Raised Right: Mike King's Blue-Collar Grit - The Ski Journal Profile

Words: The Ski Journal's, Amanda Monthei

The chili dogs are ready, and Mike King wanders inside his family’s farmhouse for a quick lunch. His curly, shoulder-length hair is pulled back, and he’s wearing yellow crabbing bibs covered in freshly-pressed apple cider, which forms a thin, sticky layer atop the yellow rubber as it dries.

It’s nearly Halloween in northern Michigan, and his family’s apple and cherry farm bustles with activity as people pick pumpkins or stand idle between rows of fruit trees. Mike and his older brother Frank have been pressing apple cider—one of his family’s biggest sellers—all morning, and after lunch they’ll probably keep going until it’s too dark to work. 

When they do finally clock off at the end of the day, he and Frank will log another five or six hours in the garage, wrenching on Mike’s future home: a 12-foot-long Well’s Cargo trailer, built-out for full mobile living. In a few weeks, Mike will leave the farm, move into the trailer, and make his seasonal migration to the mountains, where he’ll spend the next six months skiing all over North America until the cherry blossoms beckon him back next spring. 

ABOVE When finding powder means driving halfway across the country, you better have your mobile-living game dialed, which is why Mike and his brother converted a Wells Cargo trailer into a tow-behind home for the road. Mike shows off his new digs during a spring weekend at Alpental, WA. Photo: Colin Wiseman

A self-described blue-collar skier, Mike may be one of the hardest-working, boots-on-the-ground guys in the ski business: while he spends half his year in the mountains, he spends the other half on the farm, putting in 80-hour weeks to pay off last season’s debts and stack a little cash for the ski season.

“My entire family makes a majority of their money in the summer and fall,” he says. “We grind full-time, all day every day. That allows us to relax a bit in the winters. I’ve learned ski season and cherry season are very similar—long days and early mornings, because you only have so much time to get it done.” 

That work ethic has taken Mike on an unconventional path in the ski world, from film segments to DIY mechanic Instagram edits. But hard work aside, he’s also one of the kindest in the industry. His energy is contagious, and Mike—who considers himself “more a pro farmer than a pro skier”—is known to randomly send his friends and sponsors boxes full of fruit, cherry juice and chocolate-covered cherries. 

This fall, shortly after Mike was added to 686’s burgeoning ski program, team manager Pat McCarthy received a package from Michigan. Inside was a thank you card, alongside a selection of King-family apples and cherry juice. As McCarthy puts it: 

“You can tell he was raised right.”

ABOVE When finding powder means driving halfway across the country, you better have your mobile-living game dialed, which is why Mike and his brother converted a Wells Cargo trailer into a tow-behind home for the road. Mike shows off his new digs during a spring weekend at Alpental, WA. Photos: Colin Wiseman

Mike grew up taking 30-second hot laps at Shanty Creek Resort in Bellaire, MI, only a 20-minute drive from his house, and cheap enough for a family of farmers to afford season passes for four kids. The King clan didn’t waste a foot of Shanty’s 450 feet of vertical, either; Mike and his three siblings—Frank, Jack, and Juliette—were all talented ski racers, with Mike himself earning three state titles in high school.

Whether in racing or freestyle, most of Mike’s early skiing pursuits were at the guidance of his older siblings, and it didn’t take long for Mike’s attention to wander beyond bashing gates. He did his first 360 on a pair of slalom skis at a Nastar race in elementary school, and by middle school he had his first pair of twin tips: Dynastar Trouble Makers, for which they had to drive 4.5 hours to buy, as no nearby shops were selling twin tips at the time.

Frank was perhaps the biggest stimulus in Mike’s early interest in freeskiing. In standard older-brother form, Frank would tow Mike around the farm on the family’s snowmobile, making him try backflips off jumps they’d built in the neighbor’s yard. 

ABOVE A Northwest classic. For an air-time oriented skier like Mike King, a trip to Washington state’s Mt. Baker Ski Area wouldn’t be complete without throwing a few tricks over the iconic road gap. Mike looks for traffic and spots his landing above Highway 542. Photo: Brad Andrew

“We were always so hungry,” Frank says. “I remember buying my first ski movie, [Poor Boyz Productions’ 2006 film] Ski Porn, and we were so hyped on it and watched it nonstop. We both wanted to hit the type of rails from that movie, but there weren’t any around. Instead, we just started making our own. I learned how to weld by building rails from junkyard scraps in our backyard.” 

By Mike’s freshman year of college, that backyard improvisation morphed into sessioning whatever urban rails they could find between classes at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI. Frank had discovered a passion for videography at this point, developing his talent by following Mike, whether he was lapping the park at Marquette Mountain or traveling the upper Midwest in search of anything they could find a way to hit. After a few semesters of college, Mike decided to go all in on skiing and eventually joined up with the La Familia crew—made up of Ahmet Dadali, Mike Hornback and Tanner Hall, among others—in 2012.  

“Being able to ski with Hornbeck and Ahmet was a dream,” he said. “Those guys were my idols. I grew up watching Tanner Hall winning the X-Games, and then Hornbeck was from Michigan and had the sickest style.”

A few years with La Familia and a sponsorship with Revision Skis later, Mike once again paired up with Frank to do what they do best: they loaded up their trailers with ski and camera gear, and hit the road. The result was their 2016 film project, King of the Road, which documented a two-season road trip they took to the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia in search of the powder they’d been hearing about since they were kids. Revision provided a majority of the funding for the trip, while Mike and Frank financed all remaining expenses at the family farm that summer, picking cherries and pressing cider.  

ABOVE During a trip into Washington state’s North Cascades this past season, Mike and the 686 team found prime conditions and even some blue skies—a rare occurrence in the Pacific Northwest. Mike spins, airs, and stomps a gauntlet of North Cascades terrain in a few undisclosed locations. Photos: Brad Andrew

Three seasons later, Mike has spent even more time on the road. He recently scored a segment in The Big Picture’s culminative film Lite Years, released in November of 2017. Around the same time, he became one of the first skiers sponsored by the outerwear company 686, as the sole amateur team skier alongside US pro-team member Parker White. 

“I do a lot of research as far as how people are going to act with the rest of the team,” says McCarthy, who selected the company’s inaugural skiers. “Mike’s name came up as someone who has a really positive attitude. Parker told me he had a great personality and would be a good addition. And he has been.”

Solid team dynamics is one thing, but what makes Mike stand out most is how powerfully he skis. With a background in jibbing and racing, he can attack a pow line like he’s bashing gates or style a natural feature like it’s a park jump. Combine that with a relentless desire to improve, and McCarthy’s choosing to bring Mike onto the 686 team is no surprise. 

“The biggest benefit of growing up in the Midwest is that no matter how bad the conditions are out West, they’re still nothing compared to what I learned to ride back home,” he says. “I think that realization keeps me humbled. I still get so hyped to be in the mountains, and I’m still awed by them every time.” 

ABOVE When you grow up bashing race gates and hitting urban rails in the icy Midwest, everything else seems epic. Mike can ski pretty much anything, including big mountain lines and pillow zones in British Columbia. Photo: Sean Logan 

His new spot on the 686 team was an exciting development, but before Mike could travel all winter he knew he needed to upgrade his living situation, ultimately trading in his old and moldy truck camper for the Wells Cargo trailer. With Frank’s help, Mike installed a heater, a bed, a gear-drying zone, and a countertop in the trailer. They even painted the interior walls. He then set out on the 2,000-mile drive from Michigan to Montana to start the season. 

Three seasons and thousands of miles is brutal on any vehicle, be it a truck, snowmobile, trailer, or camper. Luckily, Mike’s history of backyard repairs, DIY projects, and on-the-road tinkering has allowed him to tackle most of his own mechanical work. It also inspired him to start his other venture: “Wrenching Wednesdays,” is an Instagram series in which he repairs bent trailer hitches, busted snowmobile a-arms, clogged fuel injectors, and a host of the other issues he’s experienced along the way.

“I was never super handy,” Mike says, “but I grew up hanging out with a bunch of rednecks, so I always knew I wanted to get better at fixing things myself.”  

Not only does this keep him from spending his hard-earned cash on mechanical work, but it’s also added to his value as a professional skier. Even when the skiing sucks, “Wrenching Wednesdays” keeps the content flowing on his social media channels. However, each episode also means something is broken—like his truck, which “shit the bed” in Bozeman, MT this past January after a trip to Cooke City with the 686 crew. Rather than retreat, the blue-collar skier spent most of January and February working Craigslist gigs and selling gear to make ends meet. But come early May, when Mike returned to Michigan to press cherries as a “pro farmer” for the summer, he’d notched his most successful season ever.

“You gotta have grit when you’re on the road,” Mike says. “Because in reality, these adventures are never what you expect. There are always setbacks, and there’s always going to be some sort of challenge. But overcoming those obstacles is everything to me. Then, when everything does come together, it makes it that much more rewarding.” 

Words: The Ski Journal's, Amanda Monthei

Article Courtesy of The Ski Journal