When I met Mark McMorris, he seemed pretty unassuming. The 23-year-old Canadian spoke quietly but with a casual confidence as he asked about my day. I walked away thinking, “Nice kid.” Then I saw what he could do on a snowboard and found it impossible to reconcile that insane hell-man with the guy I was just talking to.
That’s Mark, and at the winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado — which started on Thursday — he could cement himself as one of the all-time greats.
In his two disciplines — slopestyle and big air — McMorris won 11 medals in his first 12 X Games starts, between 2011 and 2016. Six of those medals were gold, and five were silver (he finished one competition in fourth place). Considering all his X Games finishes, his average is an impressive 1.66 (where an average of 1.00 would be finishing first every time, 2.00 would be finishing second every time, etc., so lower is better),
There’s only one athlete in X Games history that has a better average in his first 12 starts, said Grace Coryell, a spokesperson for the X Games.1 That’s BMX legend Dave Mirra, who had an insane average of 1.25 between 1995 and 2000 (nine golds, three silvers).2
McMorris isn’t just incredibly good — he’s incredibly good and incredibly consistent. If we look at the finals for the X Games slopestyle event, in which an athlete’s top ride of three attempts is the score that counts, McMorris’s average score is 94.19, Coryell told me. (The best possible score is 100.) Most X Games competitors scored 90 or above — in 2015 slopestyle, only three riders did in the finals; in 2016, only two did.
At last year’s Aspen X Games, McMorris won the slopestyle event by being the first rider ever to perform back-to-back triple corks. (A cork is when athletes add a flip as they spin in the air.) In his winning run, McMorris did a triple cork with 1,440 degrees of rotation spinning counter-clockwise, followed immediately by another triple cork 1440 spinning clockwise. It’s as hard as it sounds to do one, let alone two in succession. It looked like something out of a video game, which, incidentally, is something McMorris has his name on as of October, 2016.
He’s had a lot of time to practice such feats. McMorris said he first tried snowboarding at the age of 5, tried it again at 6 and then started doing it consistently at the ripe old age of 7. He started launching off the big, scary jumps when he was about 13. I asked how he was able to huck himself over the ledge when he was so young. Is it just because kids are light and rubbery and fearless at that age? He laughed and said that kids are progressing far faster these days, noting that last year an 8-year-old managed to land a double-backflip, but yes, being rubbery helps.
He probably wouldn’t have minded being a bit more rubbery last year.
At Shaun White’s Air + Style competition in Los Angeles in February of 2016, McMorris launched into what looked to be a perfect frontside 1440 triple cork, until he over-rotated slightly and came down on his butt. He rode out of it, but something wasn’t right. The toe-side edge of his board caught in the snow, causing it to stop while his considerable momentum carried his body forward. The torque on his body snapped his femur.
“With the injury — it took like half a year or seven months — you get that much more mentally strong,” McMorris told me. “It was a freak accident, and the more you dwell on it, the longer it’s going to take, and the more scared you’ll be of everything.”
Although he still has a little nagging pain from the surgery, he said his body feels stronger than it’s ever been, and so far, his results back that up. His first event since his injury was a big air competition in Milan, Italy, in November of 2016, eight and a half months after breaking his leg. He took bronze with a perfect backside triple 1440. From there, he went to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for a big air test event for the 2018 Winter Olympics. He came in first. “That’s when I started to feel like, ‘OK, he’s back; it’s going to be all good,'” McMorris said, smiling. In December, he logged a win in a slopestyle event at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado.
The winter X Games will be his biggest test yet. The big air final is Friday at 10 p.m. Mountain time, and the slopestyle final is Sunday at noon MT. He certainly seems ready for them.