Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris is recovering in hospital after hitting a tree in the Rainbow Mountain backcountry near Whistler, B.C., on Saturday.
The Olympic medalist suffered serious injuries after soaring off a jump, drifting to his left and hitting the tree. The mid-air impact broke his jaw and left arm, ruptured his spleen, fractured his pelvis and ribs and collapsed his left lung. He was evacuated by helicopter, first to Whistler, then to Vancouver General Hospital, where he underwent two surgeries.
"The surgeries went very well, and [the jaw and arm] fractures are now stabilized to heal in excellent position," said Rodney French, the team doctor for Canada Snowboard. "It is too early to speculate on a timeline for Mark's recovery."
McMorris, a 23-year-old from Regina, had just completed one of his best winters on the competition circuit. He is the top-ranked contest snowboarder in the world, a position he reached after he broke his right femur in February last year and went through a months-long rehabilitation process.
Before Saturday's crash, he would have been the gold-medal favourite in two events – snowboard slopestyle and snowboard big air – at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"I don't want to think about it too much," he said in an interview last Thursday.
"This was probably my best year, and I just snowboarded and had fun and it worked out."
McMorris and his brother, Craig, had planned to spend the weekend on a helicopter snowboarding trip in the area around Revelstoke, B.C., with Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing. But the weather in the region was not ideal, so they postponed it till Monday.
On Saturday, they used snowmobiles to reach Rainbow Mountain, up a valley and about 10 kilometres northwest of the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort. The brothers and some friends built a jump and had been filming their tricks.
When the accident happened, the visibility wasn't good – flat light, making it difficult to discern the contours of the snow – and McMorris misjudged the takeoff.
He recovered from a lesser injury ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, at which he won a bronze medal in slopestyle; two weeks before the Games, he broke a rib in a crash at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo.
McMorris's first surgery, on Saturday, was to control bleeding from his spleen. On Sunday night, surgeons carried out a second procedure to fix his jaw and left arm. French described those fractures as "complicated injuries."
While the length and difficulty of the rehabilitation he now faces are not clear, McMorris's proven resilience has made those close to him confident that he will make a full recovery.
Canada Snowboard, too, has confidence in McMorris.
"Coming back from the femur – that was significant. I was impressed with his resilience and his commitment to rehab," said Patrick Jarvis, executive director of Canada Snowboard.
Among his accomplishments this winter, McMorris won the overall crystal globe title for the 2016-17 FIS freestyle snowboard season, as well as the big air crystal globe. He won two bronzes at the Winter X Games in Aspen – in slopestyle and big air – increasing his career total there to 12 medals, half of them gold. And he won the big air test event in South Korea last November as well as the slopestyle competition at the U.S. Open in early March in Vail, Colo.