Mike Wigley travels around the world in search of the endless winter, following a lifestyle 100% dedicated to standing sideways and mountains. Here's the story of his life since splitboarding crossed his path a while ago.
1. Please, introduce yourself: tell us where you come from and how were your first snowboard experiences.
I hail from the eastern side of Canada outside Toronto. I grew up riding old garbage dump hills, bruising myself on ice and throwing myself off jumps, pipe and rails. Funny enough my first snowboard experience I hated it. My knees were bruised, my tailbone, I was sore. My mom asked me after my first day riding, that if I wanted to do it again next weekend, and I was like “NO!” After a few weeks, she asked me again if I wanted to try it again, I was hesitant, but, why not. Thanks Mom for the push, now I’m an addict!
“100% I can say splitboarding has absolutely changed my life and for the best. It’s made me believe in myself, in confidence and determination.The biggest thing I’ve learned from splitboarding is patience.”
2. Do you remember your first splitboarding day?
Of course I do! It’s a similar experience to my first day snowboarding, frustration and defeating. In my area of Rossland, BC, there wasn’t really anyone on splitboards back then, everyone was on snowshoes or ski touring. So I went out with my roommates at the time and 2 teleskiers. They pretty much ditched me. So many newbie moves, leaving my risers on the flats, not knowing how to side hill, or ski down small pitches. I was frustrated when I realized I had no idea where they went with various tracks, I came to the conclusion I was lost. After some deep breaths, I figured out how to get back to the ski hill. I was pissed to say the least, for being ditched. Later that season I met the other splitboarder in my town, Jesse Bartlett, he saved me, and brought the stoke in me. Love that dude, one of my favourites to be in the mountains with.
3. Has splitboarding changed your life? What have you learned from it?
100% I can say splitboarding has absolutely changed my life and for the best. It’s made me believe in myself, in confidence and determination. If I asked myself 10 years ago when I started splitboarding that I would have splitted over 5 continents and pursued a gypsy life of dedication to be in the mountains… well I probably would believe it.
The biggest thing I’ve learned from splitboarding is patience. When I was young, I wasn’t patient, I would through temper tantrums and drive my family and friends insane… I probably still do. When you dedicate your life to the mountains though, you’re not in control. No matter how much money you through at it, you can’t buy it. You need time, you need to be able to listen to what the mountains tell you. This winter we had multiple week long expeditions where we would show up to a zone and it was horrible conditions, whether it be firm crusts, facets, stability, you name it. Where most would become discouraged, we would just patiently sit and wait, in cabins or tents playing crib. You know what, after time it turned on, and we put down a lot of lines this year. Patience is a virtue, and Mother Nature will show the goods to the humble warriors.
“Life is meant to be lived in the moment, and you have to listen deep down to that inner voice. Even when everything around you tells you it isn’t possible, even your head. You have to look deep within and find that inner fire.”
4. How do you see the current splitboarding scene?
The scene is amazing right now. It still reminds me of the early snowboard days, where if you see someone with a splitboard, you want to get to know them, and chat about their adventures. One of my favourites is here in New Zealand, it’s still really small, for how expensive it is, but it’s tight. Everyone knows everyone, and the vibe is on point, pure stokage, easy to find partners to plan missions. Back at my home in the Kootenays of British Columbia, it’s huge, it seems like every boarder has a splitboard now. It’s saturated goodness, so easy to find partners, but sometimes we end up with 20 people on the skintrack! Ha!
“I love how you can create, build, and mould ideas out of your head into the snow. And really, all we are is riding a glorified piece of wood down insane looking mountains, and that’s pretty badass.”
5. Your life is a constant search for the endless winter. It’s not easy to live a nomadic life. What’s your secret to keep your motivation up?
I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy. This past winter, I almost through in the towel, I wanted to give up. I was going through a depression, I lost friends to the mountains and in life, I got frostbite, I through out my back, and I was going through loneliness, it’s not easy having a girlfriend, when you spread yourself around the world. Returning back to the Yukon in the spring where I use to live, sparked my fire, I felt so much positivity from friends I haven’t seen in a few years. They made me believe in myself. They made me feel like everything I was doing was right, and to keep pushing for my dreams. I haven’t stopped splitboarding in 4 years, every month, there’s always a mission, whether it’s summer or not.
When I got back from Norway, I didn’t even want to think about loading my pack with multi day gear to tackle on my June objective at home. I looked at the weather, and saw my window was right then, before rain came in. I left my door on foot, and hiked 30kms to the tallest peak in my home range to camp at the weather station. When I arrived to the summit I was greeted by a mountain goat at the top that stayed with me the whole time I was there. You can’t make this stuff up, life is meant to be lived in the moment, and you have to listen deep down to that inner voice. Even when everything around you tells you it isn’t possible, even your head. You have to look deep within and find that inner fire. Amazing things will happen to people that push with full on determination.
I beat my depression, and that fire in me is stronger than ever. I’m so hungry for the mountains and my love of snowboarding has never been so strong. It makes me feel like a kid playing in the snow. I love how you can create, build, and mould ideas out of your head into the snow. And really, all we are is riding a glorified piece of wood down insane looking mountains, and that’s pretty badass. As well many moons ago, I had a near death experience. It’s not a PG story so best to ask me in private! My heart stopped and luckily I came back to life 11 years ago. I had an epiphany a few months after, and realized how lucky I was to have a second chance. I saw the other side, being pulled in from lost loved ones. It was the most euphoric feeling I’ve ever felt. I felt like I had no bones, no pain, I felt like a jelly like substance. Then I literally went from heaven to hell, being slammed back into my body and being surrounded by doctors telling me I had just flat lined. In the end, I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living.
6. You must pay your bills one-way or another…what do you do when you’re not on the mountains?
Ha! It’s always funny when I tell people my main gig. In Calgary I set up Christmas lights for 2 months. We do a whole bunch of residential homes, malls, Town of Banff, Canmore, and get everyone stoked for Christmas. That job is able to cover a lot of my costs through the year. I also take up random jobs here and there, teach intro avalanche courses and I’m really good at mathematically forming budgets for all my trips.
Splitboarding is actually pretty cheap once you have all the gear. Pack your bag with a week worth of food and start hiking, set up camp, or find a free hut and set up shop. When you’re out there your not spending any money, just bagging pow laps.
“The spines were in, and we arrived just as the sun was setting on them. We knew it, we were dropping them right then in the setting sun. The alpenglow on the line was what dreams are”
7. The Rockies, Alaska, Yukon, Lyngen Alps, Himalayas, Andes, and Southern Alps…I’m sure I left some out of the way. You’ve travelled through most of the mountain ranges in the world. Do you feel specially attracted to one of them specifically?
That is an insanely hard. Each place has something very special about it. I travel a lot to experience various snowpack’s around the world. With New Zealand, if you can snowboard there, you can snowboard everywhere in the world. As well the best place for mountaineering. Lyngen Alps, is a couloir haven, it feels pretty compact and easy access from the towns. My home (Kootenays) is well home, and a reason why I stay there, it has everything I want, not many people, pillows, trees, couloirs, and lines for days. The one I’m most attracted to is… Alaska. It’s true what they say, once you experience AK, it’s all that you think about. Just the way snow sticks to lines, how steep they are, spine riding. Spine riding, oh my, even just thinking about it right now gets my blood flowing. Once you go spines, it’s all you think about.
8. Last season you were in Haines (AK), a terrain which seemed limited to production companies with big budgets until recently, hands down one of the most challenging terrains out there, with challenging approaches on glacier terrain. How was your experience?
When we were getting ready for our glacier experience, I pictured shovelling snow for days, being trapped in storms, tents collapsing and just trying to survive. My confidence was on the fence, this is the pinnacle of snowboarding and I was gripped. When we got out it was a different experience then I imagined, it was incredible! I loved glacier camp life, living the high life, making amazing meals and shredding sick lines. When we climbed up our first face that was our test face. We coined it “Wolf Face” but later found out Absinthe Films called it “Goose”. It was awesome putting in the Vert track up, and strapping in, I realized how steep these lines are. It took a lot of deep breathing and a calculated mind to drop in these lines. Your slough moves so fast, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going to get ripped off the mountain.
After our trip, we watched the latest Absinthe film and saw the same face that was our “test face”. It was a bit of shock, to see we’re riding pro lines. That line was our preparation for the first ascent on “The Brothel” that had only be ridden by Jeremy Jones by heli. That line was a game changer for us. It’s a really complex line to exit out of. We believe it’s called The Brothel because it’s easy to get in and hard to get out. We spent time figuring out the entrance and the exit. Then one day we just went to see how the spine wall was, after 4 hours of glacier navigation we booted up a very crusty couloir to the top of the spine wall, and it was night and day. The spines were in, and we arrived just as the sun was setting on them. We knew it, we were dropping them right then in the setting sun. The alpenglow on the line was what dreams are made of. We dropped in and it was an incredible spine riding experience. It’s kind of a blur now, I hardly remember the ride from adrenalin. When we arrived at the bottom, we had a complex exit, navigating crevasses, seracs, all by headlamp, we even rode through a crevasse to wrap around a serac. We arrived back at camp at 1am to cook dinner and polish a bottle of tequila to celebrate. Alaska is the pinnacle of backcountry snowboarding and I’m hooked, I’m constantly training for lines like that.
“My biggest goal is to become a full guide. I want to pursue the ACMG and share the mountains with people. It’s a huge thing to me to share my experiences and my love for the outdoors.”
9. You also spent some time at the Tombstone Territorial Park (YT). What can you tell us about those days and about the Yukon in general?
When I lived in the Yukon, I explored Tombstone a lot on foot in spring, summer and fall. I always dreamt of splitboarding there. It lays 300km south of the Arctic Circle and temps are usually in the -40C. Best time to experience this place is in the spring; we went early April, when we first arrived, the conditions were not the greatest, quite faceted. My friend Logan and I decided to head in anyways and camp for the week. We travelled in about 20+km to set up camp and search for couloirs in what they call the Patagonia of the north. It’s quite steep spires, so finding lines is tricky. When we arrived and set up camp a storm came in for two days and had us tent bound. When the storm cleared, it came in warmer and really filled in the couloirs. When the skies cleared up, we explored and found some hidden gems within the rocks. Which I believe to be first descents, for how far and remote they are. As well they rode insanely well, blower for days!!! It was amazing trip, but from what I’ve learned from locals is there is usually a week of good snow conditions and we just happened to find them. The northern lights at night as well was mind blowing, sometimes you have to through life in the wind to find the miracles in life!
10. For someone who is self-sufficient most of the time, snow science and self-rescue education becomes crucial. What kind of training have you done over the years?
Very good question and something I really focus on. I have my CAA (Canadian Avalanche Association) Level 1 allowing me to work patrol, tail guide, or teach intro avalanche courses. For first aid I’ve completed my Advanced Wilderness First Aid and currently hold my Occupational First Aid level 3. In the past I’ve worked for cat skiing operations, ski patrol, and practicing a lot with friends with avalanche training, first aid, and crevasse rescue. I have had to deal with injuries in the backcountry with partners, two requiring heli evacs; one being 16 hours out with a broken tibia/ fibia the other was a hand laceration with a cut open artery. So keeping up to date with first aid and safety is very important to me.
11. You seem to be living your dream, but we’re sure you still have many more to reach. What are your plans for the near future?
My biggest goal is to become a full guide. I want to pursue the ACMG and share the mountains with people. It’s a huge thing to me to share my experiences and my love for the outdoors. I have 2 continents still left on my hit list to adventure too being Africa and Antarctica. With splitboarding every month, my goal is to reach 100 months, then my buddy was like, you mind as well go for 120 months to make it 10 years. So, I’m currently on month 48. For destinations I want to venture to is Greenland, Iceland, Iran, Afghanistan, Japan, Austria, well a lot of Europe, Georgia, and well I just want to keep seeing the world, meeting more rad people, and sharing the joy of it all!
12. Will we be seeing you soon around Europe? This is a formal invitation to come and visit us in the Pyrenees. It would be cool to share a few days with you!
Well speaking of it! Heck ya, I love seeing imagery from the Pyrenees, I would love to come adventure 100%, let’s stay in touch, and I’ll pop on over!
13. Who would you like to thank?
Biggest shout out to my family for believing in me 100% and being so proud. My friends for their love and support and giving me places to crash. Everyone that’s taken the time to chat, hang out, and share a skintrack with. Everyone that I’ve snowboarded and skied with, my friends I’ve grown up with, the friends I’ve met over my travels, and the friends I’ll meet in the future. Last but not least, the people that support me Venture Snowboards, Spark R&D, Fitwell Boots, LTD Optics, Tribute Boardshop, and The Kootenay Life.
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