Travis Rice in last years Red Bull Supernatural Cole Barash/Red Bull Media House

The countdown has begun to the start of Red Bull Ultra Natural, the ultimate all-mountain snowboard contest spawned from the madly creative brain of Travis Rice. While eight of the 16 competitors were automatically qualified via the results of last year's event, there are also several wildcards this year that were hand-picked by Rice.

In picking the wildcards, Rice said he leaned heavily on younger riders. "Last year's event was basically pretty stacked on the veterans side, guys who've been tried and true -- they've been doing it for 10-15 years," he said. "This year, we wanted to take more of an approach where out of that veteran field, those who qualified can stay, and this year around we're focusing more on bringing that next-gen -- a little more youth into the event. That's why our four wildcards reflected that.”

The start of the holding period for Red Bull Ultra Natural is a little more than a week away; the event will take place on a single day between February 15-21. As he drove up to the mountains yesterday, Rice phoned to tell RedBullUSA.com his reasons for picking the riders he did.

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On Pat Moore: “He's one of the individuals who has an incredibly broad spectrum of what he is able to ride. He rides anything. For example, this year he just did X Games Real Snow Street [for X Games Aspen]. And he's also going to do X Games Real Snow Backcountry [for X Games Tignes].

"I've known Pat and we've filmed together for quite some time. I think in the past few years he's really come into his own. He actually just got on the Volcom pro team recently. He's also a fellow Red Bull rider. Pat was kind of an easy pick; he was invited to last year's event but he wasn't 100 percent and he gave his spot away, so we kind of acknowledged that. When John [Jackson] went out with an injury the first person we gave it to was Pat, because he had done the same the year before.”

On Torstein Horgmo: “Torstein had an incredible year last season, with X Games victories -- and he just won Big Air again down at Aspen. He also just came out with a film called 'Horgasm,' which is basically a full-length film that he shot in almost a full year. A lot of people will spend their entire season filming for a single video part, but he was able to not only put out an entire 45-minute film, but also a video part as well -- a unique part in last year’s DC film. He's one of the leaders of the next generation of snowboarding.”

On Bode Merrill: “Bode Merrill is a total powerhouse. He's one of those riders who is really unpredictable. You never quite know what he's going to do. He's strong. He's been at the top of his field for the past four to five years and I think doing everything from owning it on the street scene to filming video parts for Absinthe Films and even dabbling in big mountain riding. He was another perfect fit for that wildcard spot."

On Mikey Rencz: “And then you have Mikey Rencz, who has taken a little bit different route than guys like Torstein and Bode, who have been a little more in the contest scene. Mikey Rencz lives up in Whistler. He is a backcountry aficionado, if you will. He was up for a big deal part last season with the ender part in the Burton movie. If you know anything about action-sports films, it all leads up to the ender. Whoever takes the ender is kind of taking the cake in the film. He had a really incredible year and we honored that by giving him a wildcard spot.”

In addition to the pre-qualified riders and the four wildcards above, there are four other qualifier slots which will be announced on February 11. Get some background info on the Red Bull Ultra Natural athletes page, and stay tuned for more...

Red Bull Ultra Natural will be held between February 15-21. Watch the full recap on NBC on March 30 at 1:30 p.m. ET / 10:30 a.m. PT as part of the Red Bull Signature Series.

Follow Travis and Red Bull on Twitter for more updates.

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