The Flying Scotsman

Scott McMorris

Interview: Ed Blomfeld

When preparing this interview, I stopped a few people in the office and asked them what came to mind when they thought of Scott McMorris. One person said: “He’s a machine. He’s got great style and he just never falls over,” It was the kind of comment people normally reserve for the Shaun Whites and Finnish riders of this world, which says a lot in itself about how far this Scotsman has come since embarking on his first winter season in Whistler nine years ago. Another colleague launched into a description of the Red Bull Rail Storm in Glasgow back in 2004, when Macca captained the UK team to second place. “I remember him and Tyler were just killing it. There was this one trick near the end, a back lip, which was just amazing. He came floating over the kink with his body lined up completely straight, and then at the exact right moment he twisted round and locked on the rail perfectly. It really inspired me to learn that trick.” Another legendary story soon followed, about the time Scott sessioned a quarterpipe in Morzine with Heikki Sorsa and blew the illustrious Scandi out the water.

And for me? The first thing I think of is that infectious laugh, and how much fun he is to hang around with. There’s none of the big-time Charlie attitude you might expect from a well-known rider. I first met him when we both worked together in Boardwise in Edinburgh, and Scott was earning some money for the summer. He’s got a real goofball streak and is prone to this impromptu American accent that just makes you chuckle. Witness the various skits he’s filmed with the Lockdown guys, perhaps the funniest of which is genius Kung Fu snowboarding flick ‘Wang v Chang’ (type it into google and follow the link).

Put together, I think these observations seem to sum the guy up: He has an amazing style, is at the top of the tree when it comes to UK pros – in fact he’s one of the few British riders who can legitimately hold his own on the international stage – and is a thoroughly nice dude. We caught up with him back in Scotland, where he’s currently nursing a nasty shoulder injury.

How’s Edinburgh?
It’s good – it’s dumping! It’s the first time I’ve seen snow in Edinburgh for years. By this time of year I’m always away and I don’t ever get to see it, so it’s a nice feeling walking down the street seeing the snowflakes.

Let’s get the bad stuff out the way first – what happened to your shoulder?
I got a fourth grade separation on my left shoulder which resulted in me having to have surgery to reconstruct the AC joint. All because I caught my heel edge on a kinked box in Breckenridge, and it just whipped me back and I started rotating in the air and landed with all my force on my left shoulder.

Doesn’t it put you off doing that stuff? I mean, that kinda thing is why I don’t go near kinked rails!
It’s not so much the rail, it’s the whole mentality of pre-season. You’re so excited cos you’re seeing snow for the first time in months that you just wanna ride and ride and ride, and you don’t let myself warm up properly. I start riding pretty much where I left off in the spring. I did the same trick maybe a hundred times that day and then I just got unlucky.

What’s it like being out for the season? I take it that’s your worst injury?
Yeah, it’s pretty weird I must say. This’ll be my ninth winter coming up and I’ve been pretty lucky so far. It just puts everything into perspective that anything can happen whenever you least expect it.

When are you supposed to be back riding again?
The doctor said April, but sometimes they tend to exaggerate the healing time to cover their asses a bit. I’m not gonna rush back into it though.

What are you gonna do with yourself then?
I’ve got a few things in the pipeline. I’ve always wanted to get a website up and running, a kind of self-promoting thing –

It’s called Myspace isn’t it?
Haha! No, I mean my brother’s a web designer and he’s always said we should get something going, so I bought my domain name a few years ago. It’s such an easy way of showing my sponsors what I’ve been up to in the past season, instead of tracking down mag clippings and stuff. And then I just wanna get fit and strong I guess. The doctor said I’d need to do physio three times a week for six to twelve weeks; it’s pretty hardcore.

Are you a proud Scot?
I suppose I am yeah. I’m not hugely patriotic in anyway, but I am proud to be Scottish.

Do you support any team playing against England?
Haha! Er…

There’s no right answer to that one! You can either piss off the English readership or betray your countrymen!
Haha! Nah, I’m pretty liberal when it comes to that. I’m not really too narrow-minded as it were. I’ve known a lot of Scottish people that don’t like the English though. You must have known that when you were living in Edinburgh Ed?

Yeah, although they never seemed to hate you on a personal level, it was more theoretical. Like I had a lot of Scottish friends who would still talk about hating the English!
Of course.

Do you have a tartan? Is there a McMorris tartan?
No. My father is Irish, and he came over to Scotland when he was pretty young. But yeah McMorris is Irish so we don’t actually have a tartan.

Did you used to hit up the Scottish resorts?
I used to when I was super young and we didn’t have anywhere else to go. I was quite lucky because my mum’s really into skiing, and every Saturday or Sunday – mostly Sundays – she’d drag us out of bed at 5am and drive us up to Glencoe on the west coast, regardless whether the snow was crap, or if it was rain or sleet. You just got up and drove and hoped that when you got there it was clear. So from the age of four or five we were up at Glencoe every weekend if there was snow, and if we weren’t there we were at Glenshee. And then when I started snowboarding around 12 or 13, you kinda get in with mates who can drive, and then as soon winter comes around if there’s any sign of snow you’re up north. You have to make do with what you have I suppose.

Did you hear about Glencoe going into liquidation? What do you think about that?
On Christmas day my mum and my uncle were talking about this actually – he’s been skiing up at Glencoe for around 20 years. He was saying that it had gone into liquidation but then it had been bought out by all the managers. So I guess we’ll see. But it does seem that every year now there’s a lack of snow, and it’s a shame. I think that’s the second time in the last five years it’s gone into liquidation – I mean how many times can this happen until they think it’s just not really worth it?

It is a shame – Glencoe was always my favourite when it was on.
Yeah it was one of the best ones because of the natural terrain. You weren’t limited to the piste, you could still blast off and there were a few hits and bumps and gulleys and stuff. But I remember the queue was always horrendously massive! I guess that’s a sign that people wanted to keep the Scottish ski scene alive.

We went to Cairngorms a couple of years back and tried to suggest that rather than pack thousands of punters in during those few good days, they should maybe pile all the snow into a smaller area and build kickers that would withstand the thaws better. You could supplement it with snow canons and basically create a Scottish version of Snow Park. Do you think that’s a good idea or is it just pie in the sky?
Well… There’s no reason why it wouldn’t work if they had the right mentality. They could take a JCB and dig a couple of mounds for the kickers so they wouldn’t need as much snow in the winters. I guess there’s still a question of whether the climate would allow it, but it’s almost like the people up there don’t want to listen. They would prefer to battle to keep the traditional scene alive.

It’s a great dream though isn’t it?
Oh it’d be so good. It’d do so much for the local talent, which would snowball and create greater riders for the future.

Who did you grow up riding with?
Grant Neave (Elliot’s little brother) Elliot, Gary Greenshields, Hamish McKnight… Because the winter season’s were so short up there, spring would roll around and a group of us would go up to Hillend dryslope; they’d be around 20 people up there on an average night sessioning the dendex kickers.

People probably look at yourself, Danny Wheeler and Tyler and think you guys are at the top of the game in terms of ‘UK pros’. Is snowboarding the lucrative career it appears?
It’s weird because I never think about it like that. To me I’m still the kid that used to go riding up at Hillend and now I’m just lucky enough to still keep doing seasons. You do a few winters, and then you’re lucky enough to go on mag trips, and the more you do the more your name gets out there, and then the more photographers wanna shoot with you – and it all just sloooowly creeps up on you. So I don’t really see myself as this big ‘pro’. Plus when you come back to Edinburgh it’s summer and you’re not surrounded by the snowboard scene anymore. So it’s more like a part time job in many ways.

What do your folks think about it?
They’re cool with it now cos they know that what I’m doing is what I love to do. My first season it was different, my mum was like ‘OK, he’s finished school, he wants to go away and have a year out, that’s understandable’, but when I came back and I wanted to do it again she was a bit apprehensive at first. She didn’t really know what direction I was going in. At that time I had a place waiting at Newcastle Art College to do a foundation year, so when November rolled round and I said ‘Right, I’m off again,’ my mum and dad were a bit like, ‘I’m not sure this really is what you should be doing.’ I suppose they didn’t understand how much fun it was, and at the time I didn’t ever think it was gonna turn into a full-blown career.

But they’re proud of you now?
Yeah definitely. They love the fact that I’m doing something different, and that the passion’s still there and I’m getting good help from sponsors. I guess they’re happy cos I’m happy.

Do you still ride the dryslopes during the summers?
Not so much the dryslopes, but I sometimes go to the indoor place over in Glasgow. I don’t go that much to be honest, but the times I do I have a really cool time. It’s mad though, there’s like a massive scene that go through there every week for a three hour session.

It’s almost like the UK scene’s split between the hardcore who ride the artificial slopes every week and the guys who go out to the mountains for the season and don’t keep riding when they’re back home.
Yeah. I was chatting to (Mike) Austin a few years ago about this and he would do a four hour round trip every Friday, which seemed crazy to me. When you’ve been working all day the last thing you wanna do is sit in the car for four hours, but fair play.

Peaking of cars, what vehicle do you drive tehse days? Have you still got that Golf?
No I sold it. I’ve got an Audi, an A4.

Very nice. Is it new?
No, it’s a 1999 model. Not so blingin’!

Have you not pimped up the alloys then?
Nah I want to keep it pretty standard dude.

I’m jealous! I want an Audi. I keep watching repeats of Top Gear on Dave. Have you discovered Dave yet?
I tell you what, that’s honestly been my saviour since I’ve been injured. I love Top Gear and there’s like five or six episodes every day. Haha! Regardless of whether I’ve seen the episode before I’ll watch it again.

You’ve been in all the Lockdown movies and filmed with them for the Jib Vid. What do you like about Tim and Gend’s films?
They’re just so much fun, and I’ve known those guys for a long time. I did my first season with Gendle back in 1999; even back then when filming wasn’t serious he would shoot a kind of seasonal diary to take back to his folks and show them what he’d been up to. That’s where it all evolved from I guess. And with knowing Gendle came knowing Tim, and over three or four seasons we just had so many laughs. They just have a different twist on it don’t they? It’s not so serious. They open their arms to any standard of rider so long as the filming’s good; they’re just so welcoming to everyone. That’s what I like about it.

What do you think about their decision not to make another movie this year? Will that annual celebration of the British scene be sorely missed?
I think it will, yeah. But at the same time they’ve obviously got their own priorities at stake. Tim probably wants to do more TV work and Gendle will have his own agenda, so it’s a shame they can’t make another one over the summer but they’ve gotta look after their own backs. The last four or five winters have been sooo good, I guess they’ve loved every minute of it. And probably hated it at the same time – I’ve been to see them a few times in the summer while they were editing and I didn’t envy them having to sit up till four or five in the morning, trying to meet their deadline.

Given the door’s now wide open to anyone and any style of film, what would you like to see form the next British movie?
To be honest I like Tim and Gend’s films. I’ve shown them to some of my brother’s friends who’ve never stepped on a snowboard in their lives, and they love it. They love the humour side of it. It’s cool to take a step back and watch people who are not into the sport laughing their head off. A more serious film – trick after trick after trick – can get monotonous after a while if you’re not really into snowboarding.

So you wouldn’t necessarily want to see a tight, cream of the crop Brit flick?
Well that’s it, it can go either way. It would be cool to see that, purely because it would show that we’ve got some good talent in the UK which could be put alongside a lot of other good European films. So we could say ‘Y’know what, we’re not a joke.’

How far can British snowboarding go? Can we compete with the Euros?
Yeah I think it can as long as the people that are coming up through the ranks are as hungry as everyone else. I’d love to see the younger generation in Britain make a name for themselves in Europe. There’s no reason it can’t happen; there’s already good riders out there – Tyler’s a good example. It just takes a little time for people to realise who these guys are and to give them the chance of a section in a film, but before you know it their name’s everywhere.

What’s your favourite moment on a snowboard?
Probably filming the Jib Vid competition with Gendle. Wang v Chang, hahaha!

That sums you up for me though. You don’t really like the serious stuff do you? You like a good laugh.
I just love snowboarding and that’s it. Maybe I’m a bit of an old geek but I just love watching films and getting all stoked, I love looking out the window in the morning and seeing it’s bluebird and thinking ‘I can’t wait to get up there,’ and everyone’s getting their kit on and getting in the car – friends who feel the same way – and you get up there and you just ride all day. And you come off the hill and you’re knackered and you go home, grab a cup of tea with your boots off, and you sit there and think, ‘Man today was wicked.’ That’s what I love.

Wow. You’re making me want to go snowboarding right now. Cup of tea, boots off. Ahhh!
And that’s what I’m gonna miss so much about the next two months – not being able to do that.

You went to the US Open last year. How was it?
I really enjoyed it, it was wicked. For me the US Open was one of these events I’d only really got an impression of from magazines or films. It had always seemed like one of the most high class competitions in the world, so by the time I got there I was fucking nervous! I’d built it up in my head to be this massive hurdle to get over, Practice was mental. There must’ve been a hundred people waiting to drop in, and if you weren’t snaking – like, being a total bastard pushing kids out the way to get to the front – then you weren’t getting to ride the course. Once we started riding though we realised we had as good a chance as anyone else. The course they’d built was sooo good. The only trouble is, you practice for two hours or so and get comfortable, then you get back to the top and you’ve got to wait around for an hour before you drop in. So your legs are like jelly and it’s like you’re dropping in for the first time. The speeds changed, you’re all over the place. I guess I got unlucky and I fell on both runs.

You’ve been with Ride for a while now. In fact you’ve been with most of your sponsors for a long time. What’s kept you loyal?
I just like what they’re all about. Like with Ride, I love the people that are behind it, I love the people that are working for them, I love the products… I’ve got no real reason to change. It’s not on the top of my list to do so.

Have you been tapped up by other brands?
Sometimes. It’s not like people are banging on the door every day, but sometimes you’ll get an email asking what your plans are, are you happy and so on.

Are you starting to get involved in the design of new kit? Do you see a career there when you quit riding maybe?
I’m really not sure. If anything I’d quite like to be a team manager of sorts. I quite like the idea of looking after a team, organizing photo shoots and trips, and restructuring a brand with a good team – getting the message out there. That would be cool.

What’s your affiliation with Red Bull?
I’m not a branded rider, which means I don’t have any Red Bull hats and so on, because the UK market isn’t associated with winter sports so much and I guess they need to focus on the European side. But because of the Rail Storms I’ve worked with them for a few years, and their freesports manager Kat Mackenzie – who’s an absolute legend – has managed to get me involved in a lot of Red Bull events around the world. She’s helped me with the travel expenses and stuff.

Are you permanently wired on the stuff then?
Red Bull? Yeah, well they send me a box every month so I’ve got a nice stash in the house any time I wanna drink. Or a mixer!

How did the Rail Storm in Glasgow compare to the other jams you’ve been in? Was it more special because it was your back yard?
Definitely. Beforehand I didn’t know what to expect but when I came through and saw the finished article it was unbelievable – especially with it being in George Square; it’s quite intimate with all the Victorian buildings on each side and then 3000 people packed in to the arena. It was amazing. And to say that I was from Scotland and to compete for the UK team in Glasgow, 45 minutes from my home, made it even more special.

How did the one in Trafalgar Square compare?
It was just so big! It was almost double in size. Don’t get me wrong it was very special and I felt privileged to ride there, but because I was from Scotland I guess I felt more at home in Glasgow. It was a smaller crowd, a bit more intimate, and we did better as a team.

What was the deal with that big kicker in New Zealand?
It started off as a project that Travis Rice, Scotty Lago and John Jackson came about with. They wanted to build a jump in the backcountry that was like a park kicker, but build it in such a way that it was safe enough to try some sick tricks without killing you if you landed on your back or whatever. It was almost like an uphill gap, around 90 ft long. Again, Kat from Red Bull invited Nate Kern and I over, but initially we weren’t told who was behind it or anything, so when we finally found out it was Travis Rice and those boys we were like ‘Jesus, you know it’s gonna be massive!’ The idea was to make quite an exclusive session but unfortunately the weather meant they had to cancel two or three days in a row, and the Americans actually had to go back to the States.

So it was left to the Brits to step up!
Well, us and some local riders that the contact in New Zealand had invited. It actually made it more of a relaxed atmosphere, it was better in a way.

Was it the biggest jump you’ve ever hit?
Pretty much. You had to hit it as fast as you could possibly go. There was no room for error, no speed checks, you had to get it perfect.

How was it being tracked by a heli on the run-in? Did you feel like Romain de Marchi?
Haha! It was pretty special. There was this moment when Johno (Verity) was harnessed inside the chopper – and the door was open and he was sideways – and the helicopter was basically hovering to my right as I was doing my ratchets up at the top. Then I put my hands up to give them the all clear and set off down the pisted track towards the kicker, I look to my right and there’s the heli following me, and I can see Johno peering out in his bright orange jacket clinging on for dear life! That was a special moment for me – one of my all time goals was to film with a helicopter in the background.

You’re known as a stylie rider. Where does it come from?
It’s natural really, haha! Nah, I love to go skating and I think it came from there. Watching all the skate films – guys like Koston and Marc Johnson – they all just flowed in whatever they did, whether it was transitions or blocks. I think I always wanted to emulate that in my skating, and I guess I brought that over to my snowboarding. I’ve never been someone to criticize someone for their style, because snowboarding’s a freesport and you do it how you do it, but personally I always wanted things to look cool – which to me was slowing the rotation, being quite smooth and trying not to flail my hands. Just keeping it all together.

Which riders inspire you?
Eero Ettala, Devun Walsh, Wille Yli Luoma… I just love their style cos it’s so floaty and relaxed. UK-wise, Chorlo’s style is really cool, and Nelson Pratt – he’s fuckin’ killing it, he’s definitely one to watch for this winter I think.

Did you have any goals for this season before you got injured?
Yeah, maybe trying to get a 10 down would be pretty cool. That would be an accomplishment.

How about freeriding? I’ve seen the odd line in the Lockdown movies.
It’s something I’ve done a lot of but I just haven’t filmed a lot of it. I love doing pat-down cliffs. I did a trip to Austria with (photographer) Dan Milner last year and that’s almost all we did – find big rocks and pat down a take-off.

What scares you more – a big kicker, a gnarly rail or a steep line?
Wow, I’ll have to think about this one… Each one has it’s own fear factor but I think a gnarly rail has to top the lot. The amount of adrenaline you create from a rail is crazy if it has a lot of consequences. But the feeling you get after you’ve accomplished it is indescribable, especially if it’s taken you 20 goes to get it right. But at the same time you can relate all that to a big kicker or a steep line. I guess it depends on the individual and what gets them super excited.

Are we ever likely to see you riding in tight pants?
Haha! Probably not. It’s not really my thing. It’s kinda like rock music isn’t it? I don’t mind the odd rock tune now and again but I’m not gonna start wearing the rocky stuff. I like a bit of movement. For Wang v Chang actually I wore a pair of jeans, but they were sooo tight, it felt a bit weird.

I have this theory that baggy pants help with that smooth-looking style, cos they make you look less gangly. They hide the ugly corners!
Yeah it’s a bit more compact isn’t it? More stocky. But then again some kids are into the whole skinny stuff, especially in the States. Whatever you’re into really – it’s all good.

You’ve been with your girlfriend for a long time now. How do you balance the travelling with the need to spend time at home?
It’s just about having a good balance I think. Letting the other person do their thing but also respecting each other and knowing they’re not gonna do anything stupid. I’m very privileged cos she obviously doesn’t like it every time December rolls around, but she knows that I love to do it, and she’s come to terms with the fact that it’s my job. It’s cool though, cos she gets to come out to the mountains and I’ll go home from time to time as well. We try to see each other a couple of times a month.

She must’ve been stoked when you injured yourself though!
I told her on the phone when I was in America and she was like, “Oh man, gutted!” but I’m sure she must’ve gone away from the phone with a massive smile on her face! Haha!

Are you fed up with Edinburgh or the cycle of doing snowboarding seasons? What are your plans?
Obviously when you have an injury it makes you take a step back for a while , but generally I’m just gonna plod on. But I love coming back to Edinburgh, I think this is my home. I just know the city so well. It’s gonna be my home for quite a while now I think. I’ve not got any major plans set in stone. I’m just gonna go with the flow and keep snowboarding, keep pushing it, and I think I’ll know at some point if it’s not what I want to do any more. I’m sure doors will open at some stage – I’ve no idea what or when though – but I’m sure they will.

Nice one Scott, that’s it. Any shout-outs?
Yeah, huge thank you to my family and closest friends, you know who you are. Katie for sticking by me, Jeremy Festa and Heather Pigott at Oakley, Matt Burt and Damon Street at Ride, Nick Street, John Sewell and Victoria Barrio from Vans, Jan at Nixon Europe, Darren Anderson, Big Colin and Midge at Bawbags, Lucy Willmott at Neff, Helen at the Park Snowboard Shop and finally Kat Mackenzie, Christie Poulos and Robbie Henderson at Red Bull. You’re amazing. Thank you all so much.

Photo Credits

Image One: Vernon Deck; Image Two: Lorenz Holder; Image Three: Red Bull

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