Like being in a high-speed, head-on car crash. That’s how Mark McMorris describes it. During a film shoot in the Whistler backcountry last March, the Olympic snowboarding phenom lost control off a frontside 360 and cannoned into a tree. It was a bad scene: a broken jaw, a shattered arm, a ruptured spleen, a pelvic fracture, rib fractures, and a punctured lung.
“My jaw was just hanging off,” recounts the 24-year-old Regina native. “I didn’t think I’d ever snowboard again. I was just lying there trying to stay awake, waiting for the helicopter to come. I was puking. I thought I was going to die.”
And he almost did. He was airlifted to a Vancouver hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery to stop internal bleeding and repair his many fractures. When he finally came to, he gestured for a notepad. “The first thing I wrote was, ‘Will I walk again?’ The second thing was, ‘Can I still go to the Olympics?’”
Apparently a lot can change in a week.. So so thankful to have my life! It was touch and go there for a second and I don’t know how I can thank everyone enough for praying and sending healing vibes…. I hit a tree in the whistler backcountry a week ago and to be honest I was pretty sure I was going to die… @craigmcmorris @torsteinhorgmo @erinhogue @brandonkelly and @ryantiene saved my life by staying calm, building me a nest, and calling search and rescue🙏🏼 I will never take another day on this earth for granted .. 😌 Much Love❤
Months of rehab later, here at a Toronto gym in August, McMorris’ sights are set miraculously (if not insanely) higher: not only does he plan on attending February’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, he plans on laying waste there. He qualified before the accident and should be a medal threat in both the big air and slopestyle events if he’s completely healthy. He certainly looks it — almost abnormally so. Most of his injuries have healed, aside from a lingering issue with his left arm — a fragmented humerus is taking longer to recover. Mentally, though, he’s zoned in like Parks and Recreation’s Chris Traeger. Literally.
“I’m feeling really, really good,” he beams. “Much better than I thought I’d be doing at this point. I’m fired up to compete again.”
It wouldn’t be the first time McMorris has Wolverine’d his way back from destruction. He broke a rib just 11 days before the 2014 Sochi Games but went on to win a bronze in men’s slopestyle. Then, after snapping his right femur in 2016, he recovered in time to snag two golds at the 2017 X-Games. He’s continuously defied the odds (see also: learning to shred growing up in Saskatchewan’s flatlands) to become one of the world’s most decorated snowboarders. It’s his positive, easygoing spirit that’s remained unbreakable; no healing factor or adamantium skeleton necessary.
Of course, this latest wreck makes all his past ones look like mere fender benders. The recovery process has been especially gruelling — endless hours of physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, specialized exercises, chiropractor visits, and learning to feel comfortable again on the slopes. It’s by far the toughest fight of McMorris’ life. And yet, smart money is still on seeing him scrape the sky back to the podium come February.
“Never say die?” he echoes, understandably confused by my reference to a Black Sabbath album well before his time. He thinks about it, then smiles. “Never say die!”