Mark McMorris on his way to gold at the 2017 Burton U.S. Open. PHOTO| Mark Clavin
Team Canada is the preeminent favorite in slopestyle and big air heading into the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea and they have arguably the favorite in both disciplines with Mark McMorris, so there's no doubt that all eyes are on our neighbor to the north come February 2018. However, they're light years behind other countries in halfpipe. This will prove to be their toughest challenge, but they've been at the forefront of pushing inbounds freestyle snowboarding to new heights over the last five years and their Olympic team is one of the best funded and progressive programs on earth. Canada is a force to be reckoned with in PyeongChang. A colossal force, in fact.
Team Canada is allotted four male and four female athletes per snowboard discipline (slopestyle and big air, which are one in the same and halfpipe), for a total of eight athletes in slope/big air and eight athletes in halfpipe. In order to be eligible, the riders must hold a valid Canadian passport that does not expire before August 28th, 2018. They also need one top 30 finish at a World Cup or World Championships and have at least 50 FIS points. The team selection period is from July 1, 2016 to January 1, 2018. Canada also has what's called an "Early Nomination Process," which is judged off of five events from the 2016/2017 season. They are the Laax FIS World Cup, the X Games, the Quebec FIS World Cup, the US Open and the European X Games. [Editor's Note: Mark McMorris and Max Parrot have already been selected to the team via the Early Selection Process.] The rest of the team will be chosen via a results-based selection process, which in layman's terms basically means that the riders with the best contest placings in Olympic-accredited events will fill the remaining spots on the team.
Canada is a force to be reckoned with in PyeongChang. A colossal force, in fact.
Favorites in Slope and Big Air
Mark is the current face of competitive snowboarding. The kid's won every single major event in the slopestyle and big air arena and he's a multi-million dollar athlete, for very good reason. He's coming off a gruesome backcountry injury just a few months ago, but if we learned anything about who is capable of coming back from a harrowing injury to climb back to the top quickly, it's most definitely Mark.
*Of note is that Mark has already been selected to the Canadian team.
Max is probably the favorite to win gold in big air at this point, but remember that six months is a lifetime in competitive snowboarding so this will probably change. One of the first riders ever to land a quadruple cork, and with big air's format of one-hit wonder tricks, Max probably has the repertoire to take gold. However, there's still a lot of time and a lot of training to be had so really, it's anyone's game come February. In slopestyle, Max struggles to link tricks at times and he's light years behind other riders when it comes to rails, but he could be the first rider ever to do quad corks on every jump feature in South Korea. Whether or not that's a good thing is fully up to you to decide.
*Of note is that Max has already been selected to the Canadian team.
It's crazy to think that Seb Toots is a "veteran" in the slopestyle and big air scene, but he certainly is at this point. That's what happens when you go pro before you're a teenager, but mentally, there's no tougher contest rider on earth than Seb. The more pressure that rests on him, the better he rides, and he's stood atop the podium of every major competitive event in snowboarding. He's got to learn some new tricks to do well in both big air and slope but he's a medal contender at every contest he shows up to.
Mikey is the young gun on the Canadian powerhouse team when it comes to big air and slopestyle and he opts to spin flat and increase rotations rather than going for broke with triples and quadruple corks, which many believe is harder to do. However, if Mikey makes the team, he'll come into Korea as the underdog as the spotlight will be on the veterans of the Canadian team and that's when he rides his best. One other rider who was in a similar situation going into Sochi goes by the name of Sage Kotsenburg.
Tyler Nicholson’s silver medal run at the Winter X Games in Aspen earlier this year.
Tyler's relaxed demeanor and soft-spoken persona is in stark contrast to his explosive riding. He pops harder, goes bigger and stomps further than almost any other rider in the competitive arena. However, when he goes down, he does so in spectacular fashion due to the sheer amplitude of his tricks. Tyler's no stranger to the contest circuit but he's never been on as big of a stage as the Olympics. However, we think he can handle it and he very might well walk away from Korea with a medal in big air or slope because once he learns a trick, it's in his bag forever, and that's the mark of a true talent in this sport.
Darcy Sharpe is the next frontman of the Canadian snowboard scene. He can do it all, and he is widely considered the best all-around up-and-coming contest rider alive, as his rail game is as strong--if not stronger--than his abilities in the air, and that's what makes him such a threat. A lot of riders lose slopestyle contests in the rail section, but Darcy rarely does. Keep an eye out for this kid to sneak his way onto the podium of slope or big air if he makes the squad.
The only reason that Spencer O'Brien isn't widely regarded as the best female slopestyle rider of her generation comes down to one name: Jamie Anderson. Spencer has been hot on Jamie's heels since they first put on a bib and competed against each other years ago, and although Jamie is the most dominant rider the world has ever seen in a slopestyle setting, Spencer is always there giving her a run for her money. This has typecast Spencer as an underdog for her whole career, but it's that moniker that maker her ride with a chip on her shoulder, and that's when she's most dangerous.
Odds-On Chances to Medal:
Very good. We will be incredibly surprised if a member of Team Canada doesn't walk away with some hardware hanging from their neck in Korea, let alone two or three. In our opinion, Canada has the best chance of any team to pull off a sweep in slopestyle and big air and unfortunately, we don't think anyone from the great white north will podium in pipe in 2018.