Dropping in Five

Words By: Ben Osborne | Photos By: Chad Chomlack and Aaron Blatt

A thick stand of Aspen trees casts shadows across the snow deep enough for Robin Van Gyn to find a line, maneuvering from edge to edge through the endless white-bark hallway. This is Van Gyn’s happy place, and she can’t help but let out a holler that echoes across Utah’s famed Wasatch Range. This might look like fun (and to be sure, it most definitely is) but in Van Gyn’s world it is something more — every slash, drop, and line perfectly executed through the trees has purpose.

It’s mid-February, and in just about one month she’ll be dropping into a sight unseen: the competition venue for the latest offering from the Natural Selection Tour. While she doesn’t know the exact nature of the spines, cliffs, and pillows that will confront her, there’s one thing she can be sure of: she’ll need to be quick on her feet.  

In the past decade, Natural Selection’s brand of riding, commonly known as backcountry freeride — blending speed, agility, tricks and huge airs in technical terrain and deep snow— has been power-cleaned to the collective consciousness of the outdoor industry by snowboarding’s non-stop backcountry innovator, Travis Rice. The competition blends every technical skill required to be in tune with the mountains and will demand the best out of all the riders competing, including three Arc’teryx athletes that will drop into the venue: Robin Van Gyn, Elena Hight, and Jared Elston. 

While Van Gyn has been logging days at her home hill Mount Baker and chasing snow in the Wasatch and New Mexico, Hight has been warming up by riding for her next film project with Arc’teryx team members Severin Van Der Meer and Jared Elston. That has meant many deep days during the January storm cycles that collided with the Alps, and an early February trip to Japan with Elston, working on jumping and riding deep snow, day after day, building strength in a way that is only done by lap, after lap, after lap.  


20 years ago, competition prep would have been a little bit different for Hight, who came into the first inaugural selection a bit wary of diving back into the world of bright lights and bibs.  

“I was hesitant, because competing was something that I had done for so long. When I transitioned out of halfpipe riding, I was looking forward to hanging the bib up,” said Hight. 

Nonetheless, the allure of the event drew her in.  

“It’s really elevating our sport in a new light. This event has given people who wouldn’t normally tune into an event a new outlook on snowboarding and backcountry riding. It came at a time when the sport really needed new energy.” 

While Hight spent much of her career in the icy confines of competitive halfpipe snowboarding, Van Gyn comes from the other end of the snowboard spectrum with a career chocked full of award-winning backcountry segments.  

“This type of snowboarding is what I have always done in the film world, so it was incredibly exciting to see the facet of snowboarding I had been in for so long evolve into a contest,” said Van Gyn. 

The duo’s path has converged now, with the two women confronting the evenly unpredictable conditions that the Selkirk Range, well-regarded for its historic snow depths and complex terrain, will offer in the coming week.  

“All you can do is snowboard a lot (in preparation), and act as if it’s going to be good conditions.,” said Van Gyn. 

“Whatever is thrown at you— that’s what you get.” 

What’s being thrown at the riders this year is a little different than in years past, with the pre-qualified, and those who made it past the ‘Duels’ stage, meeting in Revelstoke for a total of two days of competition. The first day will take place near the Revelstoke Mountain Resort on a face dubbed ‘Montana’ with 38 hand-built features for riders to choose from. The event will be open to the public and livestreamed for fans from afar to enjoy. Riders that make it past the first day of head-to-head competition will get to test their mettle on day two deep in the Selkirk Mountains, at one of two remote venues chosen depending on weather and avalanche conditions.  

For Van Gyn, a career in backcountry riding has prepared her well for the type of uncertainty Natural Selection brings, but that does not mean nerves won’t creep in at the start gate.  

“Everyone is nervous. There are for sure butterflies that you cannot control. But we have a good community of people, and everyone helps each other pick lines,” said Van Gyn. 

“It’s usually a really good vibe of everyone cheering each other on and getting amped by other riders.” 

Hight might not be going for gold like she did as a two-time Olympian and countless X-Games competitor, but still, the nerves persist. 

“I think that my background of being a competitive snowboarder helps me, but the nerves are the same. Ultimately you have only two runs to try to showcase your personal best. It adds a lot of inherent pressure to the riding,” said Hight. 

Still, at this stage of their career, the duo knows that success is in the effort, and their best foot forward is sure to produce at least a few jaw-dropping moments.  

“I just want to be able to perform my best, show up with energy and let the rest happen naturally,” said Van Gyn.  

“As long as I do that, the placement doesn’t matter.” 

Between Van Gyn, Hight, and the podium lies pillow stacks of uncertainty, but few riders are better equipped to face the challenge than these two. We wish them—and the whole Arc’teryx crew dropping in—the very best and can’t wait to see what happens when the snow settles. 

Dropping in five.