Mark McMorris gunning for X Games double gold

Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris.

Mark McMorris has won gold at the Winter X Games five times. And this weekend, the 22-year-old snowboarder from Regina is looking to grow that collection.

“I’m definitely gonna go for double gold,” McMorris says.

With the Winter X Games opening in Aspen on Thursday, Sportsnet caught up with two of Team Canada’s headliners—McMorris, the reigning champion in snowboarding’s big air and slopestyle events, and Dara Howell, the 2014 Olympic slopestyle ski champion—to preview what’s to come. Here are their answers from two separate interviews.

Howell, 21, from Huntsville, Ont., competes Friday in ski slopestyle. McMorris competes Friday (big air) and Saturday (slopestyle.)

Sportsnet: Mark, you have a couple titles to defend this weekend.

McMorris: I’m really excited to get this competition started. I’m feeling good on my board. If I ride to the best of my ability, then I’ll be a happy camper. [Defending the titles] would be the icing on the cake.

Are you used to being the guy to beat?

McMorris: I am used to being in this position, yes, just because I’ve consistently done well at this event, so people definitely look to me to do well. There is pressure there. There’s also pressure because the other riders are nipping at my heels, trying to beat me. But it’s motivating that way; it makes me want to ride even better.

Any new tricks up your sleeve?

McMorris: I’d like to do some runs that I’ve been scheming up in my head, and in the big air I have a new trick I’d like to pull out. It’s a switch backside triple cork 1620, which is a variation of three flips and four and a half rotations. I’ve done a couple in the past six months, and I feel like I can probably do it here if the jump is in good condition, which I’m sure it will be. I’m definitely shooting to land one of those.

Whew, good luck. You make it look so easy when you’re in the air. How?

McMorris: Thank you. Umm, I don’t know. I just try and stay calm and smooth in the air and not make any jerky movements. I try and ride the way I think would look good: be smooth and pop hard and get lots of hang time.

Dara, have you been cooking up any new tricks for X-Games?

Howell: I’ve been working on one trick that’s pretty new but I don’t know if it’s there yet. We’ll see what happens. I’m not too sure if it’s gonna go the way I want it to yet. [Laughs]. It’s the Switch 10. I take off backwards, I go into the jump backwards and then I spin three times and land backwards.

Sounds terrifying.

Howell: Piece of cake, right? [Laughs].

Where do X-Games rank for you in terms of favourite events?

Howell: It’s honestly the best contest of the year. I think it’s the whole atmosphere; you come in and you’re treated like a professional athlete. You’re catered to, and you’re in Aspen—the course is so nice. I look forward to literally everything. I mean, you register and you get a gift bag full of goodies, you go into this lounge and there’s so much food and free stuff. You go out on the course, you take snowmobile rides up. It’s amazing.

You’ve said the year after the Olympics was really tough. You didn’t know if you’d compete again. How are you feeling now?

Howell: I’m really excited. It was really hard for me after the Olympics. I think it was all the pressure; I put a lot of pressure on myself, too. It just kind of made me crack a little bit. It was pretty tough to work through but now I’m finally getting back to where I was and it’s good. I’m happy to be back skiing and slowly working my way up again. And being in Aspen this week it makes everything even more perfect.

You’re a two-time bronze medallist here. What’s the goal for Friday?

Howell: I would love to put down the best run I possibly can. I’ve obviously been trying to work on different things and trying to progress my skiing. The goal is really to just land three runs. If I can finish three runs I know I’ll be happy and whatever happens, happens, you know?

You won bronze here last year, having only trained for a couple weeks on snow. How did you pull that off?

Howell: Yeah, it was pretty crazy. [Laughs.] Maybe a little bit of luck? I honestly don’t know. It was pretty crazy and [to win] bronze, it was amazing. I had all my family here. It felt like a gold to me, to prove to myself I could get back on the podium.

Obviously competing is your main focus. But what events do you like watching at X-Games?

Howell: I love to watch all the skiing and I actually really like the snowmobiling. I think they’re crazy! [Laughs].

Mark, what events will you be watching?

McMorris: Men’s halfpipe—that’s always exciting. I love watching all my buddies. That’s the only freestyle snowboarding event I’m not in, so that’s the one I really enjoy watching. If you’re into snowmobiles and stuff, that’d be fun. And border cross.

There are 24 Canadians in the field. How strong is this team?

Howell: All the Canadian athletes, you should be looking out for. One to watch is [reigning Olympic champion] Marielle Thompson in ski cross. And then in the halfpipe there’s [Olympic silver medallist] Mike Riddle and Roz G [Rosalind Groenewoud, 2012 X Games champion]. They’re all decorated athletes and they’ve all been here before. They can put on a good show for all of us.

McMorris: The Canadian team is on the come-up right now. There’s so many kids getting really talented and it definitely speaks to the program because all these kids about three years ago were just figuring it out and hoping to get into some small contests, and now they’re all nipping on my heels on the podium at the big events. It’s crazy.

Who can we expect a big performance from on the snowboard side?

McMorris: Big performances to come from [World silver medallist] Darcy Sharpe and Seb Toots [Sebastien Toutant, X Games gold and silver medallist] and hopefully Tyler Nicholson gets in; he’s the first alternate. Max [Parrot, a two-time X Games gold medallist] is always out there, chuckin’ flips, too. Look out for all those guys.

And…you?

McMorris: Yeah, look out for me — come on! [Laughs]. Just kidding.