Mark McMorris and Max Parrot: Best of frenemies
Olympic snowboard contenders take different approaches to their sport
By Benjamin Blum, CBC Sports
Mark McMorris and Max Parrot aren't exactly rivals, but they're not best friends either.
The Canadians are two of of the world's best snowboarders, and both are medal favourites at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
But that's just about where the similarities between the two end, according to McMorris.
"He takes more of the gymnast approach and doesn't ride big mountain stuff or doesn't really spend his time going to film for projects or go heli-boarding and do stuff like that," McMorris says about the 23-year-old from Bromont, Que. "He's more on the trampoline or on an airbag and then hitting the jumps and stuff."
"So not my cup of tea and not the snowboarder I really love to watch, but he's damn good at doing flips and landing at the right times."
Parrot doesn't shy away from this approach to snowboarding, saying it gives him an opportunity to hone his skills year-round.
"We all have different ways of preparing ourselves and training ourselves," Parrot says. "When you go out on the mountain, you take the chairlift, you do maybe, in a day, I would say 15 jumps. But on a trampoline you can do 15 jumps in less than a minute."
"McMorris has been a gymnast as well. He has done trampoline since he was very young," Parrot says about his 24-year-old counterpart from Regina. "Maybe he stopped now because, you know, in snowboarding [if] you're doing trampolining it's not known as something cool, so I think he just stopped that for his image or maybe he does it secretly, I don't know.
"Maybe he doesn't even need it. Like I said, there's many other ways to be good at snowboarding, but I personally think [the trampoline is] a very, very great place to learn new tricks. Especially in a safe way."
Comebacks and quad flips
Safety has been a major part of the discussion surrounding McMorris since he sustained near-fatal injuries while backcountry snowboarding in British Columbia last March.
"I've had to talk about the injury probably every time I've talked to anybody that has any recollection of what I've done, because that seems to be the talking point over the last six months for me," McMorris says. "I feel like I'm past it and have overcome it and just want to move on to new things and get competing so I can talk to people about that.
"I feel like I'm mentally past it and very close to being physically past it."
He certainly looked like his usual self in his return to the World Cup circuit on Nov. 25 in Beijing, winning the big air event with three impressive jumps. He went on to take bronze in slopestyle at January's X Games.
Big air is making its Olympic debut, and both McMorris and Parrot — who wasn't in Beijing — have already qualified for the Games.
Both snowboarders competed in slopestyle at the Sochi 2014 Olympics, with McMorris winning bronze and Parrot placing fifth. Since those Games, the duo have been mainstays on X Games and World Cup podiums in both events, with Parrot taking things to new heights by landing the first-ever quad underflip to secure X Games gold in 2017. This year, Parrot won big air gold in Aspen for the third consecutive year.
"A quad is a very good trick. When you do it you have a lot of chances to win, that's for sure. But the problem is we don't have a big jump to do quads at every contest," Parrot says, adding that the jump in Aspen is the only one big enough for it at the moment.
"I don't even think at the Olympics we'll have a jump big enough to do quads, so I would say I'm putting my energy right now more into other tricks that are possible on every jump."
That suits McMorris just fine, who told CBC Sports's Jacqueline Doorey after Parrot's gold-winning quad in 2017 that the trick "scared the living beep" out of him.
"I don't think I'll ever try that trick in any other circumstance than in a competition when I need to. It's just one of those tricks that isn't necessarily like the best time. It's just really scary," McMorris said after earning bronze at that event.
'A different vibe'
There's a unique dynamic within Olympic snowboarding, where your biggest competitor may be marching right beside you in the parade of nations. Differences aside, there is a mutual respect between McMorris and Parrot.
"Max as a competitor is really, really great. He does consistently well pretty much all the time," McMorris says.
"He's a very, very talented snowboarder," Parrot says of McMorris. "He has won many, many medals over the past years.
"I wouldn't say I'm best friends with him, but, we're friends and there's not any rivalry I would say."
However, underneath that level of mutual recognition there are personal and philosophical differences between the two that clearly separate them. McMorris attributes it to "a different vibe between the two of us."
"I didn't get into snowboarding trying to go to the Olympics or trying to be the best competitive snowboarder. I just got into snowboarding because I loved riding with my friends and being a snowboarder," McMorris says, adding that "being respected in the community" is as important as winning international competitions.
"I don't really have these conversations with [Parrot], but if you watch anything that he's been a part of it's like 'I wanted to be a pro snowboarder and I wanted to win medals' and that's his take. I love winning and that makes me feel great, but I don't necessarily sacrifice my snowboarding image just for medals."
Parrot, who says he doesn't backcountry snowboard but may try it after his competitive career ends, is comfortable with his approach and confident about why he does it.
"Snowboarding has evolved so much since I'd say five, six years [ago] that now it's kind of getting hard to do backcountry, filming, so much other stuff and be still concentrated on winning the contests," he says. "So I just focus my energy all on contests and I think it's working pretty well.
"What I love about snowboarding is that you can always push the limits."