VICE Sports Q&A: X Games Legend Mark McMorris
We talked to Mark McMorris about the X Games, his Olympic bronze medal-winning performance at Sochi and the rise of snowboarding in Canada.
Photo by Nathan Bilow-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to VICE Sports Q&A, where we'll talk to authors, directors, and other interesting people about interesting sports things. Think of it as a podcast, only with words on a screen instead of noises in your earbuds.
We recently caught up with Canadian snowboarder and Olympic bronze medalist Mark McMorris, who is fresh off winning first place in the men's slopestyle competition at the Laax Open Snowboard tournament in Switzerland. McMorris, who earned $75,000 for his victory, is right back at it this weekend for the prestigious X Games, taking place in Aspen, Colorado.
The 22-year-old has enjoyed tremendous success at the X Games, where he's taken home five gold medals since 2012 in slopestyle and big air competitions. He'll look to repeat the success he enjoyed last year, when he won gold in both events, and promises he'll bust out new tricks the world hasn't seen before. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
VICE Sports: Are you superstitious with anything come race day? Is there something you need to do or do you have a set routine before a big race?
Mark McMorris: My superstitions used to be a lot stronger than they are now. When I wasn't doing certain things that I used to do, I was still getting the results I wanted. My only thing is, right before I drop, I'll crank [my bindings] as tight as they can come. I'll usually crank my bindings another time even though they can't really go any further—just for some reassurance in my head. That's the only thing, really, and I'm liking it. I don't want to be too superstitious.
You made a lot of noise when you pulled off that backside triple cork 1440 for the first time—what was that feeling like?
That's the crazy part about doing it for the first time. You can run it through your head as many times as you want but you never really know how it's going to pan out until you try it. And I think inventing anything is like that. It's a trial and error process. I went through it and I wrapped my head around it for about a year and I really wanted to try it. I'm still working on new variations to this day. There's still much to do with the level we are taking it to and so many different variations that haven't been explored. I'm just trying to stay at the curve and do that, and hopefully create some more curves, too.
So will we be seeing something new at the X Games this year, is that the goal?
Very much so. You'll definitely see some in big air, but hopefully in the slope, too, if I need it or if it's a victory.
Yuki Kadono pulled off a trick that had never been done after you landed the backside triple cork 1440—seeing your peers land big tricks, is that the kind of stuff that fuels you and makes you hungry to go out there and one-up them?
For sure, that's everything. Motivation comes from your peers and other riders that you like and look up to. When he did that trick, he went out and did two tricks that hadn't ever been done at the slopestyle. It was definitely motivating, I knew I had some work cut out for me and some things to learn. It's been a really fun process the last six-to-eight months, trying to play catch up and learn those two tricks that I hadn't really had before. I feel like I'm getting there now.
Before you do a trick, is there ever any hesitation where you experience a 'Do I or don't I' moment?
Yeah, I get those moments all the time. I think to myself like crazy when I'm snowboarding. Even in a contest run when something is rotating slow in the air, all I can think about is, 'What would be the case if I don't land.' All these thoughts go through your head all at once. It's really an experience in its own. I'm definitely thinking to myself a lot, 'Do I or don't I.'
How much training, and ultimately failure, goes into executing these tricks?
A lot of preparation. It's more understanding to get the right take off, the right snap, the right cork to actually have it to come to your feet in the center of your board when you bring it around. It's such a process where you need to practice, practice, practice and get the right take off before you can even try it and know you can get through the trick without getting hurt. A lot of it is just waiting until you're so dialed in that it's going to work. A lot of times if it makes sense in your head it's going to make sense on the jump.
How deflating was the rib injury at the X Games? Was there any regret participating at the X Games before the 2014 Sochi Olympics?
That was definitely pretty disappointing when that happened. I was doing everything to be ready for the Olympics, so I didn't even do the big air [event]. After my first run, I was in second place, and after my second run I moved in first. I was ready to attack the jump and have this crazy run and I just sort of lost my head on that one rail and just wasn't really thinking too far ahead. I just missed by and inch or two and that made the difference. It turned me back into the rail on the corner of it and broke my ribs. That was eight, ten days out from the Olympics. That being said, getting second was one of the only benefits. I went to the Olympics the day after without so much stress anymore. So the story was more about the ribs and that took some pressure off me. I was really not so mobile, I was really tweaked. Even at the first day of practice, I got there and didn't even hit the jumps. I could barely turn. Each day, it magically got so much better. By the time I had to compete, I could do it. By the finals day, to be honest, I was so wrapped up in the Olympics and doing my run that I wasn't even thinking about my ribs. And I ended up doing a round that I had never done before and that no one had ever done in slopestyle.
I was very ecstatic with my performance, but not so ecstatic with the judges. But I medalled, nonetheless.
Considering the stage and the injury you went into the Olympics with, was that your proudest moment?
I think that was one of my proudest moments. I went through a lot of adversity that week. It almost made the story better that so many people wanted to follow me during the Olympics knowing what had happened so recently. Everybody in Canada had a pretty good grasp on who I was before the Olympics and then the X Games went down. And they still wanted me to compete and see how it goes. The support and everything was next level.
Everybody says football is a game of inches, that applies to snowboarding too doesn't it?
One-hundred percent. There are so many little rotations that can make or break it. An inch off and you can hook your hedge. Or scuff out and not have enough speed to hit the second jump. You need to be flawless in slopestyle and halfpipe in this day and age if you even want to be remotely close to the podium.
When did you decide you wanted to be pro snowboarder and when did that become realistic?
When I was 14. That's when I thought I could definitely make it at some point. The following year, when I was 15, I won a World Cup in Calgary and my family was eventually out there. They were having such a hard time with me not going to school and chasing this action sports dream. I ended up winning the world cup and making, like, $12 grand in cash. They kind of let me do whatever I wanted from then on out. I didn't have to go to school anymore and could kind of just work on my snowboarding, so that was cool.
Did you play other sports growing up? How did you get into snowboarding?
I played a lot of sports growing up, pretty much everything. I used to be a pretty serious hockey player. My family liked to ski. Anything to get out there. It's funny, what we couldn't have all the time—snowboarding—became our passion.
How are you at skiing?
I think I've skied like one time in my life. My dad transferred to a snowboarder now, so it's all good [laughs].
What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't snowboarding?
I was a really avid skateboarder. I really loved playing hockey and other sports. I definitely would have tried to pursue something along those lines. A lot of the kids I grew up playing with, good buddies, are playing in the NHL. That's what people do here—play hockey and hopefully make it to the NHL. One of my best, best friends, J.C. Lipon, he was drafted to the Winning Jets. We are the same and he was just called up from the farm team, so I'm really stoked for him.
What was shooting In Motion like?
It was such a cool experience getting to be gifted this one-year project film and do whatever I needed to do to make it as sick as I wanted and get all the riders I wanted at the shoot. Just sort of try and chase the snow, which is a pretty gnarly task. It was a dream come true getting to do that. I've never spent as much time shooting and being in the backcountry as I did for that film. I competed quite a bit less last year, which was a nice change coming off an Olympic year. Just getting to be in the backcountry and doing that was really special, but at the same time knowing I had to come out with a movie in the fall was very stressful. That's all I could think about, my movie coming out. We were trying to get the best stuff we possibly could—there was a lot on the line.
How far has the sport come in Canada?
Oh, man, the sport is going berserk right now. Canada has done so well. The national program has skyrocketed, there are so many more resources and people investing in the snowboard culture. There's a full path like becoming an NHL player to becoming a pro snowboarder. It's really cool. It has created these opportunities for these kids. I've been riding a lot with guys a couple years younger than me, and they are pushing the sport. They aren't jaded and it's fun to be around.
I'm sure a lot of those guys look up to you—who did you look up to growing up?
I had lots of favourites growing up. I watched a lot of films growing up because the contests weren't so mainstream. People who really influenced me growing up were Andreas Wiig, Travis Wright, Shaun White, Kevin Pearce—all these guys who were so well-rounded and did so much cool shit. Scotty Lago, Danny Davis, all these guys that I watched in the movies and then they become your friends and it's pretty hilarious. You get to live this dream together, it's cool.
What has it been like for you and your brother to both go pro and do this together?
It's definitely cool to share this with my brother and travel around the world with him. I really like the career path he's chosen. He's definitely one of my bigger inspirations. We are definitely best friends.
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