Travis Rice is an innovator. When he achieves one goal or feat, he goes looking for the next best thing, searching for how he can outdo himself and others. At 29 years old, Rice has won numerous medals and award including a recent nomination from National Geographic for Adventurer of the Year and "Rider of the Year" honors from Snowboarder magazine. His work doesn't stop at the base of the mountain, though. Using his snowboarding success as a launchpad, Rice is also heavy into the art game. He owns a printing business in his hometown of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, created an online art gallery, and regularly designs board graphics.
His most recent creation Red Bull Supernatural, which airs on NBC at 1:00 p.m. ET on March 31, is the brainchild of Rice's vision to fill a hefty gap between snowboarding's divisions. He spoke to Complex about the inception of Supernatural, how he's stayed healthy all these years, and what snowboarders he sees as the best in the world.
You’ve been working on Supernatural for around three years. How did that idea come about?
It sort of started six years ago when I was working towards doing the Natural Selection, which was the predecessor for this event. It was the fact that snowboarding is split up into these two sectors. You have the competitive side of riding with the U.S. Open, stadium kicker contests, the X Games, and the Olympics. Then there’s the more adventurous side. That consists of filmmaking and photography, and those are pretty much the only outlets. There wasn’t enough crossover, so I wanted to create the highest echelon of competitive snowboarding, which is backcountry freestyle riding on adverse terrain. When this show airs this weekend, it really defines everyone's individual styles. That’s what I really like about this contest. The strength it showcases is the fact that everybody has their own style and take on it. That’s what’s always separated board sports from mainstream sports. It’s been tough with the crazy level of riding in halfpipe and slopestyle when it is crazy trick after crazy trick. A lot of that individual style gets muted.
How does this competition bring out that style?
There is an endless number of ways to ride that course. The options are totally open with how you want to ride it. Everyone up there took to the course in their own unique ways. The most progression goes down in video parts. That’s the constant, that’s the control to gauge every year where snowboarding is at. I wanted an event that somebody’s two-minute run could be equal or greater to somebody’s two minute video part.
One of the judges was Bryan Iguchi, who has made a huge name for himself in snowboarding. Tell me about how he has fit into your life and your career?
I grew up in Jackson Hole, and snowboarding consisted of riding with a couple of my high school buddies. Guys like Bryan Iguchi often times were around riding with other professional snowboarders. For an impressionable young kid, he had this God status to us. I think when I was 15, I bumped into him a couple times, and he went out of his way to take us out for some adventures. We did some backcountry riding, and he kind of opened that world to me for the first time. I just hung under his wing. He helped me go to a couple events that later played a pretty pivotal role in in my snowboarding career. He guided me with everything from making lifestyle choices to getting contracts.
The strength Supernatural showcases is the fact that everybody has their own style and take on it. That’s what’s always separated board sports from mainstream sports.
What are your big picture plans for Supernatural?
I never set out to do this as a one-off. Right now it’s an experiment, and come Saturday, that experiment will become an absolute success, and everybody can witness that.
How do you maintain the purity of backcountry boarding when you expand?
Every day comes with its own variables. The conditions are constantly changing, and we want to bring it to other mountains and locations. Compared to a pipe that doesn’t really change or a slopestyle course that remains basically the same, these courses are characters themselves. You’re more in your natural element when dealing with these conditions. It is absolutely more challenging to ride variable terrain where you can’t practice. You have to bring everything you’ve ever learned in order to succeed on the Supernatural course.
You haven’t had a major injury in over 10 years. How have you managed to stay so healthy?
The willingness to say no. The willingness to step back from the ledge when I get a funny feeling.
Do you get that feeling often?
I try not to set myself up to be in those kinds of positions. I try to practice sustainable riding. It might not look like that from the outside [Laughs], but a good day is when we go out and all come back in one piece. As far as actually riding, you can’t really achieve much when you’re injured on the couch.
What’s an example that might give you that feeling?
There are a number of things. A lot of it is about judging snow pack. When you are jumping off a cliff or hitting a jump, if it looks like there might be rocks under the snow surface or there is a runout of something, it’s dangerous. If there is glaciated terrain or if the line ends in what we call a terrain trap, like a creek bottom, that’s not good. If something were to slide, you could potentially be buried 20 feet deep versus a nice fanned out outrun, where the snow is all going to distribute a couple feet deep. It's just about taking all the variables into account. You have to make that educated risk assessment. I’m pretty proud [of not getting injured] regardless of even riding, just everyday life. [Laughs]