Mike Horn: The King of Stoke

Mike Stoke

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.stoke lab

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.]