Chatting with the Pros: Snowboarder Mike Basich on Doing It Yourself
Snowboard Expert Jason Robinson sits down with the legend Mike Basich to talk about his wild career and the value of getting your hands dirty.
Every so often, a person comes along that sort of re-writes the script, altering the face of a sport and what it means to be a professional athlete. When it comes to snowboarding, Mike Basich is certainly one of those individuals. A rare combination of raw talent, passion, and self-reliance came together in Mike which challenged the status quo and undeniably changed the entire snowboard game. A true legend in the sport and modern-day renaissance man, Mike continues to evolve as an athlete, artist, and craftsman, inspiring all that he crosses paths with.
Mikey stepped on the board and pretty much straight into one of the most influential snowboard crews in the history of the sport. He traveled the world, competing on snowboarding's mainstage, filming countless video segments, snagging magazine covers, and had grown into one of the biggest names in snowboarding during the mid to late ’90s. But—like all good things—a career as a pro snowboarder, must come to an end. Right?
At that time, saying goodbye to your twenties also meant saying goodbye to your snowboard career. However, when Mr. Basich hit what was typically the twilight years of a boarding career, he decided that he was far from done. When industry and sponsor support began to wane, Mike didn't sit back and just go along for the ride. He straight-stepped up to the helm, changing his course and that of the sport as a whole.
Quite possibly the inventor of the “selfie”, Mike decided to personally photograph his own snowboarding. With cameras mounted on tripods and armed with a remote trigger, Mike would not only perform the stunt but take the photo mid-air or mid-slide. Through this process, he produced some of the most iconic images ever captured.
Continually reinventing himself, Mike integrates his wide range of skills and passions external to snowboarding into his snowboard career. Turning 50 this year, Mike is a true testament that love and creativity conquer all. His love for life, nature, family, and of course snowboarding is contagious and absolutely electrifying.
I recently had the chance to catch up with this personal idol and one-time Alaska heli-boarding partner of mine to get a little deeper look into his life, career, and what exactly it is that makes him tick. I hope you enjoy the conversation because I sure did.
Watch our conversation below or read on to see what we chatted about.
All right! My name's Jason Robinson, I'm a Snowboard Expert with Curated, I’m here with snowboard legend, Mike Basich, man of many skills and a master of most of them. I'm very, very pleased to be here with you today, Mike.
Thanks for having me be part of this project.
Of course, thank you! Mike, how are you doing today? Where are you now?
Good, stoked to join you! It's been a while since I've seen you, so stoked to see you here on the internet, connecting.
I'm actually inside my shop, I’ve got my tiny house in here right now. It's the quietest spot I could find for talking to you.
It looks like a really nice space in there, for sure. Is this the latest tiny house you've built?
Yeah, this is my latest, The Fuso, as you can see. I'm actually living in here with my family. So it's a big adventure right now with our homesteads!
Sweet! So Mike, tell me a little about how your winter has been so far.
It started off really good—we got a lot of snow really quick. It took me a little bit of time to kinda get back in rhythm, just cause it's been crazy this last year. I had a couple of fires and just can’t find some of the gear…like reaching for your transceiver and it's just not there!
So it's taken a little bit of time to get ready for winter. I've had some amazing days with everything else that's going on. It's nice to get up to my little chairlift. That's been my little heaven. So I've been riding up there mostly.
I bet. I mean many of us are familiar with you and Area 241. Some of the readers may not be, so do you mind painting us a little picture of what you’ve got out there and how it all came about?
Yeah! I have some property up at Donner Summit. I decided to build my own chairlift out of the inspiration I got traveling the world, seeing what everyone else was doing—from tow ropes in New Zealand to one seaters in Japan.
So I found an old chairlift, I pieced it together, and now I have a little personal chairlift on my property. It's not huge, but there are no lift lines and it's enough to build a pretty good-sized kicker. I actually do a lot of different kinds of riding there, from jumps to pow surfing, any and all of those things. It's a fun place to just get lost.
Very cool, very cool. I mean with the COVID restrictions and how crowded ski areas have been, having your own little sanctuary like that seems heavenly for sure.
You know, somehow I got lucky with all the hard work I put in over the last 18 years of being off-grid and doing things myself. I kinda prepped for this in some ways, but I didn't think it would actually ever be this way.
I still call the shots sometimes, and I'm lucky enough to have things set up where, yeah, I have my own little private spot.
It's a little hard for me to share sometimes because a lot of people out there are struggling. Not in the way I am, but in different ways. So it's hard to actually share the excitement of riding powder when so many others can’t.
Yeah, I can imagine. Social media is such a big part of our culture now, and people are online more than ever during this pandemic. There hasn't been as much real face-to-face contact lately. A lot of us are living vicariously through others and only connecting through these devices.
Well, I think the critical thing to remember is that what you see from someone like me is that I only have to share so much, you know? And so I show some of the highlights. Life is not always as good as it might seem on my Instagram! There's a lot of hard work that goes into some of this stuff.
We actually live in a world where a lot of this stuff that I do—if you want to do it—you can actually go do it without owning property and all this stuff. Just by going out and doing it. That's how I started!
I think it’s key, moving past the internet to get your hands involved in something tangible so that you don't get so mentally attached to something that you're seeing on a screen.
“Move past the internet to get your hands involved in something tangible”
If you get confused, my personal approach is to rip your screen! Get an old computer and rip the screen off. See what's behind it and go, oh yeah, I remember.
I love that!
It's what I'm doing with my niece. You know, there are things I need to remember—yes, this is a big part of our world, but when someone pulls the plug then there's nothing there.
Yes. Exactly. If the screen was gone, there’d still be a whole world out there, but you’ve got to be open to experiencing it.
The simplest advice I can give is not to think life is the way it is on the internet because there's a lot of stuff happening off-set.
Awesome point! So, I'm pretty excited about this one and had to break it out. I hadn't worn it in a while 'cause it's winter. But I had to put on this t-shirt for this special occasion. Maybe it looks a bit familiar?
It's a little faded ‘cause I've worn it so much. But, my friend designed this. It’s your famous selfie of you mid-air after jumping out of the bird. He turned it into a t-shirt and it says, 'go huck your selfie,' down below.
Oh, that's one thing everyone always wants to know. What happened? What's the heli shot about? It's good to see what that one has led to.
Definitely! You've inspired so many with this idea and the whole self-portrait concept. This brings me to something I’m curious about—I know everyone asks about this particular helicopter moment, but what was your first heli experience? Your first heli trip? Do you remember where you were at, who the crew was, what it looked like?
It was in Alaska. I remember I was riding for Kemper Snowboards. They got me up there, but it was still so disorganized with the actual heli service up there. Their business was pretty loose, but I got really familiar with helicopters through that—just calling my own shots, telling people what to do, where to go, taking control of what I wanted to experience.
That kind of happens when you want to do something more extreme on the film side of things. No matter where in the world, it's always kind of been that way. I once asked a pilot if I could tie myself with a rope to the bottom of the heli and swing it around like a big rope swing.
I’ve always been a little adventurous when helicopters are involved. I've never had the desire to fly one, but they're very interesting machines, especially for us snowboarders.
Certainly! Another thing I wanted to chat about is family. I grew up snowboarding with two brothers. We all really took to snowboarding and ended up pushing each other quite a bit. You and your sister, Tina, have a similar age difference. Do you have a story or a moment growing up with her that stands out? How special was it having a sibling in the mix?
Yeah, I think I was pretty lucky for the age I was, my sister and I started snowboarding at the same time. My sister is three years older than me, and I was a youngster at 12 or 13 when we started snowboarding. We pretty much went straight into traveling and of course, I wouldn't have been able to go to Europe or anywhere at the age of 14 and 15 on my own.
My sister really helped me find my route early and connected me with people in the industry—I learned how to compete and present myself. There was a big part of learning how to present [yourself], if you're dealing with contracts, media, being photographed. That was a big thing my sister helped me find out, and we pushed each other that way too. As well as with the riding ability, we had a big growth in the very first few years.
Then when we both went pro, we did a big climb in the pro circuit. We both kind of found our spot! I remember when Tina was the first woman to do a 720 on a board and that just pushed women's snowboarding to a new level. It pushed me too! I thought, whoa, okay, we're still going!
It was great to see what my sister was doing. It has been such a blessing having her around throughout my career.
Do you two still ride together? Maybe still share that camaraderie a little bit?
Yeah, not a lot, but we do ride a couple of times a year. My sister just really got back into snowboarding more as of late. She's even got a pro model snowboard coming out this year.
I saw that! Her board looks amazing. The artwork she did looks so cool.
Yeah, so she's really pumped and I'm stoked to get out there with her. And of course, I got my little chairlift, and I have two boys now. My oldest is now snowboarding—taking it full circle into the whole family vibe!
Is that where you see your future? I mean, you've built this amazing lifestyle around snowboarding—your place out on Donner Summit and now family too. I know we met about 10 years ago now, I wonder what the next 10 years look like for you? Raising up your boys and sharing with them all of these special experiences you can offer?
I mean, my hopes, as far as teaching or handing down to my boys, is more just about doing things yourself. Not exactly snowboarding, but appreciating nature on the level that you work with it. Especially moving forward with technology playing such a big part in the world.
This is the way I get grounded—through nature—so I hope I can offer that lesson. Of course in all of this, I love snowboarding, but I also need to remind myself that I need to lay out the cleanest map I can for my boys to make their own decisions on what they are passionate about.
So of course there's the chairlift, but my place up in the hills offers so much more than snowboarding, well way beyond snowboarding! I see snowboarding as being just one little slice of this really amazing, complete picture here.
So cool! Now that you’re introducing this to your boys, what was your first time snowboarding?
It was at Soda Springs. The steeps were icy, so I just hiked around in the trees and didn't do a whole lot of riding. There was a little bit of sliding around, catching edges, and somehow after a couple of hours, I remember thinking it was going to be a long road but that I really wanted to get involved with this more.
So it was me and my sister, and that was kinda it. We didn't live in the snow, so getting there was actually quite a big process. We lived in Sacramento which is about an hour's drive. To find gloves and boots, all that stuff, we went to the thrift store to see what we could find.
For sure, just kinda scrap it together and test it out.
So, what was your first board?
The Burton 140 Light. You know, metal fins, super-stiff high backs, moon boots.
Ha! Nice. So, what’s the first moment you fell in love with snowboarding? Was it love at first sight or did it kind of take a while?
It was pretty much at first sight. And I think when I look back and think about it a little more, I skateboarding before that, I surfed. So that was my first time standing sideways and when things first shifted a little bit for me.
Snowboarding came and it offered a little bit more of what my ability could handle. It fit better 'cause having my feet actually strapped to the board was a quicker process for me to be actually comfortable. I think that it’s like that for a lot of people because surfing and skating are actually really hard.
I had got hooked on skating and that's kinda what I felt when I started to snowboard too, but I thought, okay I can figure this out a lot quicker. I always loved the mountains, the granite, the rocks, all that kind of vibe.
Plus I just feel more comfortable up there versus being with a skate crew in Sacramento, which at that time was a little hardcore. I mean, there were a lot of skinheads and that was actually a big underground vibe with skating from the mid-eighties and certainly before that.
I took on snowboarding ‘85-‘86 season, and I realized that this was way more my gig.
So you ditched the skinheads, got out of the city and up into the mountains where you really flourished. Makes sense. So, the first person that taught you something on your board?
So the first person was probably Chris Roach.
Chris Roach, holy shit!
Yeah, my sister was my other route to getting up the hill. She had her driver's license before me, so we were like a package.
We would go up Friday, stay the weekend, and be back for school. So that was our routine and that’s how we met Chris Roach and John Cardiel.
Yeah, first was Cardiel and Roach, and a year or two later, we met Damian Sanders and Dana Nicholson. And so the crew kinda grew into what we kind of know today as like the little grassroots of the Grass Valley.
A style I personally think comes from that little pack of people was a lot of skate influence—this shaped the freestyle culture quite a bit in that time. And somehow I just got stuck in the pack as a little grom being Tina's little brother.
That's amazing! You were the little squirt that just got dragged along with all these legends. I mean, they weren't quite legends at the time, but they were the pioneers of freestyle and the culture and what made snowboarding cool. Coming from skateboarding, bringing that to the mountains and snowboarding…that's what drew a lot of us to snowboarding, I think.
I got lucky by hanging with the crew, I did. I mean, it was a small crew. You go on the mountain and there are one or two people that had a snowboard. So everybody gathered together pretty quickly.
Was there a big moment where you thought to yourself as a snowboarder that you had made it?
There's been a couple of stones in my career that I remember. Winning the junior championships was one. It was either USASA or USSA, and I won the overall for that. And that was a big accomplishment 'cause that was my first time competing outside of California. That was a big step.
I skipped a lot of school for snowboarding, so when I went back to school after that win, it was my big moment where my teachers, everybody was like, Oh, he's good at this.
Totally. That moment when it clicked for everyone at school. At first, they're thinking, “Why is Mike gone so much snowboarding?” and then you come back a champion, and they kind of get it a little bit more now.
Yeah! And so that was my first [made-it moment]. And another one came when I qualified for the World Cup as a professional, as a pro. That meant I got to go to Japan, visit places around the world, and I qualified 16th—the last spot they allowed.
So that was a big moment that just kinda worked out. I was 18. That was a big change in what I did with snowboarding.
Was there a first piece of gear that you felt just fit right or was just perfect for you?
I remember there was quite a big change in boards after the Burton 140 Light. The switchblade that Sims made was a whole other experience from the way it rode. Unfortunately, it split down the middle the first year. Every board did after a couple of rides! They did okay with their warranties, but that was a shift in the way that a snowboard felt. And then that just made your body move differently.
That was really the simpleness of it. They were cutting out these extra pounds so you got to spin faster, got to ride longer.
I mean, I still ride my starter snowboards once in a while. And it's funny ‘cause you go back to that style just automatically.
That's amazing! A little time machine, if you will.
Yeah, but it's funny ‘cause when you look back, it wasn't too bad because that's all we knew. So that's just the way it was.
I do remember being at the top of a contest running a flannel, but that's just what you wore as a snowboarder! Like something you would see in the lumberjack magazine! I look back now and think, how did we even survive? It was freezing!
Yeah, I guess you don't know until you learn otherwise. What about your first live concert?
First live concert? Wasn't a big one, but I followed 7 Seconds since they were in the Sacramento area a lot.
Is that a Sacramento punk band?
Yeah, punk rock, small thing.
The biggest one is probably Jane's Addiction. That was a big band of my high school era, and we were seeing them at the Shoreline in San Francisco.
Nice! That must have been so fun! What was your first car?
My first car, I remember it very well. My parents bought me my first car. It didn't run—it was a 1961 Willy's Wagon that didn't have a motor in it. I spent about six months getting it fixed so that it could drive. Then I got my driver's license. That was the snowboard car for a while!
Way cool! Is that sort of what your folks did, giving you a little push down the path of being self-reliant?
Definitely. I don't think it was exactly my parents’ goal on the chalkboard, like, let's do it this way. It just kinda happened. I could have probably got a newer car that wasn't a bunch of work, but I just liked it.
Yeah, what's the fun in that?
Simple things! Since I was about 10 or 11, I've always had this dream to build my own little cabin with an ax. So there's just always been this hands-on approach.
I homeschooled for a couple of years. That was a big part of doing things myself. I kinda just progressed in a way where I was a little bit self-taught as I took on this new stuff.
Cool! Before we go, I do wanna ask a little about your current setup and your Nidecker board. Do you have a pro model with them or what are you riding?
I have two boards that I ride with Nidecker. I've been riding for them for a few years now. Before that, I was with Flow, and the two companies have merged.
I ride two boards—one is the Ultralight, which is a hot, super high-end board. This is kind of like buying a Ferrari if you're gonna go buy a car.
The way I look at it, as far as buying the whole snowboarding package, you want to make your experience the best you can. There are not a lot of snow days ahead as we are moving forward—they're becoming shorter and shorter—so a high-end board like this will help maximize those days.
The one trick, if you buy a high-end snowboard, it's gonna be more aggressive than a lower-end board. So what you can do is detune your board, and it's gonna be much less aggressive. And when you're ready, when you've progressed enough, all you gotta do is retune it. And it's gonna give you a lot more performance once you're ready for it.
That's a great tip. I love that. By working with people on Curated here, I can tell that a lot of new snowboarders are super athletic and fired up. If you recommend a beginner board, you know that by next year, they're going to be needing a different board.
Whereas if you just detune a board that may be well above your current level, it will be more forgiving for a beginner or intermediate rider. Then when you're ready, you simply sharpen the edges back up!
Then you also know that this is a board that you’re used to—I know what it does and what it doesn't do. There are a lot of tricks you can learn to make your snowboard do more advanced things again when you're ready.
So that's why I suggest if you're gonna spend a couple grand driving around, going on trips, buying lift tickets, just spend the good money on a snowboard, bindings, boots as well 'cause it's a whole package idea.
Good point. You wanna tell us about the other one you ride?
This is the board I ride quite a bit [the Smoke from the Nidecker surf series]. It's a shred stick, paddleboard, fish, swallowtail…different names they call them. The simpleness of what that means is the tail is skinnier than the nose. It's a lot stiffer on the tail. It's got a much bigger nose than the tail. The reason being is you're gonna float more up on the snow in a relaxing way. So this is more for just riding pow.
It's good to have both if you want to maximize your capacity for experiences. The snow changes every day, and your board can handle most of it, but sometimes you're gonna need a different board.
I travel with these two types of boards personally, 'cause if I go somewhere far and it snows a bunch, I’ll have a much better experience having this one in my luggage too.
Love it. Solid two-board quiver right there. That's truly some great insight. Thank you!
If you made it this far, I imagine you would like to see more of what Mike’s getting into. Basich seems to really keep life interesting both on and off of the board. I highly suggest you follow his Insta account @MikeBasich for a little glimpse into his inspiring lifestyle and career.
From the skills and timeless style he has on his board to his equally impressive abilities as a craftsman, artist, and creator, Mike seems to have a knack for finding the beauty in life and his surroundings.
Whatever your own personal goals or aspirations are, Mike provides us with a little bit of a template on how to achieve them. For that, I am forever grateful to him, and even as I finish typing up this conclusion, I am feeling more excited to get out there than I've felt in a while. If you're also feeling the stoke, be sure to reach out to me or another Snowboard Expert here on Curated to get you set up with your perfect quiver.
I’d like to give another huge thank you to Mikey! It’s been a pleasure, and until next time, over and out. Happy shredding!