The Art of Flight’s Travis Rice selects his ultimate powder-carving adventures
One of the best and most influential big-mountain snowboarders of his generation, Travis Rice is now happy to follow the flow for a new movie — to some of the great peaks around the Pacific.
The maverick mastermind behind seminal winter sports films That’s It That’s All (2008) and The Art of Flight (2011) pushed the boundaries of boarding and exploring remote backcountry. Now, The Fourth Phase – premiered on Red Bull TV and available as a digital download – documents his quest to follow a volatile hydrological cycle called the North Pacific Gyre from Tahiti to Wyoming, via the breathtaking mountain scapes of Japan, Alaska and Russia.
“These places are stacked with geological oddities,” says 34-year-old Rice, born and raised in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “Kamchatka in Russia, for example, is a pretty exposed peninsula in the ocean with the highest concentration of active volcanoes in the world. We wanted to explore these places, reveal their beauty and creatively express ourselves through snowboarding.” The results are mesmerising – and sure to get viewer yearning for fresh powder and alpine adventure. As a pointer, Rice narrows in on his top five riding destinations around the globe.
Niigata Prefecture, Japan
Best for: Stark contrasts
Japan is exotic. In North America and Europe we’re used to riding above treeline or in coniferous forests but Japan is all deciduous. These incredible trees lose their leaves in winter and, combined with the incredible snow conditions there, it feels totally otherworldly. Then, of course, there’s Japan’s amazingly unique culture. The north city of Sapporo is known for night powder riding but in the Niigata Prefecture where we filmed it’s a whole other level of scale for backcountry access and pitch, steepness and technical terrain. There’s so much jaw-dropping terrain to look at but only a small percentage is rideable. It’s one of the snowiest places on Earth — you can go a month without seeing the sun — and with a lot of snow comes great dangers of avalanche. But that’s part of the challenge.
Jackson Hole, United States
Best for: Warmth and sunshine
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is on the continental divide of North America and on the furthest reaches of this reciprocating hydrological cycle known as the North Pacific Gyre. Snow that melts down here flows all the way out to the Pacific. At its fastest point it takes only three years to do one clockwise loop around the Pacific (which is also why we took three years creating this film). Jackson’s at its prime in February and March. It’s called the Rocky Mountains for a reason — it take a little while for the base of snow to develop even when we’re getting amazing deep winter conditions in January. In mid-February you have amazing access to the mountain, plus it’s a little warmer so you have more fun. There’s so much to do. There’s loads of backcountry access, there’s hot springs, snowmobiling, wildlife. It’s a lot more than just a ski town.
Best for: Hidden gems
The Alps are dynamic. The western slopes can be great one minute then it switches to southern Austria and Italy before you know it. The beauty of Europe is there’s so many different places to ride. I love the resort culture. It’s a little more easygoing than the US where you have these primary resorts that are spaced out. In Europe you have the major ones but there’s so many small mountains and I like riding the small resorts such as Madesimo. You experience more culture riding the small resorts and can get a lay of the land quicker. Some of the bigger ones require days to decode and there’s a lot of people to navigate. Britain isn’t so blessed, but I’ve had a couple of amazing sessions in Milton Keynes [at the indoor Snozone]. I liked how shit the food was. Fried chips and the best worst food that Britain has to offer. It was fun there and it’s always worth a visit. I’ve also heard good things about skiing in Scotland — when the snow is good.
Best for: Fresh powder
Alaska is a pilgrimage. When it’s good in Alaska it’s as good as it gets. It seems like a hard-to-get-to location, but if you visit Alyeska, which is only 40 minutes from Anchorage, the main airport, you’re in central Alaska. You have cat-skiing [ski hill grooming machines that allow you to reach usually out-of-bounds locations] and heli-skiing [dropping in by helicopter], and really good resort skiing. If you fly to Juneau you have Eaglecrest and both of those places, when conditions are decent, are incredibly fun mountains that get a lot of snow.
Nelson, British Columbia
Best for: Half-pipes and air time
My all-time favourite snowpark is the Supernatural course at Baldface Lodge in Nelson. It’s also home to a cat-ski operation that’s second to none in terms of the people that run it, the programme they have and the knowledge of the guides and a local resort called Whitewater is really fun. The beauty of these places is there is an option for everyone, no matter your level or what you can afford. This coming season is going to be good. El Nino has finally let up its grasp and I think it’s going to be a really big winter in the northwest, in British Columbia and Jackson. After a couple years of warm temperatures I think we’re going to see colder temperatures and big snow — powder guaranteed. It looks like it’s going to be a good year.
The Fourth Phase is available to buy now on Blu-ray and as a digital download. For more information visit thefourthphase.com.
Photography: Scott Serfas, Red Bull Content Pool.