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Mike Basich Off the Grid

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— February 15, 2018

Mike Basich Off the Grid

  • The evolution of a snowboard wizard who wants to do things his way.
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Mike Basich was one of the first professionals on the snowboard circuit. In his world he’s more than a little famous, having competed in the World Cup and the X Games, and he has picked up titles and awards along the way.

He’s also had success in the commercial world through such endorsements as GoPro and Mountain Dew and for the remake of the film “Point Break,” which required extreme sports sequences. If you run into Basich, however, you may not recognize him, given the speed with which he has shredded the slopes and his penchant for occasionally wearing a Yeti outfit and mask, as in the photo on the opposite page.

Basich is now 45. He acknowledges his body can’t tackle the competition circuit the way it used to. Rather than bow out of the sport completely, however, Basich looks at his career and life as an evolution. He has built on his skills—photography, woodworking and snowboarding—and combined them with his love of nature and burning will to be self-reliant.

Basich takes portraits of himself shredding in extreme conditions—a photo of him leaping from a helicopter is among his most intense and graces the cover of his self-published 2015 book, The Frozen Chase, with 15 photos from his collection. He built an off-grid stone cabin on 40 acres in the Sierra Mountains—complete with his own self-made 600-foot chair lift. And he has devoted more time to the snowboard apparel company, 241 (241collection.com), he had launched early in his career.

Asked to summarize his life in a few words, Basich responds, “Creativity in action.”

“I like reinventing my career in a fresh way that makes it feel new,” Basich says, “and brings in interest.”

Wearing one of his company’s jackets, with a pattern of purple Christmas string lights, Basich sat down for an interview after a lunch of mushroom soup, green tea and vegan duck salad at a New York City restaurant.

Discover Life: Tell me about your philosophy behind living off-grid and how it melds with your other interests, say, photography. Mike Basich: I just enjoy living off the grid and not relying on anything really besides the local resources. So everything I have is based on providing it myself. My rule of thumb is ‘I need to feed it,’ meaning I don’t have a propane stove; I have to use the wood of the property to cook food or heat the place and make hot water. I don’t have to rely on the fuel. It helps a lot to understand how to work with nature, and that’s what I’ve learned the most: the more you work with nature the more efficient life becomes.

I like doing a lot of things myself, so with photography, I didn’t really take photos of other people. I’m trying to share what I saw in snowboarding and trying to figure out how to push that even more as things developed with drones, getting unique angles and putting in cameras where your standard photographer couldn’t go because I had the ability of an extreme athlete. I can actually ride in places that cameras normally don’t get to.

DL: Is there a single competition that is the most memorable?

MB: There are two. The first was when I was probably 19 in, I think, Ischgl, Austria. It’s when I got second in the world for half-pipe, and that was a big stepping stone in my emotional journey with the sport and also my career and sponsors. It just really shifted my ability to do what I’m doing now. I own property now. I got bigger sponsors. It put me on the map.

The second was a big air [snowboarding down a hill and launching off a high jump to perform flips and other tricks] contest in Innsbruck around ’98. It was about 30,000 people watching and I didn’t win it; I think I got fourth or something. It was a fun experience to be energized by that many people cheering you on. It was also an education. You learn to manage your fear from just how the snow feels and the trick, but when you add this other type of energy from the audience you start to experience something that you don’t know how to manage yet.

I broke my jaw on a big air competition in Vermont after that. There’s a higher dosage of something in your body that is inspiring what you’re thinking about your ability, and you may let that take over the other senses. You’ve got to find that balance, otherwise you’ll lean on the high part from the crowd.

DL: How did those lessons of competing before huge crowds help you with what you’re doing today?

MB: It’s knowing how to manage yourself under certain emotions. Whether it’s fear or excitement you still have to manage your athletic ability because most of the time it has to do with risk. If you don’t perform you can get seriously hurt or die when you’re doing it. With the photography part, I’ve gotten to bring that in [by learning about] multitasking under pressure. I can follow someone with a camera and actually point the camera while going in a different direction. The result is you get this cool experience but you also get this neat angle or cinematographer-like shot that is kind of new.

DL: Tell me how you pulled off that amazing photo of you jumping from the helicopter in 2002, which is on the cover of your book.

MB: That was a project that I wasn’t sure was going to work because it’s the farthest I maxed out my remotes. I had these remotes that I wired together; I think it was probably about 800 feet away. And the hard part is you don’t know if you shot the whole roll because this is back in the days of slide film, you know, 35 millimeter. You might hold it down for like a second and a half and you shot 30 photos, and when you get to the bottom you don’t know if you got the actual shot because you might have run out of film.

The helicopter photo was definitely a big project I wanted to do. The biggest goal was I wanted it for the cover of my photo book. On the cover, there’s no helicopter in the shot and there’s this person in midair. I wanted to make a photo look like it was impossible; there’s no cliff to drop off. This was when Photoshop was starting to be something that everybody had, but slide film is proof it’s real.

DL: Tell me about where you live and the home that you built.

MB: I started the cabin project in 2004. It was kind of at a point in my career where I wanted to bring in my older passions, like woodworking. I traveled a lot and I wanted to create my own style of life. It took about four or five years.

The cabin is in Donner Summit, in California by Lake Tahoe. (If you ever heard of the Donner party, back in the 1850s, the Gold Rush, a group of people got stuck in a storm and they ended up eating each other.) It’s undeveloped. Everywhere else in Tahoe there are high-class cabins, a lot of rich people. So I like being more off the beaten path, and I could still be in town in 20 minutes.

The interesting part about buying the property was that it was covered with snow when I looked at it. My realtor gave me a map, so I got on my snowmobile. I wasn’t sure if I found it but I got somewhere with a view and I was like, ‘If it’s anywhere close I’ll take it.’ I had a dream of doing this when I was like 11, and so I made the decision to make this dream a reality.

The biggest lesson I learned by building the cabin was to just work with natural products. For instance, 80% of the cabin is granite rock; they’re maintenance-free and hold the heat well. It’s very windy there, and you can’t even hear the wind. I also have windows that face south to the sun so I don’t have to stack as much firewood because the place gets heated up in 30 minutes when the sun is out. I believe that we’re supposed to be in sync with the Earth.

I also learned a lot about going to bed when the sun goes down and waking up when it comes up. This saved thousands of dollars in batteries. And so I learned this in a way I didn’t really expect, but diving in I wanted to be open to whatever education comes.

DL: What do you do for clean water?

MB: I’ve got a holding tank with water from the creek. It’s clean because I’m pretty high up, about 7,100 feet, so I don’t have much livestock above me. I watch the storms come in and dump the snow, so I understand how the water cycle works. My theory on why I don’t filter the water is I like to keep my [immune] system a little bit stronger because if I go to Mexico or somewhere I’m a little more ready.

DL: Because of the altitude, your winter starts in November and the snow evaporates in mid-July, so you are able to keep your food stored cold for about three quarters of the year. What do you do for that other few months?

MB: I have a Snow Cat I use to get materials up and down in the winter. So before the spring hits, I’ll push as much snow into a hill in the trees where it’s shady, and that snow will last me till probably late August. I basically have my own natural ice chest.

DL: What do you eat? Do you hunt?

MB: I don’t hunt or fish, not too much. There’s a lake 20 minutes away that I fished a couple of times but I don’t do it regularly. I became a vegetarian about two years ago so the shopping list and the refrigeration tend to become pretty simple. I just started growing a garden at the cabin but my growing season is really short. But [the] granite [has] kind of like planter boxes in the rocks. I grow a lot of herbs and kale. Kale is kind of the only thing that can handle the cold so I stick with that.

DL: What feature of the house are you most proud of?

MB: I incorporated the golden ratio, a bit of quantum physics used in building a long time ago. A lot of the old cathedrals and pyramids, everything is built under the golden ratio—you start with one, add one and you get two, one plus two you get three, then five, etc. Things look right when they are under this ratio. The reason they did it in

 

One of Basich’s most intense photographs was a self-portrait of him leaping from a helicopter.

architecture back in the day is because you measured off your body parts.

My floor plan is a pentagon, and I used my own measurements of my body. I figured this is going to be my house so I’m going to build it off of me. Then what I learned is where the head and the arms are, that’s where I want the glass because that’s the part of the body that has a lot to do with the outward scene. The feet are the front doors; that’s where your feet are when you walk in.

Laying down on the floor, in the center of where my heart would be on the floor plan, I wanted to recognize my birthday. I was born at 3:02 on the 29th of October. So the way I did that was I found my spot on the floor and I cut out a star from a piece of cardboard, and [its shadow on the floor] at 3:02 was this stretched-out star. So I traced this stretched-out star from the shadow of the perfect star. The next day on my birthday I took the stretched-out star, cut it out of cardboard, put that up at 3:02 and it makes the perfect star on the floor. So in the floor there’s a little piece of wood that’s a pentagon. On my birthday the shadow meets the points in the wood. It’s recognition of when my life started, that I’m on this journey.

DL: You’re kind of a Lone Ranger in a way. You like flying solo but you’re very personable. You seem like a people person so it’s an interesting contradiction.

MB: I like people. I just don’t like people that come and say, ‘I want this, this and that.’ I prefer jobs where someone is like, ‘This is what I have. Do your thing. Whatever that is I would like that.’ They have the trust to let me be creative and I want that.

DL: And the lifestyle you’ve chosen ensures that that’s the way you’re going to live. Going back to your childhood, where did the seed come for all of this?

MB: I probably owe a lot of this to my parents because they brought in stuff for us to do ourselves. My sister and I were brought up on the outskirts of Sacramento to do whatever we dreamed up. They were like, ‘Yes. Do it. That sounds fun. What do you need?’ And I’d build a treehouse and would want to move into the treehouse. I built treehouses and rode our horse to the 7-11 down the street.

I had a unique childhood because I had epilepsy when I was young, and so I got used to being not normal. So doing things not normal was a very natural thing. And so just that approach in thinking out of the box was super-easy for me, and my parents were okay with that. My mom got me and my sister into snowboarding even though [it] was an outcast idea. Not a lot of resorts allowed it.

All my skills and passions for the outdoors—it’s been my guideline.

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