When Mark McMorris stood atop the massive snowboard jump at Shaun White's Air+Style competition on Feb. 21, everything seemed to be normal.
The 22-year-old Olympic bronze medallist was having the best season of his career, had some great practice jumps leading into the event and was expected to put on another display of aerial prowess with a frontside 1440 triple cork.
But something was different, McMorris said: no snow cats. The truck-sized vehicles that groom and even out the snow in the landing area are a common sight at most jump events.
"A lot of the sections weren't level on the landing," said McMorris, who fell hard on his landing, broke his right femur and is now recovering in Los Angeles.
"My injury didn't come from impact, it was because there was a different level further down the landing, higher than the level I landed on," he said.
"When I was falling onto my butt and my board was turning sideways, the higher level of snow caught my toe side edge and brought my weight over the front of my board and pushing my femur through."
'Something's not right'
McMorris has never had an injury this severe.
"As soon as I flipped over I was like, 'Something's not right, I'm pretty sure I heard my binding snap off my board,'" he said. "I landed the trick and went through happiness for a split second, and then it just happened."
When people ran over to help him, realization of the injury overcame him. Though everything happened in seconds, it felt much longer.
"It's unreal how many things can go through your mind," said McMorris. "I worked so hard to prevent a situation like this, and the fact that it was a freak accident was making me so mad."
"I was also really sad because my Dad and his buddy were there to watch me, and my family is always such good luck for me and it's always fun to win when you're family's around," the Regina-born snowboarder said.
He said thoughts of everything he was going to miss — filming a part in an upcoming snowboard movie and major international competitions including the X Games and world championships — overwhelmed him as he waited helplessly in the snow.
Recovering in Los Angeles
McMorris had surgery, to insert a metal rod into his femur, the day after the injury and has been doing physiotherapy consistently since he returned home from the hospital. He's been working on moving his leg, and trying to strengthen and engage some of the smaller muscles around his femur. He's not wearing a cast.
Only a small circle of close friends and his physiotherapist have been around McMorris since the injury.
"They've literally been dragging me around the house and helping me do everything," said McMorris, laughing. "All you can do is put yourself in a positive mind frame, and that will make the healing process go faster, too."
McMorris will remain in Los Angeles until he has his stitches removed. After that he'll head to Vancouver to begin a full rehabilitation process.