From Ragdolls to Riches | Mark McMorris’ Natural Selection Crown
Once the shrinking violet of the backcountry, McMorris brought the 'Big Purple Energy' to Jackson Hole and toppled the titans of the Tetons
Last week we sat, mouths agape, watching a heliotrope-hued Mark McMorris stave off the world’s best snowboard competitors, stomping trick after trick and flowing through the Natural Selection course like mauve molasses to take the overall men’s crown in Jackson Hole.
“This transformation got us thinking about his progression over the last 10 years, his journey from the polished FIS spin to win poster boy to the worthy winner of snowboarding’s most progressive contest”
It was the antithesis of his performance at the 2012 Red Bull Supernatural, where he jumped straight off the comp circuit, wet behind the ears, and got completely bodied on Baldface’s infamous Scary Cherry. A teenage Mark McMorris turns up, the wide eyed and bushy tailed young pup dropping in amongst the big dogs, and ragdolls from start to finish.
This transformation got us thinking about his progression over the last 10 years, his journey from the polished FIS spin to win poster boy to the worthy winner of snowboarding’s most progressive contest. At 27 years, old McMorris oozes style. The respect from his peers is tangible and he’s solidified his status as one of the most well-rounded riders of his time. Last week, the success of his career away from the groomed runs and stadium lights was officially rubber-stamped when he added a new Travis Rice shaped notch in his competitive bedpost.
Back in 2012, McMorris got invited as a Wildcard to Travis’ Red Bull Supernatural event along with fellow Slopestyle savant Sage Kotsenburg. At the time, he was one of the strongest freestyle competitors on the scene and, to his credit, he’s still a top contender for podium finishes in any World Cup event. His decade long domination of competitive snowboarding is perhaps worthy of its own deep dive but more impressive to us is Mark’s evolution as a rider.
“He wasn’t quite the prime slab of Canadian Bacon he is today”
After a no doubt humiliating defeat at the hands of the Supernatural course, Mark spent the next decade honing his craft, studying at the temple of froth, alongside the very elders who had handed him his tuchus on a platter in Baldface.
By 2013’s Ultra Natural, McMorris was already in much better powder shape. He wasn’t quite the prime slab of Canadian Bacon he is today, but his sixth-place finish reflected his growing experience and exposure to freeriding. Mark’s mentor and friend Jake Burton encouraged his pursuit of riding outside the confines of the resort and, slowly but surely, we witness McMorris go from strength to strength in the backcountry, culminating in his cheese wedge sessions and big mountain lines in last season’s release of Burton’s One World movie.
“The impact broke several bones, as well as collapsing his left lung and rupturing his spleen”
His back-to-back 7’s may be smooth but his journey to the top was far from it, in 2017 McMorris was out filming in the Canadian backcountry with his brother Craig when he drifted off a feature and ended up hitting a tree. The impact broke several bones, as well as collapsing his left lung and rupturing his spleen.
After a severely touch and go prognosis and several emergency surgeries, his road to recovery was long and arduous. While crashes may be part and parcel in the life of a pro snowboarder, there are some that you wouldn’t blame a guy for playing it safe after. Yet, instead of shying away from this sphere of off the beaten track snowboarding, Mark doubled down and continued to graft to take his place as a guy who could legitimately challenge Travis Rice’s backcountry freestyle domination.
“More than 50 natural and man-made features it was a semi purpose-built playground for the titans of Teton”
Mark’s road to victory in Jackson Hole was less a road and more a perilous mountain path, winding its way through craggy faces, pockmarked with bombholes and flanked by sheer drops on either side. Arguably one of the most difficult seeds, his matches were riddled with big mountain filming legends.
“Moving on to take the win against the Sultan of Stoke Travis Rice, only to then be faced with Scandi style master Mikkel Bang”
In fairness, no one exactly had it easy, but McMorris started the week squaring up against fellow Supernatural veteran Eric Jackson, whose buttery manoeuvres off the helipad were a stand-out trick when McMorris made his ragdolling debut in 2012. Moving on to take the win against the Sultan of Stoke, Travis Rice, only to then be faced with Scandi style master Mikkel Bang who had spent the week drumming up hype throwing insane switch methods and scuffed rock taps.
It wasn’t serendipitous good fortune that had McMorris snatch win after win. After years of putting in the work behind the scenes, his explosive power, agility in the air and smoother than sin style in the deep snow has left him as a practically untouchable deity.
“Mark’s second lap in the finals was him prowling the savannah, routinely cocking a leg to piss all over the course”
In the end, Mark claimed victory in the finals against fellow Burton hombre Ben Ferguson, throwing a huge double wildcat and a clean Cab 9 to snag the ‘dubya’. If this were a nature documentary, we’d hear the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough explaining that Mark’s second lap in the finals was him prowling the savannah, routinely cocking a leg to piss all over the course, laying down his scent to effectively mark his territory and map out his Kingdom as the new reigning prince of powder.
A tale that has to be told in conjunction to Mark’s is that of Zoi Sadowski-Synnott. The first chapter of Zoi’s Natural Selection story reads very similar to young Sparky’s, her journey to Jackson was almost identical to McMorris’ in 2012. Just 19 years old, Zoi cut her teeth on the World Cup freestyle circuit, marking herself out a force to be reckoned with in Big Air and Slopestyle. She won the female Wildcard spot and turned up fresh faced in Wyoming to compete against the very riders she grew up idolizing.
Yet the similarities stop there. In a twist of fate befitting the tidal wave of up-and-coming female talent in the industry, Zoi didn’t just show up and throw down a run, she consistently stormed the course and rode away with the overall Women’s crown. And that, my friends, is why we’re calling Natural Selection the most progressive comp in the industry.
We spoke earlier about what a Freeride World Tour crown means when it comes to Natural Selection. While it was great to see FWT Queen Marion Haerty make the finals, in the end it was two of the most freestyle-oriented riders that walked away with the crown. Should we be surprised? After all, when we spoke to Travis last month he told us that that “Jackson has the most freestyle components on the tour,” but that the next two venues “steadily become more big mountain.” Perhaps, then, the real test still lays ahead, where select riders will advance to the upcoming stops in Baldface, Canada, and Tordrillo, Alaska.
Whatever comes next, we’re stoked to see how it all unfolds. But if anyone’s asking, our money’s on the Purple Power Ranger.
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