From DIY Snowboarder To Legendary Snow Guide: An Interview With Mike Hygemann a.k.a. Hygi

From DIY Snowboarder To Legendary Snow Guide: An Interview With Mike Hygemann a.k.a. Hygi

Q. What was your first experience on the mountains and what did you ski/board on?

A. I created my first board out of timber whilst I was doing an apprenticeship as a carpenter back in 1982. I laminated some plyboard but didn’t know what bindings were so I had a seat belt over the top which I secured my feet with and as a surfer I assumed the board needed fins so I added a fin. The top of my board was purple and made of rubber in order to give me a bit of grip. Needless to say I got lots of strange looks when I took it to the mountain!

The first mountain I went to was Whakapapa with a friend - we couldn’t work out how to use the t-bar lift and just kept falling off so eventually got kicked off. However, we didn’t want to give in so we attempted to walk up the mountain instead. We had a good rest at the top and then just pointed the board straight down the mountain. This technique didn’t perform very well and resulted in one very fat lip!

Q. How did your snowboard ride?

A. Well again I didn’t know anything about skiing, edges or edge control – I’d come from a surfing background which I now appreciate doesn’t immediately transfer, so the first ride was something totally new to me.

I sadly gave away that board the following season to a carpenter colleague which I now regret, as it’s a good piece of history.

I then went over to Australia for a few years and I met some Australians who had done 3 seasons at Mt Hutt from 1987-89. They showed me photos and convinced me to get back on a real snowboard. I bought a second-hand Snostix off Mark Browne and Bill Taylor in Christchurch in 1990. They knew snowboarding was going to take off and they weren't wrong – in ‘92 there were more snowboarders than skiers on the slopes!

How did you become a snowboard judge?

In the early 90’s I spent a fair amount of time at Cardona and they started running snowboard competitions and were looking for judges. I put my hand up in 1994 as I had judged a number of surf competitions. I ended up judging every snowboard competition after that for the next 20+ years so it turned into quite a career.

I became accredited with the FIS International Ski Federation in 1995, judging at World Cup events here in New Zealand as well as Australia and Japan. Also at Burton Open events and then at World Heli Challenges from 1995-2014. A heli access extreme and freestyle comp with the best and craziest skiers and boarders in the world – now that’s something seriously impressive to watch!


What got you into snow guiding?

I actually became a Snow Guide by virtue of working at Haka Tours. I joined Haka Tours during the first winter that Ryan (Sanders) set up the business and they were in need of a snow guide so I put my hand up. Again another door was opened for me.

The industry is very much about who’s who in the business so it was a bonus for Ryan that I happened to be there at that moment and obviously great for me given my love for the mountains. Between Ryan and myself, we pretty much created the Snow Safari Snow Tour and the rest is history. This tour is still our top seller and unique as it hits all the different mountains on the South Island which no other tour operator offers. It’s also ideal for beginners and experienced skiers alike.

What do you think the qualities of an awesome snow guide are?

What makes a great snow guide is firstly a good dose of patience and secondly a great knowledge of snow and weather conditions. Rescue skills in the mountain environment is also essential plus the ability to have fun no matter what the weather.

You never stop learning which is what I love about the job - mother nature is always changing so you have to be able to adapt to the conditions.

What’s the one thing you hear most frequently from Haka Snow guests?

On our tours we have complete beginners who have never seen snow before as well as experienced skiers/boarder so everyone has a different reaction. With the newbies who jump on a snow tour you can visibily see the pure delight from their body language and massive grins on their faces and most of them carry on for many more seasons. And those more confident love the variety of terrain.

What is the reaction/expression do you look forward to most when you take guests to your favourite snow spot?

Depending on the conditions, my favourite snow spot changes but I always love seeing the smiles on the groups faces after day one of the tour and then again at the end of the week when everyone is super tired but elated at the same time. I also enjoy taking the experienced skiers down the black runs at Treble Cone and taking the free stylers to Cardrona to play on the half pipes.

Nowadays do you tend to board or ski?

Snowboarding was my first love and where I’m most comfortable. I didn’t jump on skis until 1998 by which time I’d snowboarded for some eight seasons so it was like going back to being a beginner which felt quite frustrating. It’s a totally different style of getting around a mountain but I do still jump on skis if conditions are a bit icy as they’re more suitable. But coming from a surfing and skating background, boarding is way more natural for me.

When you’re not on the slopes, where is your favourite part of Aotearoa/New Zealand to spend time?

By virtue of being a tour guide, I love to spend a lot of time around people but when not on tour I take myself to the ocean to chill out, surf and rejuvenate with some me-time! My favourite spot is on the west coast of the South Island - but I’m not going to divulge the exact location for fear of losing my quiet place!

Jen spends most of her time following Mick around the mountain, often unintentionally off jumps and cliff drops. Currently on a mission to prove that you’re never too old to try freestyle. Aside from snowboarding, a little obsessed about tattoos, CrossFit, saving animals, learning to play the guitar and clean eating. Web designer and digital marketing nerd.