Why you should care
The Winter Olympics cometh.
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The first time 17-year-old Norwegian Marcus Kleveland strapped on a snowboard was, by his own admission, awful. Picture a 3 1/2-year-old who enjoyed snowboarding video games, could ski and looked up to a snowboarding older sister. Perched on a slope at Norway’s Dombas ski resort, just 200 yards away from his home, he expected it to be a breeze. Not so much.
He sucked, got angry, threw his board and went back to skiing. But, as he told OZY during Dew Tour 2016, the first major event of the domestic winter action-sports season, he returned to boarding because he found skiing boring. It turned out to be a good move: He surpassed his sister by age 7. He landed the triple cork (three flips while rotating), the current standard in the freestyle snowboarding world, at age 13. He landed the quad cork 1800, four flips during five rotations of the board, last year and stomped it, meaning he finished the trick all the way through the landing, earlier this year. The trajectory of Kleveland’s progression has been as rapid as some of the world’s best snowboarders. He is undoubtedly on pace to reach the very apex of the snowboarding world.
“He always boggles minds because he’s so small” — at 5 feet 2 inches and 139 pounds — “but rides like such a man,” says 22-year-old Canadian Mark McMorris, currently one of the world’s best slopestyle snowboarders, after winning the men’s snowboard competition at Dew Tour 2016. “We’ve gotta watch out for him.”
As a child, Kleveland and his family were friends with the resort owners and rode the Dombas slopes at will. On heavy powder days, Kleveland’s father would pick him up from school to go riding. By the time Marcus began riding with his friends, he was already at pro level. Because he came of age in the internet era, we’ve seen his growth through the years; the videos of the Red Bull rider landing the triple cork at 13 and the quad cork at 16 created huge buzz within the snowboarding world. Landing the quad cork likely solidified Kleveland’s Red Bull sponsorship and earned him his X Games appearance in his native Norway in 2016.
But the ease of Kleveland’s visual performance belies the drama that goes into acing each trick. While at a Red Bull camp at Sun Valley during the 2012-13 season, Kleveland was throwing down double corks smoothly. The triple cork, landed for the first time in competition by Kleveland’s countryman and idol Torstein Horgmo at the X Games about two years earlier, was on Kleveland’s mind. He was hoping to ace it himself, and spent all week attempting it. He came closest on his first and 10th attempts, but both times he put a hand down on the landing, meaning the trick wasn’t executed cleanly. He left the camp without success under his belt.
It’s really impressive that he was able to overcome that fear at such an age.
Max Parrot, fellow snowboarder
Yet Red Bull, one of his sponsors, wanted him to succeed, so they built him a jump in Norway to practice. This one was smaller than the Sun Valley structure, but after a few months, 13-year-old Marcus landed what was, at that point, the most difficult trick one could achieve on a snowboard. “I think I was a little bit scared of the jump in Sun Valley; it was massive,” says Kleveland. “I was a little more comfortable in Norway, and that jump had a little more kick.”
Three years later, Kleveland became the second of three riders to land the quad cork 1800, a trick that represents the future of technical snowboarding. Max Parrot and Billy Morgan, who are five and 10 years older than Kleveland, respectively, are the other athletes who’ve hit the trick. The quad, Kleveland explains, is a “terrifying” trick to attempt, “because it’s nearly impossible to tell if you have the airtime to complete it.” As with the triple cork, he tried 10 times, coming close on the first attempt and nailing the last — but that 10th landing still included a hand drag, a small imperfection. Kleveland, who in person is stoic, persisted until he landed the trick last year, just before his 17th birthday. This time, too, he succeeded on his home turf. It’s a sign, some might say, that Kleveland needs the comfort of Norwegian snow to psych himself up for the big wins.
“He’s been growing so quickly these past couple years,” says Parrot, who does his quad cork with a 1620, or 4 1/2 rotations. “The quad flip is difficult to train for and scary to try. It’s really impressive that he was able to overcome that fear at such an age.” Even the most gifted riders in the world will tell you that freestyle snowboarding is terrifying. Different riders deal with that fear in different ways — some meditate; others find comfort through music while midair. A lucky few like McMorris simply have ice water in their veins. However, most say that the best way to get past the fear is to turn it off, like a switch in the mind. Every once in a while, a rider embraces the fear and uses it to succeed. Kleveland is one of those. “The fear becomes an ally once I get moving,” he says. “It helps me slow everything down.”
Today, Kleveland is the leader heading into the second and third legs of Air+Style, to be held in Innsbruck, Austria, and Los Angeles in February. In November, he earned his first career World Cup victory and finished seventh at Dew Tour, competing through heavy snowfall. Of course, his eyes are trained on this week’s X Games and the South Korean Winter Olympics next year; those games have previously seen Norway perform well.