Every year, it’s the same question: can anyone beat Shaun White? In the half pipe, maybe not. But the white-hot center of snowboarding these days has moved to another event, slopestyle, where a new rider looms large in White’s path. Mark McMorris, a 19-year-old Canadian, is the defending gold medalist in slopestyle, in which riders descend a course with three sets of rails and four huge jumps, throwing the biggest trick possible over each. McMorris says it’s just too hard for most young riders to find a decent half pipe. He rarely saw one growing up. “But I hit a million jumps and rails,” he says. “That’s what most kids do now.”
Over the past three years, the rider nicknamed “McLovin'” has led the revolution in snowboarding that turned slopestyle into the sport’s marquee event. Next year, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, slopestyle will appear as a medal event for the first time, and McMorris will likely be the favorite, in large part because of his signature move: the triple cork. McMorris was the second person ever to land the insanely difficult trick (which includes three flips and four spins) anywhere, and the first to do it in competition (White has yet to pull it off). “He has an endless bag of tricks,” says Keir Dillon, the former pro rider and ESPN X Games commentator. “McMorris has raised the bar, and Shaun now has had to catch up.”
Ah, Shaun White. Now that slopestyle is an Olympic sport, you can’t expect the greatest rider of all time to let someone else just walk away with the gold. So McLovin’ vs. the Flying Tomato is set to become the sport’s best rivalry. White beat McMorris last winter at the Winter X Games event in Europe. Now McMorris can’t wait for another chance to face White, this month in Aspen at the X Games. “I know he’ll have his stuff ready to go,” he says. “I just hope we get to battle it down.”
This story is from the January 31st, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.