Mike Hornbeck recounts move to Washington, filming with Armada, and future with Level 1

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Mike Hornbeck hails from the great state of Michigan, and his midwestern roots manifest themselves in his solid work ethic and down-to-earth attitude. After spending the past couple of winters with Salt Lake City as his base, he decided to switch up the format a bit and move up to Washington for the season, shredding mainly at Stevens Pass. Last fall, Hornbeck released a mini-movie with his ski sponsor, Armada, titled Wreckallections, and this year is working on another film project with the brand. We gave the wily veteran a call this week to chat about his winter, building on the success of Wreckallections and more.

On the phone:

Hey Mike. What’re you up to?

Just moved out of Washington and back to Michigan. Now I’m in Michigan hanging out with the family and getting ready to do some summer skiing. I’m going to Woodward [Tahoe] for a week, for the Armada week, and then to Hood for three weeks.

What spurred the switch to Washington as a home base?

Yeah, I spent a lot of this winter skiing up at Stevens Pass. I basically just wanted to check out somewhere new, rather than going to Breck and Park City where everybody goes. Mainly, I just wanted to ride better snow and see what the Northwest is all about, and it was fucking sick for sure.

Did you go out into the backcountry more this year?

It was about 50/50 backcountry to park, Stevens has got a really good park so it was hard not to shred that a lot. But when it snowed I was skiing around the mountain, mainly to just get the skills a bit better in the pow. It was nice to live somewhere where there’s real mountains.

“Skiing In The Rain” with Mike Hornbeck at Stevens Pass.

Did you ski at all back in the Midwest this winter?

I did a bunch of traveling, went up to Minnesota for the first trip of the year. We filmed another little mini-movie this year, but it’s on a bigger scale than last year’s. We got more people involved at Armada, so it’ll be a full-length movie, maybe 30 minutes long. I’ve got a seg’, Kim Boberg’s got a segment, Phil [Casabon], Henrik [Harlaut] both have segments, along with Tanner [Hall] and JP [Auclair]. It’s basically a team movie, but they don’t really want to call it a team movie because they didn’t really have that much budget, you know? We kind of just took the Wreckallections format and formula and convinced Armada to back us up on a bigger project.

Who would you say spearheaded that for you guys?

It was a few of us, mainly me and Corey Stanton, our filmer. He made Wreckallections last year and we were just talking about it and asked a few of the other people on the team if they’d be down to try and film for the project, and everybody was. So, we just kind of went for it and after the first trip we knew it was going to work out. The first trip was to Minnesota, and it was just Phil and I, and we went for twelve days and filmed a ton.

I looked today, Wreckallections has over 84,000 views on Vimeo. Can you talk about the success of the mini movie?

Yeah, I guess it was pretty successful for what it was. Last year, going into it, we were really winging it. We didn’t have any sort of direction, and then got on Tanner’s program when he was doing Real Snow for X Games. I didn’t really know what to expect when I was going up there, whether I’d be skiing a bunch or just helping out. It ended up being really successful, and really fun, one of the best years I’ve had because there were no plans really. It was just us trying to film whenever we could and there was no length we were going for or anything like that and Armada was super stoked on it, obviously. We just want to replicate that again on a larger scale this year.

Hornbeck’s 2013 mini-movie, “Wreckallections.”

Do you want to talk about some of the cooler spots you filmed at this winter?

Minnesota was the first trip and that was good, because we were filming with another cameraman Brandon, and he knows Minnesota really well. We hit so many spots during the day and stayed on a schedule of skiing during the day and chilling at night. Fourteen days went by and we had a ton of shots and were all stoked and that kind of set the tone for the rest of the trip. Then we went to British Columbia and met up with Tanner and skied for a little while in Revelstoke. It was really cool, I did a lot of skinning with the Provo brothers, they took us to some crazy-ass mountains. That was an eye-opening experience for me, I didn’t really get many shots up there, but it was more of a learning thing. And before that, I was with Tanner, JP, Riley Leboe, and we went to Mustang Cat Skiing and got some super deep snow, which was crazy. So before January we had two really solid trips, one was all urban and one was all pow. We also went to Estonia and that was probably the craziest spot we went to.

What were the non-skiing aspects of the Estonia trip like?

I’ve been to Finland before, but when you take that boat down to Talinn in Estonia, it’s definitely a little different than Helsinki for sure. It’s a super old culture, it’s crazy, and there was no snow there when we went, which is funny. We were there for ten days and I think we had maybe four good days, which was hard, but still cool. There was really old architecture, and when you’d go inside some of the places there’d be cafes with internet and it was pretty modern, so it was kind of trippy. It all looked really old on the outside but once you were inside it was different. There was definitely a bunch of heroin needles all over the ground and that was eye opening.

And who did you go to Estonia with?

It was me, Phil Casabon and Kim Boberg. That’s the only place we had a winch all year, which is pretty funny considering how much urban we skied. A lot of the stuff was natural speed or a bungie when we really wanted to do it. It’ll be an interesting mix of features, it’s not all going to be crazy, big, gnarly stuff. It’s a lot of just natural speed and just skiing, going out and finding shit and hitting it, not really having a plan, which is cool. Then, we met Henrik in Helsinki after that, we took our rental van up there and Henrik flew in right after the Olympics. He came down and filmed in Finland with us for five days, filmed a bunch of rails. It was cool to see him already on the grind while everyone at the Olympics was still celebrating.

What was your favorite location you filmed at this winter?

Italy was really good, we went on a trip to Austria and Italy directly after the Estonia, Finland trip. That was where the snow was at, sickest mountains are there, that’s why it was the best. You can ski high alpine and big-mountain shit with cliffs and wide-open fields, then you ski down the mountain a bit more and you can get into trees and pillows; you just have every single thing you’d want in one run. They’re definitely some of the best mountains I’ve skied at.

What’s up with you and La Fa these days?

I’m still hanging out with Ahmet [Dadali] as much as I can, met up with him in Minnesota. I was just mostly focusing on the Armada trips this year, just trying to make that film a reality because we were trying to prove ourselves to the company. I dedicated all of my time to that, and tried to keep supporting it so it would turn out well. Phil and Henrik are doing their movies and Ahmet is doing his and I was thinking about doing my own shit, but I might as well stick to this because it was successful last year. So, unfortunately I don’t have anything with the La Fa crew this year, but I know they’re making a movie and it should be pretty sick. It was also tough to get stuff done having moved away and not being around them. I was also doing a lot of filming, and when I wasn’t filming I was just kind of skiing for myself, not trying to shoot really and just trying to get better at the big-mountain aspect of skiing.

On a more personal note, what would you say is your favorite segment with Level 1?

It’d probably be Sunny, I got an opener in that one. That was one of my favorites because it was all urban, and it was just a full season dedicated to filming with them, and I tried really hard and it paid off. My favorite overall movie from Level 1 would probably be After Dark. Hopefully I can get some more Level 1 shots at some point, when the time is right.

Related: Q&A: Mike Hornbeck on why “We can’t all be the same”