By David MacKinnon, photos courtesy Red Bull

Mark McMorris’ riding is ubiquitous in competitive snowboarding, but the past three years have been tough. Fighting his way back from severe injuries has become a normal part of his routine, and this winter his an old one came back to haunt him. Screws left in the bone after his 2016 femur break became inflamed, leading to a swollen bursa that saw him under the knife in the months leading up to X Games. It should be surprising that he won slopestyle, in his last run, without a place on the podium secured. But that’s what Mark does. They say no pressure no diamonds– Sparky gleams. We caught up with Mark after his win to talk about recovery, gold, and future projects. He was in California, driving towards the coast with his girlfriend, feeling nothing but appreciation– read on to get it straight from the realest.

How you been?

I’ve been great– back snowboarding, feeling good!

You just had some screws taken out?

I had two screws taken out of my lower femur right above my knee. They were causing me a tonne of grief, my IT band was snagging the screws and it created a crazy inflamed bursa. It was like I had a golf ball on the side of my leg– it looked fucked, it felt fucked, it was messed. So I got surgery, they scraped it out and took the screws out. The screws had been in there for a long time so there was lots of bleeding, and they had to scrape a lot of tissue out to get at the bursa. My knee was just super pissed off. It was a bit tough for the first couple weeks, but now I’m back shredding and feeling good. I could definitely use a bit more strength, but all is well.

Good to hear. You just won X Games slopestyle.

What the hell, right? I didn’t think that was ever gonna be possible again. I knew I had the tricks, it’s just not an easy thing to do under pressure. I don’t know, I’ve just had psycho good luck at X Games my whole career, and I’m super thankful for it. My run was definitely intense, and I had a real tough time greasing the rails. Luckily in the last run the rails came together, and I knew it was on for the jumps. I totally Hail Maried a different run, because going backside on the second jump wasn’t lining me up for frontside on the third. I was scared to go frontside on the second one because it had such a flat take-off. I didn’t think I could swing it around. But on the last run all the adrenaline worked in my favour and I got the front triple around, dragged my hand a little bit, and went back 16. I hadn’t practiced that sequence, but when you’re not scared and you know the hang time sometimes your air awareness just works out. I feel super lucky it worked out. It was sick to be the last rider to drop, and have it all come together. It makes the contest exciting, and sports are meant to be exciting.

That’s awesome– congratulations. What’s that now, 17 X Games medals?

17– 16 of them are at my house, my dad always jokes about the missing one. It’s a bronze, Jake Burton has it. We’re really close, and he took it to give me shit– he was like ‘you don’t want this bronze, do you?’ He loves having it at his house, it’s in his kitchen literally at the sink where you wash your hands. It’s right in your face, it’s super funny.

How’s Jake doing? He’s recovered from his cancer fight now, yeah?

He’s good, yeah– he boards so much. He was just in Encinitas and New Mexico doing some shredding, he was in Aspen before that, he’s living in Zurich part time. He shreds more than you’d ever assume, I think he got 120 days last year. He loves to travel, he loves to be on the move, he’s so supportive of the Burton team. It’s a pretty special family, I’m blessed to be part of it.

That’s rad. You’ve been with them a long time, competing now for a long time. You won your first X Games in 2012, right? Double gold with Slope and Big Air?

That’s right, yeah. At my first games in 2011 I came second in Slopestyle and fourth in Big Air, and then in 2012 I got the double gold.

Does this latest win feel different?

This one actually feels like my biggest win. People were starting to feel– I was starting to feel– like it might be over for me. I was in so much pain, I hadn’t been riding, I was too scared to try the hard tricks in practice. It’s fucked when people look at you as the guy to win, there’s so much pressure, and when I wasn’t on the podium after two runs I had this weird feeling like people were losing faith. Then when it happened it was the craziest moment– I think it was the best feeling I’ve ever had, at least in my competitive career. I’ve never been that pumped when I landed a run. I couldn’t believe it, you know. I can’t really describe it, but I think that was my most memorable event ever.
That’s amazing– I’m stoked for you man. I’m curious about the aftermath of that high. Is there a crash after a win like that?

Well, I’m hoping to do the World Championships at Park City, which start pretty soon [Mark took 2nd in Slopestyle], so the nerves are ramping back up already. I guess I’ve been riding the wave; there hasn’t really been time to come down. It feels good, a lot of people have been reaching out and it’s positive. I’m in no rush to stop feeling good about that one.

It sounds like you’ve got a healthy perspective on the contest circuit. At this point in your career, to what extent is competition your focus?

I’ve always tried to balance competition with filming and just snowboarding for fun. Obviously two years in a row at the end of the contest season I got severely hurt, so I haven’t had a chance to show that side of my riding for a while. But it’s important to me to address that constant criticism of just being a contest rider, you know? At the same time, I’d feel the same way about only filming and boxing out contests. I don’t want to just do one or the other; I’m going to do both until I can’t anymore. This year I’m planning to go to AK with Travis [Rice], to Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, and Finland with Eero [Ettala]. Craig [McMorris] is coming on those trips as well. I’m ecstatic to get back in the backcountry; I miss the shit out of it. Then we’re doing a big park shoot in Aspen with the Red Bull groms, Judd Henkes, Brock Crouch and Jake Canter. I guess they’re not groms anymore, just young. They’re all so talented– that will be super fun, too.

Yeah buddy. Let’s leave it there for now. Congratulations again on the X Games, it’s always rad seeing you pull through, happy for you man!

Yeah man, thank you. See you on the slopes!

It was good to hear the appreciation in Mark’s voice. We’ll keep you updated as his projects with Travis, Craig, and Eero develop, but in the meantime we’re stoked to know Mark’s kicking back. It isn’t often an athlete with the grit to come back time and time again can let go and just head to the coast.