Rolling Stone – which has twice put Shaun White on its cover – asked last week: "Is Mark McMorris the next Shaun White?"
McMorris, the 19-year-old snowboard wunderkind from Regina, answered with an emphatic yes at the X Games this past weekend. He delivered on all his prodigious promise on Saturday, easily outdistancing rival White and winning his second gold medal in the slopestyle contest after his first X Games win a year ago. And McMorris did it with a thumping exclamation, pulling off the best-ever score in the event's X Games history and firmly establishing himself as the de facto gold-medal favourite for the Sochi, Russia, Winter Games 13 months from now, where slopestyle makes its Olympics debut.
"I was able to land a run that I've always dreamed of," said McMorris after his victory, the first back-to-back men's snowboard slopestyle gold at X Games since White won three in a row in the mid-2000s.
White, who at 26 is the world's most famous snowboarder, waited at the bottom of the course to congratulation McMorris. White finished fifth in slopestyle and, on Sunday night, aimed to win his sixth straight X Games gold in the halfpipe. In Sochi, White plans to defend his two Olympics halfpipe golds – and make a comeback in slopestyle.
"I'm going to let this soak in and hopefully turn it into a motivator," White told ESPN of his defeat to McMorris.
X Games, as it often is, was a festival of youth, to Canada's benefit and detriment. McMorris was the big star and 18-year-old Max Parrot, from Bromont, Que., emphatically announced his arrival among the best contest snowboarders with a surprise silver in slopestyle. But Sebastien Toutant, a 20-year-old from Montreal who won slopestyle gold two years ago, failed to make the final this year. Still, all in, the tremendous trio sparked an X Games announcer to say: "Canada's really putting together a gnarly team for the Olympics."
As Canada's young men triumphed, Canadian woman – who are not far into their 20s – were usurped by teenage rivals.
In the women's ski halfpipe, the event pioneered by Sarah Burke, Roz Groenewoud was the favourite to win. The 23-year-old took silver, and 20-year-old Megan Gunning from Calgary won bronze, after winning a silver three years ago at 17.
This year's gold was won by Maddie Bowman, an American from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., who turned 19 two weeks ago.
It was much the same in women's ski slopestyle. Kaya Turski, a 24-year-old from Montreal, had won three consecutive golds at the X Games but fell on the final jump of her first of three runs on Sunday. Then, on her second run, Turski tumbled on a very basic trick just after she started, while 17-year-old Tiril Sjastad Christiansen of Norway delivered a huge second run, which won Christiansen the gold. Turski sat in last place going into her third run – and was the last woman to ski, a run delayed by half an hour after another skier was injured. The veteran Turski recovered her poise and won silver, bumping teammate and 20-year-old Dara Howell from Huntsville, Ont., to third and the bronze.
This year's X Games, for the men, was all about a trick called the triple cork, one that McMorris was the first to ever land two years ago and is now in the repertoire of most top male riders, including Parrot. McMorris landed a backside triple cork 1440 to end his record run, a trick that is a kaleidoscope of spins, three off-axis flips and four full rotations of 360 degrees.
"Snowboarding is getting crazier and crazier every day," said Max Henault, who coaches Toutant and Parrot.