Nicolas Müller is one of the best snowboarders on the planet, but you won’t see him on the podium at the X Games or in highlight clips on SportsCenter. The 32-year-old Swiss native started out as a competitive snowboarder, eventually reaching the top of the international circuit, but hung it all up to push the progression on the sport on bigger canvas: big mountain freeriding. He calls it “returning to the spirit of riding”; by doing so, he’s been able to access more of his natural talent and style than ever before, on full display in two recent films, Never Not, and Burton Backcountry. While he was in New York for the premier of Oakley’s new snowboarding film, Snowboarding: For Me, we sat down to chat about his journey to big mountain riding.
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Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. This is hard. I would like to share everything I’ve learned in life meeting people all around the world, but I would say, work on yourself to truly know who you are. Yes: finding who you really are.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: I grew up wanting to be a soccer player and played a lot so it had a huge influence on me. But on snowboarding, Terje Håkonsen, when I saw “Subject: Haakon”. That video made me want to go snowboarding so bad. I was hooked. It was like virus. All I wanted to do was snowboarding. There are also other riders, Mikkel Bang, Johan Olofsson, Ingemar Backman, Jamie Lynn, you know…all the legends. But on the skateboarding side, Tom Penny, Danny Way, and even Tony Hawk.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. Homo Faber.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. I’d probably say “take it easy”, you know [laughs].
At this point, it’s all about clicks, and traffic and visibility. But fuck, I don’t care about any of that. All I want to see is the art of riding.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. As someone who liked to shred and who promoted the art of snowboarding.
Q. What else do you do beside snowboarding to stay fit and in shape?
A. I started enjoying a lot of stuff. I really got into jogging. You can run through the forest and it’s so beautiful. But I don’t think it really matters what you do if you do something every day, whether it’s swimming, skateboarding, jogging, playing soccer, doing yoga, qigong. I’ve been really enjoying qigong. You gotta maintain your body.
Q. How is your season going?
A. So far good. I rode a little bit in the glaciers in Switzerland. Actually I’ve been riding half-pipe a lot. That’s what I was all about in the beginning. Riding half-pipe and doing contests.
Q. Why did you switch from competition to riding big mountain?
A. This is a thought I had earlier today. It’s hard to explain what that is, but to put it in a realistic way: I had so much fun competing and learning new tricks, but eventually if you’re just learning the trick at the same spot, you just get frustrated. That’s all you do when there’s a whole planet of mountain waiting to be ridden. And riding big mountains, every time it is new. You gotta ride; I don’t want to just work on learning new tricks all the time. It’s like from nothing comes nothing so you gotta move and you have to see places and that’s what I like to do — sort of returning back to the spirit of riding. And when you put down tricks out there it’s even better. I like finding spots in a natural environment and then I think about what can I do.
And the real reason to get into snowboarding is to have a blast. Being out there in the nature, riding and having fun. That’s what I’m trying to promote.
Q. Did you get frustrated with the competition format?
A. Yeah, I did. But when you’re really in it, you don’t think about it. You do what you gotta do and you have that goal. But then after a while, everybody will grow up and decide if this what you want to be doing, and it’s time for a change. Maybe it sounds negative sometimes, but at the end, everybody has to have that experience. I was never going to go to the Olympics. I don’t need some event, that doesn’t care about the sport at all, to hype it and then have big brands come in and destroy the core market. At this point, it’s all about clicks, and traffic and visibility. But fuck, I don’t care about any of that. All I want to see is the art of riding. With the contest, it’s really amazing to watch and kids these days are insane, but if that’s all there’s to it, we are not going to attract people into snowboarding for the real reason. And the real reason to get into snowboarding is to have a blast. Being out there in the nature, riding and having fun. That’s what I’m trying to promote.
Q. But you’ve been competing in Red Bull Supernatural and Ultranatural. What’s different about those versus other competitions you see these days?
A. First of all, the course consists of the whole mountainside with untouched course, with jumps all hidden so you gotta figure out the different lines each time and ride well. And I think that’s more open to creativity and it shows the real skills because you only get to ride twice on fresh unridden course. It’s not like typical contest where the course is set up and you have to put down the gnarliest tricks to win. I mean…to each his own. Some guys really like to practice tricks and eventually it’ll come down to that. But also seeing somebody flow through the park with good style showing board control, that’s the root of all. If I get to do that for the rest of my life, I’d be equally stoked as winning big competitions.
Q. What board are you riding this season?
A. I rotate between Burton Flight Attendant, Juice Wagon, and Trick Pony.
We were lucky enough to catch Oakley’s new snowboarding film, Snowboarding: For Me, at its New York premier. If you’re like us and spent your teenage years watching skate/snowboard films on VHS, you’ll absolutely love this film, which is about not just amazing tricks but rediscovering the “stoke”.