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]
You are also a designer for Lib Tech. Where do you get your inspiration from?
All over, man. We collaborate with the brains behind Lib Technologies and Mervin Manufacturing, both of which are in the driver’s seat as far as board technology and sustainability of board production and business ethics. Then, for the look of the board, I can bring in artists to work with the graphics. Snowboarding graphics are always something we’ve put on a high pedestal, and for good reason. I often find that I’m empowered by the way I feel about the board I ride. Even if it is a bit of a placebo effect. When I am 100 percent into what is beneath my feet, I ride better. Usually I switch it up every year, but the past two years, I’ve been working with Mike Parillo on board graphics. He is such an incredible guy to collaborate with. I’ve never met somebody who is able to take a concept and spot-on be able to turn it into a visual representation. He’s also the creative director for my art and photography gallery called Asymbol in Jackson.
You’ve mentioned that Asymbol has a running joke that you opened this quality art exhibit at a time that people aren’t exactly spending large amounts of money. How has business been?
[Laughs] Business is awesome. We’ve got some non-profits that we’re able to support. and some artists and photographers that we’re able to get out some of their work. We’ve been paying our rent and people’s salaries for a couple months now [Laughs], so it’s not comin’ out of pocket. All is well. We’re able to work on a bunch of pretty unique projects outside of our core collection.
I often find that I’m empowered by the way I feel about the board I ride. When I am 100 percent into what is beneath my feet, I ride better.
Various things, such as this project we did a couple years ago called the I Am Snowboarding project. It was a tribute to a fallen friend of ours, Jeff Anderson. He’s got the JLA foundation, which raises money to build skate parks, help out artists, and various other things. We also just did the Art of Flight collection, which was basically a collection of photos. We made a book, which actually won the western regionals of the print awards. We won for design of the packaging and for the design of our art books. Now we’re going on to nationals.
What does it mean for you to get awards for your ventures outside of snowboarding?
It’s a little bit of gratitude. It’s awesome to see our hard work is acknowledged by our peers and the awards are a representation for having an impact. We try to have standards for all of our projects and put so much added effort to keep them authentic.
You made a pretty big splash with your recent film, Art of Flight. What did you intend for your audience to take away from that movie?
If we had an intention, it is that snowboarding is incredibly dynamic. You’re going to find what you’re look for. The more time that people are able to spend outdoors and in pursuit of any dream, whether it has to do with snowboarding or hiking or working for community service, just getting out there with the willingness to try and fail is when people learn a lot about themselves. The goal of this film was simply trying to push ourselves to find how far we could take it.
What are some things you have learned doing your boarding?
Dedication to not give up. Every one of those locations that we went to in that film, we repeatedly hit dead ends. We took away how not to take the easy way out. We stayed the course, stuck to it, and had the will to make it work.
Actions sports are getting younger and younger by the year. You’re in the back end of your twenties, yet seem to be hitting your prime. What keeps you going?
I feel empowered. I have an amazing team around me. From the Brain Farm film and production team to my sponsors like Red Bull, it’s great. They have the willingness to commit and support an event like this. I don’t know of any other sponsor that would drop in so full-on to a wild idea. My agent Circe Wallace is always very supportive and has done her job with the right principles. They all support my creative expression and how I’d like to help snowboarding. The sport has given me so much. I’m passionate about it, and it’s something that everyone who is able to try it gets something out of it. I want to continue to promote its growth.
How do you outdo yourself next?
Supernatural is a huge step in the right direction. We have some other future film projects that we’ll be working on in the next couple years, but I can’t talk much about them yet. There are a lot of uncertainties. Hit me up next time this year and I’ll tell you all about them.
We’re going to hold you to that.
[Laughs] Fair enough.
The sport has given me so much. I’m passionate about it, and it’s something that everyone who is able to try it gets something out of it. I want to continue to promote its growth.
Many have called you the best overall snowboarder in the world. Your usual response is that “best” is a relative term. As you see it, who do you consider to be the best?
Nicolas Muller is a true savant. When he puts his mind to riding, his capabilities are endless. I can’t wait to see what Jake Blauvelt is capable of in the next couple years. Straight up talent wise, you watch Shaun White ride pipe and you got to give him his credit. He owns it. Iouri Podladtchikov is truly gifted. He’s the next up-and-coming rider. He’s the only dude I see really being able to take Shaun out.
In a previous interview with Louie Vito, it was discussed that Shaun’s perfect score caps the progression of snowboarding. What did you think of Shaun getting a 100.
It’s an interesting point. I always think the scores are relevant to that evening and that moment. I think they gave him a 100 for ratings.
100 percent. There’s no doubt that run was ridiculous. It shows Shaun’s competitive side that he had the thing in the bag and his winning run, which if it were me or most other people would just straight grind the pipe and have some fun, but he goes back up and lays down a run like that for his glory run. He is a determined individual.
I’m sure some people saw that in a negative way.
I saw it as the run he really wanted to land. I would have rather seen him blast a huge method and do a couple straights. He is seriously an alien. He’s so incredibly talented, and it’s not like he was just given that, he worked his ass off for it. I don’t always agree with the way he operates, but I’ll give him the credit he deserves. Another guy that I’m actually always blown away by is Seb. Sebastien Toutant, man. Watching him ride park or ride in general, he’s got such good board control.
And he’s only 19.
Yeah, it’s ridiculous.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Biggest thing is that I want people to watch Supernatural. The show itself is amazing. The way the course is presented is next-level. A lot of people came away from that event like, “Man, you got so lucky with the weather. It was as good as it could have been!” But I think that’s hardly the case. I see so many ways it could be better. Now that riders have something to reference, the level of riding is just going to go through the roof in the years to come. Nobody really knew what to expect. They were still trying to figure it out, maybe playing it a little bit safe.
Red Bull Supernatural airs on NBC on Saturday, March 31 at 1 p.m. ET.
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