Mark McMorris

A Deeper Appreciation

It’s a sunny March afternoon at Mt Seymour on Vancouver, BC’s north shore. Although Mark McMorris said he wasn’t going to ride today, he’s just finished a few slushy park laps with Mikkel Bang. Mark simply loves to snowboard and can’t help but strap in for a mellow cruise, despite the fact that his jaw is swollen from a recent surgery to remove a metal plate. The plate was installed after a 2017 crash in the Whistler backcountry broke 16 bones, collapsed a lung, ruptured his spleen and required an emergency airlift then 10 days in the hospital.

Just 25 years old, Mark’s been through a lot in the past few years. Back when I first interviewed him for The Snowboarder’s Journal 14.1, he was rehabbing a broken femur suffered at the Los Angeles Air & Style in 2016. Then that unfortunate meeting with a tree. It took seven months for the Regina, SK native to recover physically, even longer mentally. He hopes its all behind him, and X-Games slopestyle gold this year is proof, even though he didn’t strap in for a few months prior to the event. 

Yet Mark says he feels good these days. He’s just gotten his first-ever international pro model with Jake Burton’s limited-edition Mine77 line. He’s still pushing the contest scene and has been filming in the backcountry, most recently in Alaska’s Tordrillo Mountains with his brother Craig and Travis Rice. Indeed, Mark’s enjoying his time in the mountains more than ever.

Mark sits at the bar and orders soup and a Caesar, offering the fried pickle garnish to Mikkel—Mark won’t be able to eat solid food for a few more days. I roll tape and he offers a grounded, positive perspective on the joys of snowboarding, despite his recent string of bad luck.

Frontside 360 in Stewart, BC, circa 2015. Although injuries have kept him away from the backcountry for a while, Mark’s been back at it this year and we’re excited to see what he does. Photo: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

The Snowboarder’s Journal: Tell me why you can’t eat that pickle?

Mark McMorris: I broke my jaw two years ago in that accident where I hit a tree. They put plates in, and it had been doing good, but then I was in Alaska, and it started to get infected, so they went in there and took the plate out. Having complications with your jaw is never fun, but I’m getting through it, riding a little bit—liquid diet!

What were you filming for in AK?

We’re doing a docu-series for ABC. It’s going to be three parts featuring three different sides of snowboarding. We have a great crew that I’ve worked with before doing it. We went to Finland and did stuff with Eero [Ettala], urban snowboarding. Then we went to Alaska to ride big mountains with Travis [Rice], which had tough weather and snow conditions. Our last shoot is in Aspen, and it’s a park shoot. 

It’s going to come out in mid-November on ABC and we’re hoping to make a snowboard flick if we get enough action footage, but mainly we’ll be telling a story about the different sides of snowboarding. It’s what I’ve been doing in between the contests, trying to get pow and film, but it’s been tough with my timing and locations. 

En-route to 3rd place at the 2019 Burton US Open slopestyle, Aspen, CO. Photo: Gabe L’Heureux/Burton.

Have you moved past your accident? 

I’m pretty much over it mentally. I healed within seven months and snowboarded again, and went through the motions, but I was pretty scared of snowboarding for a long time after that. It’s hard to get the worst-case scenario out of your head. But now I feel super confident and strong on my board again, and I’ve had a good season. 

Still, bad times kept finding me. My knee freaked out because of two screws in my femur when I was in China in November, and in early December I had a surgery to remove them. I started snowboarding a day before X Games. It’s just been a weird, tough go for me, but other than that I had a good healthy year. 

Sending in Stewart, BC. Photo: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.

How do you get your head past the injuries?

Snowboarding with good friends really helped, and not trying to always do the gnarliest tricks. I pretty much chill until right when I’m going to film something, or there are a couple runs left in practice, then I start trying stuff. I’m trying to be smart now and take it easy. And with time going by, with having success and not getting broke off, your confidence builds back up. 

Then again, I’ve always told myself I broke my femur in the most freak way ever, hitting a bump in a landing, then I accidentally hit a tree in the backcountry. The gnarly stuff I do is slopestyle, but I really try to be confident when I’m doing it and not take stupid risks. I don’t think I was ever taking stupid risks, I had been a pro snowboarder and cautiously going through the motions for years, and I was lucky I didn’t get hurt. Then a bunch of shit happened over the last few years. I still love it as much as I did—maybe even more. I have a deeper appreciation for it.

Recovery mode in Los Angeles, CA, circa 2016. Photo: Gabe L’Heureux/Burton.

How did you pull off that gold at X Games?

I was so nervous going in there; hadn’t done a single gnarly trick all year. All the other guys had been doing so much jumping and competing, and then I went in cold turkey and nervous because the level’s super high. I survived big air and got second, even though that afternoon I was like, “I don’t know if I should do it.” The jump was super poppy and scary, but I rode way better that I expected to. 

The next day I landed a good run [during slopestyle] that I was happy with and thought, “Yeah, I might be in third.” Then I got bumped out of the podium, and I was the last guy to drop in. I just hail mary-ed something that I hadn’t practiced, but I was like, “If I do that first run again, I might not be on the podium.”

It was the luckiest, best moment ever. I’ve gotten those tricks before, but it had been so long. It was the most memorable win of my career.

How long had you been off the board at that point? 

We snowboarded in Japan in an indoor half pipe two-and-a-half months prior. I rode one day, snow-skated a day, then flew to Aspen for X Games. It was so fun and goes to show how much more energy and motivation you can have when you don’t snowboard all the time. Sometimes you snowboard every day for a whole year and you can get careless at times, but I was so fired up to snowboard again and try to not be in pain. I am so thankful. I didn’t know if [winning X Games] would ever happen again. I knew it was possible, but it’s hard, man.

X Games gold, 2019. Photo: Peter Morning/Red Bull Content Pool.

You got your first pro model board this year, too?

I knew Jake [Burton] was gonna do his Mine77 line but didn’t know much else. He knows I work closely with my foundation [the McMorris Foundation] and we try to help our home province of Saskatchewan a lot—through events, we’ve been able to raise a lot of money for underprivileged kids to play any sport of their choice by helping out with the equipment, the travel, whatever. The slogan is, “To help underprivileged youth find their passion through sport,” and we’ve been doing it for five or six years and raising $150,000 or $200,000 every time. We help a lot of kids, we get to hear their stories, and we have a really committed team that volunteers a lot of hours to the cause. 

The board sales are going to the foundation? 

Jake called me one evening and was like, “I want a new board for you with all proceeds going to your foundation. Let’s use a sick Canadian artist and we need to make it snappy, because we’ll be releasing it this year.” 

Mark’s limited edition signature board, the Mine McMorris Mystery Lite, available now and benefitting the McMorris Foundation. Photos: Burton.

When was this?

Probably in January, maybe a little earlier. It was a huge honor, and I got to work closely with [Burton Creative Officer] Greg Dacyshyn, the artist, and the Burton graphics department. It was a fun project. I’ve never really had a pro model beyond a Process board that was available in Canada, but Burton suddenly gave that to me, and I was super honored. It’s a limited run, all proceeds go to the foundation, and it’s really nice of Jake. It’s a refined version of the Burton Process called the Mine McMorris Mystery Lite—a bit of a tongue twister. It features art by Geoff McFetridge, from Calgary, an internationally known artist who’s never done snowboard art before. They let me pick from five or six Canadian artists, and I just loved his work. I hope people are down to ride it—I just rode it today. It’s the lightest board and it’s great. 

How is your relationship with Jake? 

I think all the Burton riders can speak to this in the sense that we’ve had a lot of sponsors, and I’ve never, ever had relationships with a company owner like we have with Jake. He’s just our buddy, and he’s so passionate about snowboarding, and having a good time, and taking care of us. He’s the man. I feel like we clicked a lot, and I’ve been good friends with him since I was 19. 

Mark and Jake Burton on a December, 2017 trip to Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing, BC. Photo: Dean “Blotto” Gray/Burton.

Is he like one of the boys, or is he more Uncle Jake? 

He’s a bit of both. He’s so humorous with everything, loves to laugh, loves shredding, and loves working on product. He really gets the riders involved. It’s like hanging out with a guy that helped invent hockey, you know? He’s created something that brings millions of people joy, but he’s one of my best friends, too. Having Donna [Burton Carpenter] at the helm of the company is also amazing—she loves snowboarding just as much as Jake and wants to help it progress in a positive way.

You’re trying to progress beyond contests again. Is that something you want to do more?

I love all sides of snowboarding, but the last few years it’s just been hard because I got hurt, and I haven’t been able to be in the backcountry as much as I’d like. I already made “In Motion” [2015] and spent a bunch of time filming with Nicolas [Müller] and Mikey Rencz and showed that I’m not just a contest guy. Now, I’m feeling good again. I want to be a well-rounded rider and show people all aspects of snowboarding and how any kind of riding can be fun.

Whistler, BC. Photo: Scott Serfas/Red Bull Content Pool.


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