ASPEN, COLORADO – MARCH 10: Zoi Sadowski Synnott of New Zealand takes a practice run before the … [+]
Snowboarding world, take note: it’s the year of Zoi Sadowski-Synnott.
Better yet, make that world, take note. The snowboarding world is already well-acquainted with the 20-year-old from New Zealand, who on Friday became the first person ever to defend a slopestyle world championship title, winning gold at the Aspen 2021 FIS Snowboard and Freeski World Championships.
The top qualifier in women’s slopestyle, Sadowski-Synnott fell on each of her first two runs. But she knew her highly technical run was enough to win it all—and so she did, jumping from last to first on her third run.
“I knew if I landed my run I had a good chance of taking the top spot,” Sadowski-Synnott said after successfully defending her title. “It was all up to me, I knew I could do those tricks, I was just trying to get it done so I could defend the title.”
Sadowski-Synnott has been steadily making a name for herself over the last four years. She burst onto the scene in 2017, when she won silver in women’s slopestyle at world championships.
She quickly followed that up with bronze in women’s big air at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics that put her (not to mention her country) on the map for a general audience—Sadowski-Synnott was just the second New Zealander to win a medal at the Winter Olympics, after Annelise Coberger won silver in women’s slalom at the 1992 Games.
PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA – FEBRUARY 22: Bronze medalist Zoi Sadowski Synnott of New Zealand … [+]
Sadowski-Synnott finished in 13th place in the women’s slopestyle competition at PyeongChang 2018, but the feeling of placing off the podium in the discipline may seem like a distant memory to her now.
In January 2019, Sadowski-Synnott turned heads when she took gold in slopestyle at X Games Aspen (and a little extra hardware, with her silver in big air). In the next two months, she took slopestyle gold at the 2019 world championships and won the event at the U.S. Open.
Her success has been recognized by some of snowboarding’s biggest sponsors; she now rides for Burton, Monster Energy and Anon. After she won the triple crown in 2019, Snowboarder Magazine named Sadowski-Synnott its Rookie of the Year in its 2020 awards.
Before the competitive snowboarding season was paused for the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020, the Kiwi claimed another gold at X Games Norway 2020.
But in 2021, Sadowski-Synnott has kicked her career into high drive. Given the varying natures of the competitions she’s won, and the sheer dominance she has displayed at them, she may just be able to claim the title of the world’s best all-around female snowboarder.
When the season resumed with the no-spectators X Games Aspen in January 2021, Sadowski-Synnott showed she hadn’t missed a beat after 10 months off competition when she took silver in slopestyle and bronze in big air.
Then, she kicked things up a notch—naturally. In February, Sadowski-Synnott was selected as a wild-card competitor in the inaugural Natural Selection Tour competition at Jackson Hole, the brainchild of snowboarding legend Travis Rice. Rice’s vision: to combine the skills needed to master a slopestyle course with the artistry and vision needed to excel in all-mountain terrain over three separate events, in the hopes of crowning the world’s best male and female snowboarders.
Despite coming in as a wild card and competing against women whose snowboarding careers almost double hers in longevity (Sadowski-Synnott was the youngest competitor in the field), she quickly emerged as the best all-around female snowboarder of the competition, taking the title for the Jackson Hole stop.
Zoi Sadowski-Synnott during day 2 finals of the Natural Selection Tour at Jackson Hole Mountain … [+]
In her first competition, Sadowski-Synnott went up against big mountain film icon Robin Van Gyn. But her confidence and willingness to go big—with back-to-back gap airs, backflips, Indy airs, and a frontside 360 stalefish—helped her advance to the second round, where she faced none other than backcountry veteran Hana Beaman.
By defeating Beaman, Sadowski-Synnott set up a must-watch final against three-time consecutive Freeride World Tour winner, Marion Haerty. In Sadowski-Synnott’s near-flawless run, judges were especially impressed with her massive backflip Indy, or Wildcat, which has become her signature trick. Despite poor conditions, she attacked the course and committed to her line, and that outweighed her relative inexperience in powder.
Big-mountain veteran Barrett Christy Cummins, who served on the five-member Natural Selection Nomination Committee, told me before the Jackson Hole event that the riders who would do well would approach the mountain “with a freestyle mindset. Since it’s natural snow conditions, being able to land in powder and understanding how snow moves and changes on the mountain is critical too,” she said.
The selection committee had narrowed the field to riders who, in its view, met those criteria—and the competitors ran the gamut, from X Games medalists and Olympians to women coming off recent backcountry filming excursions. In other words, Sadowski-Synnott was up against the world’s best all-around snowboarders—and won.
“I was just so honored to ride with my favorite snowboarders,” Sadowski-Synnott said after the event. “I’ve learned a lot about riding pow and landing. This is how snowboarding really is and there’s finally an event that shows that.”
She’s right. Backcountry and big mountain filming are a crucial cornerstone of the snowboarding industry, but the athletes’ love for fresh pow is clearer than ever. If they want to pursue that dream while keeping their competitive fire burning, more competitions, like Natural Selection, will have to meet them where they are and offer a big mountain experience on the course.
That’s why Rice thinks that Natural Selection can legitimately crown the world’s best all-around male and female snowboarders. The skills required to succeed in all-mountain terrain and on the slopestyle course are not a given; plenty of snowboarders can do one well, but not the other.
This spring, however, Sadowski-Synnott made it all look effortless.
And at 20 years old, with elite talent in so many disciplines, if Sadowski-Synnott isn’t already the world’s best all-around female snowboarder, she has plenty of time to earn the label.
I have been writing about action sports and the Olympics and Paralympics for more than a decade, having covered Summer and Winter X Games, Summer and Winter Olympics and