Blatt + Bird

Mikkel Bang started riding for Burton in 2001 at 11 years old. The year Apple introduced iTunes and the iPod. The year Wikipedia was launched. The year of Absinthe’s Transcendence and JP Solberg’s ender and the pink bunny suit. In effect, it was eons ago that he joined a squad with Solberg and other heavy-hitting names like Sorsa, de Marchi, Andrew, Jonsson, White… And yet, after more than two decades spent carving out an extraordinary legacy, first on the competition circuit and then with a succession of timeless video parts, he stands today as inimitable as ever, widely extolled for his power, fluidity and style—boarding’s utmost honors.

Propelled by the launch of The Natural Selection Tour in 2021, Mikkel has hit full throttle on yet another chapter in his already eminent career, one in which he can continue to film in the backcountry, embrace a veteran role on the Burton team, and return—in commanding fashion—to competition after a long hiatus. (He currently stands as the only men’s Tour winner other than its founder, Travis Rice.) NST has proven to be an ideal venue for showcasing just how damn good Mikkel is on his snowboard, putting the speed and control he exhibits while linking lines together, often switch, in some of the most challenging arenas on grand display. Mikkel’s consistently got his hands in a few things, staying true to himself all the while, so we caught up for a chat on life presently and the road ahead. Michael Goodwin 

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding
Mikkel post NST Final in Valdez. p: Jody Wachniak

In addition to the Natural Selection Tour, what were you up to last winter?

We were going to do a project with the Powderhounds. We were going to just meet up in Canada, film, and try to do a little movie. Because we were so busy with the Natural Selection stuff, it kind of ruined that plan a little bit. We filmed all winter, mostly in Canada, but we didn’t have a project that we were fully committed to. Now we don’t really know what we’re going to do with the footage.

Are you happy with how filming went?

Yeah, filming definitely went well this year. With Natural Selection having three stops, including the Duel in January, it took up a lot of time. It took pretty much all of January just to do the Duel. We got to film a little bit in February, but the weather was kind of challenging up in Canada. Then we went to the Revelstoke stop [of NST]. After that, Alaska came up really quickly. So it’s a lot. It kind of screwed us a little bit on the filming part, but we did get a lot of footage. 

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding
Bang x Blatt. A match made in Whistler.

Fair enough. At least you got some footage. That’s number one.

Yeah, we got footage. I think what I would like to do is make a little part with my own footage and release it on social media.

How are you feeling about the structure of your winter lately—some filming mixed in with a pretty good commitment to The Tour?
It’s actually been really nice because I had so many years where I just focused on filming. Starting on The Tour, I was very nervous about it. I’d quit competing because I felt like I was done doing that. But then I committed to it because I saw how great an opportunity it was. It ended up being a lot of fun. I also feel like since I’ve been around for so long, change is always nice to keep it interesting. It’s been really cool to do something new for three years.

Do you think you’d be doing any sort of competing if it wasn’t for NST?

No, haha.

No interest in any other competitions, freeride or otherwise?

No. The cool thing about Natural Selection is that it was set up to ride deep powder, and do freestyle and pow. The Freeride World Tour seems more like a survival run through rocks, you know? They’re just like, “Oh, it’s icy, but you got to go,” kind of thing. With Natural Selection, if it’s that bad, they’ll hold the contest and wait until it makes sense to go. So, that’s a no for sure. 

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding Natural Selection Tour
Mikkel in AK for NST final. p: Clavin

What do you think about the different formats at NST, like the head-to-head matchups and Duels?

I think it’s cool. The head-to-head is definitely kind of harsh because if you get invited and then you get beat in the first round, you’re out. But it’s really cool if you make it. If you make it past that first round, then you’re on The Tour for the rest of the year. 

It’s pretty crazy, too. If you make it past the first two rounds, your chance of getting on the podium is pretty high. You just gotta keep going, ha. The Duels were definitely a lot of work for us riders, but when we saw the end result and they came out online, I thought they were really entertaining to watch. 

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding
Impact. p: Blatt

NST has brought backcountry and big mountain riding in front of a new, larger audience, including people who might not have a lot of contact with snowboarding beyond the Olympics or the X Games. Are there any aspects to this type of boarding that you think get lost on the viewer at home?

Yeah, for example, at Baldface and Scary Cherry, you have the drone following you, but it doesn’t really show how steep that place really is. That type of snowboarding is really, really challenging. I feel that people who haven’t spent much time out in the backcountry might not realize how crazy that riding actually is? Because when you get on top of Scary Cherry, you see the reason why they call it Scary Cherry. It’s way steeper than you think. It’s so steep that if you don’t hit stuff sideways and stay in control, you’re just going to go so far. 

People sitting at home like, “Please, I can do that. It’s just turning!”

Like, “I can definitely do a back three down that thing.” Also, some of the jumps in Jackson were pretty big jumps and I think people could understand that they were big, but it doesn’t look that crazy, right? I remember seeing a couple of shots filmed from below in Jackson and that’s when you were like, “Okay, That thing is huge.” But when you saw the drone footage, it looked pretty mellow.

When you’re looking up at a face or backcountry zone, how do you decide how you want to attack it? 

I love that question. You have to do something that you can feel comfortable doing. You always go out of your comfort zone a little bit, but my trick is usually just staying true to what I know I can do, and not caring so much about what other people are doing.

This year in Alaska, for example, everyone went for the obvious, big lines and all that stuff. I took an alternative route where I was like, “I think if I go over here the snow is a little bit better.” Then I saw some stuff that I could do tricks off of. I just stayed true to doing something different and not doing what everyone else is doing, even though I didn’t know what the other guys were doing. But I had a pretty good idea—you kind of sense it when you get out there. 

But that’s in a contest format. When out filming, I’ll usually be like, “That looks really fun. That’s what I want to do.” I don’t always go for the biggest cliff. Sometimes you have to look outside of the obvious.

Would you say you usually have your whole run mapped out, or sometimes you just freestyle it?

Usually, I have it mapped out. Having a plan is crucial, especially with riding lines and stuff. That’s how you remember to get down in good control—you have those anchor points. So that when you get to a place, you’re like, “Okay, if I make it to that dead tree, I know that I can get on that one pillow, spiny-looking thing. And then I can get to that one triangle rock and from there, I know I can get down to my jump where I’ll do my front five…” you know?

Looking up at a line is so different from when you’re up top. Having those anchor points makes it so much easier to remember where you’re going to go. I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t gone spontaneous before, because I definitely have. But going out there, I definitely have a plan. 

Another thing that I do, especially talking about the competition, is have a bunch of options. I think that’s really important, too. Instead of just having one line that you’re married to, you have a couple options. So if that line, when you get up there, it’s like, “Oh shit, that cliff is way bigger than I thought,” you can be like, okay, plan B.

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding
His second home in Whistler. p: Blatt

A twenty-plus year career in snowboarding is remarkable. How do you stay motivated and avoid getting burnt out?

I have always changed my snowboarding throughout my whole career. I used to hit rails, I’ve been on street trips, I’ve done slopestyle contests, pipe contests. Filming in the backcountry was what I liked after doing all of it. And my snowboard heroes were powder riders. But that’s the direction I was headed, toward backcountry riding. And then changing my backcountry riding. I used to hit more jumps and do more of that stuff, and then I gradually moved toward riding more lines. Nowadays, it comes to a point, like, how much can you change your snowboarding?

But every year, for example, even if you’re doing the same spins, change it up with new grabs. Do a switch back five with a different grab than switch tail, or try a back seven with a grab that you haven’t done before. That’s one of the things, at least for tricks, that keeps me going and makes it interesting. Also, going and finding new spots that you haven’t ridden before. Going to new places and not going to the same spot all the time. It’s pretty crazy—I’ve been going to Whistler now since 2009 and I’m going through the same areas, but I still find new stuff to ride there. You don’t have to go to a new country or to a completely new place. You can even be at your resort, you know, or wherever you ride, and still find new stuff to ride and challenge yourself. And also, maybe ride a little bit more switch.

You’ve been with Burton the whole time. How important has that consistent support been in following your vision?

Burton has been everything to my career. They have been so supportive the entire time I’ve been with them. When I decided to stop competing in slopestyle, Luke Mitrani broke his neck and then the same week I broke my arm and I had just gotten better after breaking my humerus. I was doing this contest to qualify for the Olympics, which I didn’t want to do. I never wanted to do the Olympics because I didn’t think that the Olympics was something for snowboarding—but that’s a whole other topic. My point here is that when I called Burton, as I was laying in the hospital bed, and I was like, “Hey, I don’t want to compete anymore. If I’m going to continue doing this, all I want to do is film.” They were just like, “Yeah, sure.” Ha. They were just always supportive and stuck with me, even when I was injured or got in situations. They were always there for me. I’ve also stayed really loyal to them. I think that’s a huge part of it, too: if you’re sponsored by someone, you know, showing your loyalty. Not taking it for granted and staying true and doing the stuff you’re supposed to do.

You’ve experienced many different eras of the Burton team. How do you view your role on the team now?

It’s crazy to think about because it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago when I was trying to go to Canada and snowboard and people were helping me. Now, as one of the oldest riders on the team, it’s our duty to help the younger riders who want to do the same as us. And I’m happy to do that, because that’s what I needed when I was in that situation. That is definitely a big part of my task right now, to help and show and guide and just teach the basic stuff you need to know to take it to that next level in the backcountry. My role is changing and it’s pretty wild. I still feel like I can’t give up filming and doing all that stuff because that’s kind of why I’m here. But I do feel like that’s going to be more of my role in the near future, to guide and help out a lot. 

How did the Bang Slalom come about?

It was actually Terje and I who wanted to start a banked slalom in Norway because there weren’t any. He reached out to me and asked if I wanted to do a banked slalom together. He was thinking about doing it in Hemsedal, and wanted to bring me in because that was my home resort and I had more connections there. That’s where I learned how to snowboard. So it was Terje, Henning Erlandsen, who has been helping organize it, and me.

When the ball really started rolling on this and we were going to make it happen, Terje was like, “Hey, I got so much stuff going on right now, but I think you should make this your event. And I think you should call it Bang Slalom.” So that’s how it happened. He got me involved, and then just kind of handed it to me on a silver plate, like, “Here, you should do this.” He literally put it in my hands and gave it to me, and I appreciate it so much, and it means a lot to my career right now.

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding
More turns from Whistler. p: Blatt

What would you like to do with the event moving forward?

This year was our sixth year doing it. I think the coolest part about this contest is having an event for everyone, for kids, women, men. It doesn’t matter who—it’s for everybody. The kids get to ride with pro snowboarders. I just wanted to give something back to the snowboard community in Norway, and also make a banked slalom that’s super fun. And it was so fun this year—I think there were over forty turns or something.

I don’t know how much I can grow this event other than I want it to be an annual thing. I want to keep doing it for as long as I can. People love being there. It’s getting really popular and there are people from all over the world coming now. It’s a little bit of an end-of-the-season celebration because it’s around the first of May and that was always the closing weekend up there. Basically, try to get people together and snowboard, have fun and bring back a little bit of simplicity.

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding
Plane, train, heli… van. p: T. Bird

Sounds great. Okay, a few more for you to wrap this up. Do you approach a season differently now at 33 than you did at 23? 

Well, it’s sort of the same. I feel like I’ve learned how to relax a little bit more. After all these years, there’s one place I want to go and live in the winter and that’s BC. That’s the first plan. If you’re a pro snowboarder and you want to film a video part, what’s always helped me was to stay in one place. I mean, you can strike mission if it’s good somewhere and keep doing that. That works, too. But if you’re staying in one area, you’re there when it’s good. You’re acclimated. You feel good about that place. You pay attention to the snow, you know what it’s like in terms of safety, and how the snow layers have been building up. It’s also more relaxing than flying around and a little cheaper, too. 

You have a very level-headed outlook on snowboarding and life in general. Any particular philosophy or motto you try to follow to maintain a balanced perspective?

I guess, smile at the world and the world will smile at you. Or, always look on the bright side. It’s all in your mind—you can choose how you want to approach and do things. You go through good times and bad times, and that’s just life. And when you get through those bad times, they make you stronger. You just have to keep fighting and doing the things that you love and make it yours. Be nice to people. Your actions create your life. I think that’s really important. If we’re talking about snowboarding here, just keep it interesting, be nice to people and do your best. What more can you do?

Is there anything specific you would still like to accomplish in snowboarding?

I would really like to make a movie. That’s something that I would love to do.

I thought you might say that.
That’s kind of the only thing that I haven’t done. I’ve always been a part of everybody else’s projects. I’m not necessarily talking about making, like, an Art of Flight or anything like that. Just making something a little bit more my style, a little bit more easygoing and rock and roll with some Super 8. See if I can get a couple friends involved and try to make a movie that reflects what snowboarding should be all about: having fun with your friends and riding pow.

Back it. You should.

I would love to. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it this winter, but I’m going to try to get the ball rolling and then hopefully I can get enough support to get something going.Make it like a five-year project or something, ha.

Buy yourself some time. 

Yeah, just try and get my contract extended. “I’m going to do, like, a ten-year project.”

Mikkel Bang Snowboarding
AK. p: Blatt

Listen, we’re locked into this movie so…

Yeah, “You guys better stick with me…” Ha. If I have another goal, it’s that I really just want to continue to inspire people to snowboard, and I want to be out there and try to find good pow. That’s like the main thing, and then doing a project would be top of the line. 

This deep into an extraordinary career, what are you currently finding most rewarding about snowboarding?

 Oh, man. That’s definitely having a good powder day. 100%. It’s just as simple as that; it never changes. It’s almost like I’ve started to appreciate it more and more the older I get too, just getting to ride really good, untracked pow. That is still to this day my favorite and the most rewarding.

Ben Ferguson and Mikkel. p: T. Bird