You’re sitting on the couch, mid-January, watching the snow evaporate at alarming rates due to the season’s first thaw, or today, as a week-long downpour squashes your dreams of pedaling down a smooth dry mountain trail. You need inspiration. You need stoke. This is the necessity that writer/stoke guru Mike Horn operates from. His goal: to spread stoke to the masses and inspire outdoor creativity through words, images and experience. Horn is the co-founder and editorial director of Stokelab.com, editorial director at Buttery, and editor of Kronicle Backcountry Snowboarding magazine. In an interview he shares with me the inspiration and science of stokology.
Danielle Owczarski: What is your earliest memory of feeling stoked?
Mike Horn: The first thing that comes to mind is early-morning bass fishing with my Dad as a kid in Massachusetts. I don’t recall catching many fish—or if I even did any fishing at all. But there was something special about sitting in the foggy woods at the edge of the water, propped up on a discarded Lincoln Continental bench seat and drinking Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate. That visual has never left me.
DO: In the early days, how did you spread the stoke?
MH: You know, until I started writing and getting published I don’t know that I was very good at spreading stoke. I guess I was just keeping it all for myself (laughs). Really though, I think it all starts by being nice to people, which sounds like cliché hippy hogwash but it’s really true. Be good to people and good things will come your way.
DO: Tell me about your history as a writer and how that morphed into where you are today.
MH: Writing was always my creative outlet; my drawing never evolved much beyond stick-figure scenes and weird looking trees. In high school I was into Henry Rollins, Jim Morrison…yeah I wanted to be a derelict rock star. I wrote “songs” for my “band”—The Cannibal Poets—and lots of spoken word-inspired poetry. It’s pretty funny to look back on. I had a sweet flattop haircut back then, too.
As I got a little older I found myself hunting out wilder places around Massachusetts—Walden Pond in Concord, the state park in Carlisle, even the town forest on the Dracut/Lowell line. I’d just go there with a notebook and write, trying to channel my inner Thoreau I guess, and escape the city. I can remember watching a garter snake choke down a frog at Walden, while I wrote and snapped photos. Then I’d leave the forest and return to Lowell, which is a dark, industrial place. It was a very stark contrast.
I moved to Crested Butte, Colorado in 2000 and earned my Environmental Studies degree at Western State College in Gunnison (three undergrad schools and eight years later…). I was fortunate to end up with a prolific western writer for an advisor—George Sibley. He taught me the difference between writing about nature and writing from nature. The former makes you an observer, while the latter places you in the natural world and then you’re just channeling this stuff. The idea being that it’s all right there if you can get out of your own way.
That’s a long-winded intro for what eventually turned into an internship at Backcountry Magazine in Vermont … that led to me becoming their managing editor. My job entailed a lot of outdoor writing, in addition to having the opportunity to edit work submitted by some other really talented writers. After moving back to Crested Butte in 2008, I continued as an editor for Backcountry, took on a beat at the local newspaper for a year-and-a-half, and along with Justin Cash started developing StokeLab.
DO: What exactly is StokeLab?
MH: It’s fun. Simply put, StokeLab is a website and digital magazine filled with content that gets us (and hopefully others) excited about life.
DO: Your partner Justin Cash is quite the photographer, how did you two meet?
MH: I met him at a Ski Vermont meeting at Pico, in Winter ’05 I think? I was looking for a photographer to shoot a feature story in the Chic Choc Mountains of Québec. We ended up talking at the bar over a couple beers and the rest is history. We’ve done a ton of work together since and traveled all around North America.
DO: What roles do you and Justin play in spreading stoke to the outdoor community?
MH: Well, first you should know there are two other partners involved in StokeLab now—Drew Pogge and Randy Elles. Collectively we do our best to produce and share content—words, photos, design, video—that both informs and inspires. Selfishly, much of what we write about revolves around the fun stuff that we do—ski/ride, mountain bike, fish, golf, beer drinking, skateboarding, whatever. Sometimes it’s a story, sometimes it’s a snapshot. Either way it’s stoke.
DO: Who are your stoke heroes?
MH: Craig Kelly, for obvious reasons. Jim Treadway, who taught me to snowboard. My grandparents, who gifted me with stacks of books from a young age and introduced me to many beautiful places around the world. There are many names that should be on this list…
DO: Where do you see StokeLab heading in the future?
MH: Our goal is to provide our readers with an interactive and immersive experience. As the technology continues to evolve, there will always be new layers to add to the StokeLab experience.
DO: You’re also the editor of Kronicle, a backcountry snowboarding magazine. Tell me a little about that.
MH: Yeah, we started Kronicle a couple years ago; it’s owned and published by HOL Publications. Kronicle, simply put, is a magazine about exploring new terrain and riding powder in the mountains, and the characters and culture that surround that pursuit. We’re putting out two issues this fall.
DO: Do you have any pointers for our readers on how to spread the stoke far and wide?
MH: First you gotta take time to fill up your own stoke tank or you’ll run out of gas. Then take the time to show your friends and families cool new places and experiences. Do something for somebody else. It has a ripple effect. I need to take my own advice more often.
DO: Any famous last words?
MH: “Not with that attitude you won’t!”
Words to remember from Ian Lamphere, a friend who always saw more potential in others than they saw in themselves. [Ian passed away this spring.]