They may come from different backgrounds and different home bases. They may have different training locations. But they are no less a team.
Canada’s top slopestyle and big air snowboarders came together in Whistler recently for a national team camp. And while the heralded trio of Sochi 2014 Olympians Mark McMorris, Sébastien Toutant, and Max Parrot may garner most of the headlines, they’re not the only ones constantly in contention for international podiums.
“We have a very strong team in Canada. We are six or seven snowboarders to reach the finals almost at every event. It’s really crazy and you don’t see that from other countries,” Parrot told Olympic.ca.
Case in point: the test event for the Olympic big air venue in PyeongChang that was held at the end of November. McMorris and Parrot finished first and second, but half of the 10 finalists were Canadian, including Tyler Nicholson in fourth place as well as Toutant and Darcy Sharpe.
Or before that, the Air + Style event in Beijing which saw five Canadians (Toutant, Sharpe, McMorris, Antoine Truchon, Michael Ciccarelli) in the eight-man big air final, with Toutant and Sharpe on the podium.
And while it was McMorris, Parrot, and Toutant giving Canada the slopestyle podium sweep at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado in December, Nicholson and Ciccarelli were not far off.
“It’s really cool to see that Canada is this strong on the circuit. We are all friends and it’s great to get to events as a team, to find several teammates in the finals and to even share podiums with them,” said Toutant. “It’s a healthy rivalry, we are pushing each other and ultimately we’re all good friends and that’s what makes the team so special.”
“It’s never really been much of a team vibe in the past because it was more just Seb, myself, and Max doing our own thing. The team has always been Tyler and Darcy and those kids who really came up through the program,” said McMorris. “Now that I’m able to be around more and ride with them, they’re now threats and we are together a lot at every event. The atmosphere and vibe and dynamic between everybody is pretty cool. Everybody pushes each other and makes each other progress, so I think it’s really positive.”
The camaraderie at camp was obvious, as the boarders stopped what they were doing to watch and cheer on each other’s efforts. Sharpe even played cameraman for McMorris, while Toutant did the same for Parrot.
“Yes it is a competition between Canadians, and it’s unfortunate, but at the same time it creates a good energy within the team,” said Parrot. “Since it is a judged sport, there is no real competition between boarders, it’s more of a competition on ourselves. When I lay a run my goal is to beat myself the next time and land an even better trick. If Canadians do well, I’m happy. When I do well, they are happy for me and that’s how it works in our sport.”
That competition between Canadians will come to a head when the qualification period for PyeongChang 2018 closes a year from now. Each country can only send a maximum of four boarders to compete in both slopestyle and big air.
“My goals for the season are to qualify for the Olympics and win as many medals as I can. Next season is going to depend on if I am at the Olympics or not, and hopefully if I am I want to bring back a medal,” said Parrot.
“It’s really sick that in Korea we’ll have both (slopestyle and big air),” said Toutant. “It gives you two chances at winning a medal which is cool. Sometimes you go to compete in big air and maybe it didn’t go your way so you can have redemption on the slope, which is cool.”
In the meantime, those contending for the Olympic spots will be polishing up their tricks and perhaps adding new ones to their repertoire.
“I love pushing the sport, it’s something that I love to do,” said Parrot, who was the first to perform a switch quadruple underflip. “Putting new tricks down and having that feeling of being the only person heard of doing a new trick is something amazing. When I land one, I am already thinking about a new one that I want to land.
“It has now been over 10 years that I’m a professional snowboarder, which is quite rare since I’m only 24 years old. Sport has changed a lot since I started,” said Toutant. “When I started, it was enough for a 900 or a 1080 to win a competition, then double corks arrived and now we see only triple corks. It’s cool to be a part of these changes. I can’t wait to see where it will go.”
The biggest annual event on the snowboard calendar is the X Games and the 2017 edition is just a couple of weeks away in Aspen. McMorris, Parrot, Toutant, Nicholson, Sharpe and Ciccarelli have all been invited to take part in the slopestyle competition, with McMorris, Parrot, Toutant and Sharpe also entered in the big air.