Budding snowboarding star

BILL LANKHOF -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:40 AM ET

Paul Morison will have his feet firmly planted on the ground this weekend, competing in the Ontario Masters snowboard championships at Beaver Valley.

But his mind, and his heart, will be thousands of kilometres away on a mountainside in Shukolovo, Russia, with his son.

"It's not the same without Matt along," he said.

It's lonely. But it's a good lonely. Paul, a carpenter at General Motors in Oshawa, and his wife, Cathy, are the parents of a budding star on the Canadian Alpine snowboard team.

Matt, 19, rocked the snowboard fraternity two weeks ago, slicing through the parallel slalom course at Nendaz, Switzerland, to win a World Cup bronze medal. In his final race, he took down veteran Siegfried Grabner.

Why was it so stunning?

ONLY A JUNIOR

Morison is only a junior and is eligible later this year for the junior world championships. Until this year, he'd never competed outside the Nor-Am circuit, in which he'd twice had third-place finishes. There was a fifth at last year's world juniors and the Canadian snowboard deep-thinkers had him in their 2010 Olympic plans.

But nobody expected the type of breakthrough he's had this year, least of all Matt or his pops.

"Today is the biggest day in my life," Matt said after his win. "Awesome. I didn't expect this at all."

Today, he goes for the encore in Shukolovo, the heir anointed to veteran Olympian Jasey Jay Anderson.

"It's incredible. To jump to the World Cup coming from the Oshawa Ski Club is huge," Paul said.

So huge that it's never before happened. The only world-class skier to call Oshawa his home hill was back in the 1970s when Doug Woodcock competed on a North American pro circuit.

"Matt grew up on a 300-foot vertical hill," Paul pointed out. "He came from nothing."

The beginnings might have been humble, but there was always something special about the kid.

"When I first took him to the hill, even when he was 7 or 8, he had a racy stance."

By the time he was 11, Matt was winning races. Growing up on a 50-acre property near Burketon in a house his father built, Matt spent his days riding dirt bikes and horses and he and his brother, Chance, would make the 30-minute drive to the local hill in their old rusty truck.

"Last year, he was just finishing high school and doing the Nor-Am circuit," Paul said. "To go from there to the World Cup is quite a step. We thought it would be better to go back to Nor-Am this year. We didn't want him to go (on to the World Cup) circuit and feel overwhelmed."

But coaches with the national team believed he was ready, and Matt wanted to go. So that's how Paul lost his snowboarding partner this weekend and Canada gained a World Cup medallist in Switzerland. Not that there wasn't some familial second-guessing.

The winter started out about the way Paul worried it might. Matt finished 35th. Then 40th. Then he failed to finish a race. Considering he was competing against the 60 best racers in the world, that still isn't bad. But a kid's psyche, not to mention those of mom and dad, can be tender things.

"It was exactly the kind of thing I didn't want him to find and get discouraged about," Paul said.

No worries. Matt found his legs and a World Cup podium. National team coach Mark Fawcett says he is far ahead of schedule and, Paul notes that "he has qualified (for the final 16 runoff) in every race since then, against snowboarders who have grown up on some of the biggest mountains in the world."

A fluke? Not in this sport. Of the 60 racers who start each event, only the 16 with the best time after two runs advance. Then the 16th faces No. 1; the 15th fastest goes against No. 2. It takes 10 runs to win the podium. That takes more than luck.

So, today in Shukolovo, Matt will stare down the parallel slalom course again. Instead of being greeted by the silence of the Ganaraska Forest of his childhood, he will gaze into a sea of faces and a swirling maze of colour and sound that accompanies every alpine event in Europe.

"He says when you stand at the top of the hill, it's deafening," Paul said. "He says if you make the final, it's like you're a rock star. He got to the bottom of the hill and everybody's grabbing you, asking for autographs, the kids want you to sign their jackets. All he wants to do is get back up the hill for the next run but he says sometimes you can't get through all the people."

Maybe he had better get used to it.


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