travis Rice vs Torstein Horgmo and Hannah Beaman vs Marion Haerty.

Gabe. image: snowbrains

By the time all was in place for the first run, the light was already starting to go…

All four athletes got in one OK run before the light went to crap.

They did a blind second run, then we all sat around for 45-minutes in the wind and cold and dark before they finally called the event over due to weather.

Finals zone. image: snowbrains

Travis Rice and Hanna Beaman won (both 39-years-old).

We zipped back to glacier camp and hung out for a while and like on March 20, the weather improved again so we rounded up our VIPs and went heli-skiing.

Gabe ripping with 20,000′ Denali and 17,000′ Mt. Foraker in the background. image: snowbrains

We found better weather to the north closer to home and skied a few runs in a fun chutey zone with mostly good snow and long lines that I’m calling “Lotza Chutes.”

Satisfied, we headed home for the great food and warmth of Winterlake Lodge.

Sweet zone. image: snowbrains

March 23, 24, 25, 26

Heli-Skiing Near Winterlake Lodge

Once the comp was over, it was time to heli-ski with our VIP guests out of Winterlake Lodge.

We had in and out weather all four of these days and on March 24 we couldn’t ski at all due to a storm.

The zone near Winterlake Lodge has sick, short, dynamic terrain that is violently fun to lap.

This zone is damn fun. image: snowbrains

We went nuts in this zone on March 23, 25, and 26.

March 26 was a huge day with some killer heli-skiing in the morning, then taking the helicopter from Winterlake Lodge to Anchorage.

We then took the heli from Anchorage to Girdwood.

Desert at Winterlake Lodge. image: snowbrains

Then Girdwood to Valdez.

That huge heli ride was bonkers…

The mountains between Girdwood and Valdez were face-melting at times.

We gazed down on College Fjord, Harvard Glacier, Yale Glacier, Columbia Glacier, and more.

Once back in Valdez, I realized that I was firmly planted back in the real world.

The Tordrillo dream was viciously over.

The two weeks I spent in the Tordrillos was truly otherworldly.

I can’t wait to get back to Winterlake Lodge next March and explore the delicate, tentacular spines of the Tordrillos with even more fervor.

Thank you, Alaska.




Photos

Marushka spines. image: snowbrains
Marushka. image: snowbrains
The Crack. image: snowbrains
Endless… image: snowbrains
Spencer on top. image: snowbrains
Glacier camp. image: snowbrains
Travis Rice getting ready to drop into the Spinal Tap zone. image: snowbrains
NST glacier camp. image: snowbrains
Gorgeous. image: snowbrains
Liam and Champion. image: snowbrains
Venue and tents. image: snowbrains
Eric at NST glacier camp. image: snowbrains
Beaver. image: snowbrains
NST glacier camp and Jason Champion. image: snowbrains
Travis Rice and Mark McMorris waiting to drop into their semi-final run. image: snowbrains
Flying out to the venue with Dustin. image: snowbrains
Gabe dialing it in. image: snowbrains
Mini spine zone. image: snowbrains
Random spines we flew over. image: snowbrains
Gorgeous. image: snowbrains
NST glacier camp. image: snowbrains
The NST Venue. image: snowbrains
Eric at NST glacier camp. image: snowbrains
Kinda neat we got shoutouts in the credits of the NST video. image: snowbrains

Related Articles

Got an opinion? Let us know...