After a weekend of watching the superstars at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, we sit down with “normal guy” Mike Hornbeck, to talk about being a different sort of pro. Born and raised in Michigan, Mike Hornbeck was like many kids. He clicked into his first pair of skis in Kindergarten. Skiing wasn’t a major passion until high school…
“The first movie that I saw, that got me hyped up to ski, was Level 1’s Strike Three. I had that VHS and all those dudes in that movie were just insane to me.”
31-year-old Mike Hornbeck says he landed his first front flip when he was 13, which was pretty significant, but everything started to click a few years later:
“When my older brother got his driver’s license it was kind of game-on from there! The nearest hill, Bittersweet, was about 15 minutes from my house. They’re just little hills, pretty far from actual ski towns. When you’re driving to the ski resort it’s just countryside, no sign of the ski industry. It’s pretty much just a ski area out of nowhere 250-300 vertical feet, super small.
“My senior year at high school, I learned a lot of tricks, twin-tips were readily available, ski movies were coming out, the internet was just getting big so there were a lot of influences, even though I lived in Michigan.
“All those dudes in Strike Three were just insane to me. They all hit handrails and it was just like ‘Dang!’”
Now Mike is one of the legends kids look up to
“Liam Downey, Steele Spence, Travis Redd were in town. Vanular was there too and I just got invited to stay while all these dudes kept coming into town and filming. I was filming too and it was just wild!”
Just five years after Strike Three, he was hitting handrails himself in a Level 1 movie:
“Real Time was the first one I was in, I was living in Colorado at the time and Berman was trying to film stuff. I knew Kyle Decker from the mid-west and he hyped me up to Berman. Realtime year Denver got a ton of snow so I Just went and filmed for a couple days.”
A dream had come true for the mid-west skier:
“It was pretty crazy when I actually Filmed with Level 1 I was like: ‘This actually happened!’ Sunny’s probably my favorite, because I opened it. I really like After Dark, that was a fun one too.”
“Level 1 was a huge goal. When I got the opening segment, that was what I’d always wanted. I started working with Armada, the year after that, to try and do my own video stuff that’s kind of where it all took off, from Armada’s side anyway.”
Mike Hornbeck’s a pretty unassuming guy, he just happens to be a pretty incredible street skier. Throughout our chat, his excitement and gratitude, for the opportunities he’s got from skiing was pretty clear. But things weren’t always to go that smoothly with Armada:
“I had a lot to do with all their videos. We made Wreckallections then Oil and Water. At the start Oil and Water wasn’t really a team movie. It was just ‘we’re going to get a couple people on the team, go on a couple trips… Armada backed it by bringing us on these trips but it was never a mega-budget type thing. Once I was a part of making that it was pretty awesome, but after that movie, it all fell apart with Armada for a little bit.
“They weren’t doing so good, Snowcieties was last good year for Armada film budget, where they would pay for the filmer to come film us. After that, it got really hard. Snowcieties was when I moved back to Michigan and kind of got dropped for a couple years, which was pretty brutal! There were a couple years where I didn’t get any money or anything, I didn’t know how I was going to do anything.”
“There was one year where Wallisch actually paid for, pretty much, my whole year.
"I went with him when he was in Real Ski. I filmed with him and he paid for all the hotels and everything. After Real Ski, Mike went to Finland with him: “That kind of saved me a little bit there, I had done Level 1 and then there was no Armada for a bit. So I definitely want to give him a shout out there!”
“I’m a carpenter, I got my builder’s license. The last four or five years, I’ve been doing it a lot more because –I don’t want to say it but-- skiing’s not really full-time.”
As nice as Tom is, he can’t pay for every trip, so Mike decided to safeguard against any times when skiing money slows down, he would get a trade. In 2015 he got his builder’s license and now, with his business partner, he does new builds, remodels, kitchens and everything else carpenters do!
Eight months ago, Mike found another reason to secure his financial future when he and his wife Andrea welcomed their son Eli. The youngster has already been introduced to the main Hornbeck trade thanks to a trip to the hill at Bittersweet:
“It was pretty sick to strap Eli in the backpack and take him up the magic carpet, you can’t take them on the chairlift. He’s obviously really young but he loved it!
“My whole goal of what I want to ‘preach’ in skiing is that you can be a normal guy, you can have a family, go ski, get street clips and do all that.”
Does having a family affect how an athlete approaches such a high-risk sport as urban skiing?
“I don’t really think about the risk of street-skiing. It’s more the years of experience and everything. Obviously, I’m not going to try something I know I can’t do, whereas maybe before I might do.”
“I didn’t get the invite to Real Ski this year, I think they only take the Gold medal winner back. I’d love to get another chance to do it because last year didn’t really go very good.”
The opportunity to compete in X Games doesn’t come around to often, for a street/film skier like Mike. Some bad luck meant he wasn’t able to make the most of his one opportunity:
“I got hurt and the timeline’s pretty crazy. It’s a pretty small window, so if you get hurt then you’re kind of screwed. I filmed my whole Real Street in like ten days I think. It was just crazy, I got three shots in December, then I took three or four weeks off. Then skied the last week, it was like ‘oh my god! I need to make a video!’ It’s the only chance to be in X Games for someone like me, so I didn’t want to say ‘oh well, I got hurt!’ and just write it off. So I kind of did some easier tricks, just so I could have a video. It was a bummer but I’m still proud of the video.”
“It’d be really sick if there were more video contests in skiing. There are so many different things that you can do, whereas I don’t know about the whole contest circuit.”
Mike admits that he didn’t win many contests as a youngster but a taste of competitions with Real Ski was a taste of competition that he does value:
“It’d be really sick if there were more video contest in skiing. There are so many different things that you can do, whereas I don’t know about the whole contest circuit.”
“JOSS (Jon Olsson Super Sessions) was super sick, Go Pro always puts good stuff out, TGR used to hold a contest back in the day. More film stuff would be cool, just because you’d get so much content out of it. With a FIS contest, you’ll maybe see it on Newschoolers, if Twig does a write up about it. But that’s about it.”
“The park is fun but there is so much more. If you want to ski like everyone else, ski the park.”
In 2012, Hornbeck gave an interview, with Ahmet Dadali, to X Games’ website. The interview was about the skiers moving from Colorado to Utah. “I think my quote was taken a bit out of context, I was talking about Summit County in general, like Keystone and Breck. The first year I moved out there, was the last year that it was like it was, it was still a bit unknown. But even then, it was on the rise and it was ‘the cool thing to do’. Once I lived there for three or four years, it just got flooded. It kind of lost it’s worth to me. Before, you could put out a Keystone edit and if it was filmed good and had good tricks in it, that meant something. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter what’s in it, because there’s like 9,000 of them coming out and it’s just like everybody else’s. So that’s what I meant by that. Back in the day, you could put a park edit out and it’d be one of a kind, these days you can’t.“
“Whatever the term is, the ‘New Wave’ or whatever everybody’s calling it, I think that’s cool. It’s something that I wouldn’t think of doing, so every time I see something, you can get some new inspiration.”
With people like The Bunch leading the creative way, Mike may not want to follow, but he definitely sees the positives:
“It’s something that I wouldn’t think of doing, so every time I see something, you can get some new inspiration. I mean I’m not going to do stuff exactly like them, but I can get inspired by what they’re doing. Hopefully what I do will inspire them, if everybody’s going their own way, that’s awesome for skiing.”
“There’s so much crazy sh*t going on, it’s wild. People jump on new trends and then it gets played out. I feel like the type of street skiing that I do is almost Old School now. Hopefully people still respect all of it though and see the good in all the different styles.”
“I just want to keep filming, I might film a bit with Level 1 this year, but I really don’t know. With the family now, you kind of got to plan things.”
Going into 2019, Mike just hopes to film with Level 1 and keep filming stuff with Armada. “I have a movie coming out, right before Christmas, It’s kind of the sequel to Wreckallections, it’s called Wreckanize. Coming out December 31.”
Trip: When I skied in the Dolomites, in Italy, that was the sickest place I’ve ever skied.
Trick: Switch 7 probably. It’s just fun and you can do a lot of different things with it.
Track: I’ve been listening to some new Eminem lately. Any Eminem really, I like it all. I think he’s a big influence for everyone in Michigan.