TASMAN TEAM is YES. Snowboards and SlidePath's brand new four-part series which celebrates their Australian and New Zealand team. We sit down with Mike Handford and discuss what he's been up to during the pandemic, NZ's splitboarding scene, and much more.
"Mike Handford is one of the nicest guys I've ever met, and being with him in the mountains is a TRUE pleasure. Mike has devoted his life to travelling and snowboarding. He's humble, incredibly good at Karaoke, and very driven to progress what he does (and where he goes to do it). Enjoying life and having fun is his main priority, and it shows in everything he does. So whether he is showing you around his backyard at Wanaka, or exploring new zones in Myoko, being in the mountains with Mike is always a good time. I think we could all be a bit more Like Mike haha. BigLove amigo, I am looking forward to our next adventure already"
- Amine Yasmine / SlidePath
Video/Edit by Phootstep Films
Tell us a little bit about your history and how you came to call Wanaka home.
Mike Handford: I’d been bouncing around Europe for a while and ended up meeting a big Wanaka crew while living in Verbier. They convinced me to fly down in 2012. From then on, I’d fly between hemispheres every 6 months chasing the snow until I finally settled on basing myself here permanently in 2018.
Are you making any plans to ride this summer? Or will you be focussing on your golf swing and improving your surfing?
MH: Tentative plans. If we’re allowed to travel then I’ll make the pilgrimage. Biking, golfing and surfing doesn’t sound too bad as a worst-case scenario though does it?
YES. Is a very media-centric brand - which we absolutely love. How important do you think it is for brands like YES. to keep making videos and keeping that stoke alive within snowboarding?
MH: I love that YES. has such a drive to create media. Other brands (especially in the southern hemisphere) don’t seem to prioritise it and it's certainly reflected in customers brand affiliation, stoke on product and then through to sales.
What do you think makes for a quality video part?
MH: Anything that you can tell has been put together with some passion. I’m a sucker for the simple art of the turn so some of the stuff that comes out of Japan really gets me fired up. There’s something about their mentality towards snowboarding that I connect with. Painting a seamless flowing line that works with the terrain is a beautiful thing. Check out Sweetgrass – Signatures for some inspiration.
What is your favourite way to ingest snowboard media at the moment, versus ten years ago?
MH: I still prefer to sit down and watch a well put together movie as I did ten years ago but there’s a place for the Instagram clip for sure.
What is your ultimate goal in terms of your snowboarding/filming and the media outlets available right now?
MH: My goal is still to travel to new places, meet new people and get some good turns along the way. Having a splitboard as my main tool opens up so many otherwise unavailable destinations. We’re still keen to make movies under the All Us In Winterland name. The crew just has ‘real’ jobs now, so the logistics are a bit more time-consuming.
How are things over in the NZ industry amidst the COVID curveball this year?
MH: It’s been an interesting year for all. We’re feeling very lucky to have managed a winter through this period and the industry has been boosted by strong support from Kiwis getting back into the mountains and supporting local businesses through a very trying time.
Seems like everyone's plans have been upended this year - was there any hassle with getting in and out of Japan to film your TASMAN TEAM edit?
MH: We were kind of in the middle of it while filming in Japan this year. The whole world was changing rapidly around us and I only just made it back to NZ. I was boarding my flight to India to go and ride around Gulmarg and the Himalayas when I was handed a notice by the Indian government banning anyone travelling there who had been to Japan after February 1st. 24 hours later and I was back home in NZ which was a bit surreal. Feeling lucky to have made it back as borders closed to non-residents a few days after.
How was the backcountry at Arai? Jakob's photos from there looked amazing.
MH: Unreal. That place is incredible. Totally different from anywhere else I’ve been in Japan. The whole place is in the alpine and steep. It reminds me of Treble Cone but ten times the size and then times the amount of snow.
Did you get the conditions to maximise your filming plans?
MH: Definitely. The temperature was all over the place but a few storms lined up and we scored some all-time conditions. You have to be patient in Japan these days and make the most of it when it’s on.
You have been riding professionally for a long time now - what are the main changes you have seen over your career to professional snowboarders and the industry?
MH: I’ve never really thought of myself as a professional snowboarder. I’d be doing this regardless, so it’s just a bonus that people seem to like the way I go about it and I appreciate the support and it motivates me. The biggest change over the past 10 years has definitely been the professionalism that is required to ‘succeed’. Social media has pushed everyone to another level for sure .The quantity of people out there filming snowboarding is increasing exponentially due to how easy it now is to get people to view the media that is created. I prefer the way it was 10 years ago when Absinthe etc. were in their prime and video parts meant something…but maybe that’s just me being nostalgic.
Looks like your NZ Bubble over there has had some positives for you guys this year (in terms of uncrowded resorts). Has the snow season been a good one so far?
MH: It’s been a mixed bag really. It was the best July I’ve ever had over here, followed by the worst August. September has started with a bang so fingers crossed that continues!
Have you done any snow camping missions in NZ this year?
MH: Not yet, unfortunately. We had a trip pencilled in for early August up to a geodesic dome, which is pitched in between Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea, but the weather didn’t play ball. That’s been rescheduled for 20th September.
Was that your first time hitting the Invincibles lodge? It looks ALL-TIME there - can you give us a rundown of your trip?
MH: Yep, first time in there. It’s been on the bucket list for a while now but spots never usually open up. Old mate Covid put a stop to an Australian group who had the week booked in so we jumped at the chance. It's a heli-accessed backcountry lodge with some pretty amazing terrain. We were in there for 4 days and got every snow type imaginable from bluebird pow to deep spring slush. Every day was followed by a couple of bottles of gin and the odd tequila too. We’ll be back next year for sure.
YES. is a brand that really embraces the whole “family” mentality. Have you felt that there’s a real bond between you and the whole YES. Crew?
MH: Definitely. I’ve only been involved officially for a short time but even before I was, the whole crew were so welcoming. Very different from some of my past experiences, a testament to the YES family mentality.
We heard a rumour that after eating some horse sashimi in Ueno this year, you gave the best Karaoke performance of your lifetime - is this true?
MH: I’ll have to let the audience be the judge of that one. The 70-year-old Japanese guy at the end of the bar didn’t seem too stoked on it but I’m fully aware you can’t please everyone. Anyone know where to get any sashimi grade horse down this end of the world? I’ve got a craving!
Go-To Karaoke song?
MH: 9 pm - Anything by Arctic Monkeys. 4 am - Sweet Caroline
I bet you have already started thinking about your next filming trip (once the world allows it of course). What are your goals for your next trip?
MH: I’ve still got India and Nepal on the brain. As soon as I can, I’ll be heading back that way. Who knows when that will be though? One of the guys here in NZ has just got his skippers licence so there’s plans to head to Norway and charter a boat over there for a few weeks as well.
We see you mainly filmed your edit on the Optimistic and the OptiSplitStic - How did they perform over in the Myoko Pow (and the Treble Cone groomers)?
MH: They’re the perfect boards for me. I’m really into a wider platform underfoot and have mostly ridden wide boards even though I have a US9 foot. The camber profile and stiff tail make both boards incredibly stable at high speed, which suits my style to a tee. I’ve always preferred a one board quiver rather than jumping between different shapes and the Optimistic shape works for me from everything from 50cm in Japan to hard and fast in NZ.
We have seen some huge growth in Splitboarding in Aus this year. How is the category participation over in NZ?
MH: We’ve seen the same over here. Backcountry participation is growing rapidly and lines you could score a week after a storm are suddenly being tracked out day one. It’s great news for the industry as a whole but is forcing the old guard to get a little more creative for their fix.
We see you're also a keen photographer. Have you had much chance to get behind the lens this year and shoot other people riding this year?
MH: Not so much this year, unfortunately. I haven’t been feeling very creative on the photography side of things so I’ve just been focussing on enjoying some soul turns. That’s not a bad thing though. With there being a high possibility we won't make it to the Northern Hemisphere this year I’ve been trying to savour every moment of winter in NZ.
What has been your best travel experience so far?
MH: There’s a lot to choose from. I’d have to say one of the campervan trips through North America. You can cover some ground in one of those things and it’s pretty easy to score first tracks when you can park your home wherever the next storm is. Iceland would be up there too. That place is incredible!