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Finding Mastery: HANAH Hero Mark Carter on mindset and the makings of a good life

Finding Mastery: HANAH Hero Mark Carter on mindset and the makings of a good life

Professional snowboarder to cattle wrangler, Mark carter's endurance is legendary

We don’t know of any other pro snowboarders who grew up on a Wyoming ranch, but if there were, there’d still only be one Mark Carter. The 31-year-old returns to help his father, Richard, and brother, RC, – who runs Carter Family Meats – wrangle cattle every summer, before heading back to Jackson Hole each winter to hurtle headlong down mountainsides. Among his peers Mark’s endurance is the stuff of legend, forged from boyhood during long, hot days in the red dirt that gave him a different definition of “hard work” than most people. From the first time Mark gives your hand a firm shake and looks you in the eye, you understand that integrity and honesty underpin everything he does. Beyond his achievements – like a podium finish at Natural Selection, winning a stop of The North Face Masters big mountain series, and appearing in heart-pounding snowboarding films – Carter is a much-needed reminder of a bygone age when people meant what they said and a gentleman’s agreement was the only contract you’d ever need.   

We caught up with Mark right before he flew to New York for the first stop on YETI’s Tundra Tour – which features, Ingrained, the new short documentary about him co-directed by fellow HANAH Hero Jimmy Chin – to discuss mastery, the makings of a good life, and why small town values can have a big impact. 

Before I hit the record button, you said that you feel uncomfortable in the bustle of a city like New York. What’s your antidote to that? 

Our disconnection from nature is at the root of a lot of our problems. If I can’t see where the sun rises and sets, I feel lost. It’s interesting to be in a city for a couple of days to meet new people and see how they live. But as soon as I can, I have to get off the asphalt and into the elements. It’s what we crave as humans. I need to get back to the dirt. 

How does that connection with the earth prepare you for being in extreme conditions in the mountains?  

The more you’re out in nature, the more able you are to tune into what everything around you is telling you, trust your intuition, and make good calls. Respecting that two-way exchange is how you stay alive when things go wrong. You need to know when to push through adversity and when to pull on the reins and stop, because you have a responsibility to get everyone back home unharmed. When you’re outside a lot, you can feel the energy in any given moment and respond appropriately. 

With everyone having a personal brand now, what steps do you take to balance your social media activity with being unplugged? 

I have to do certain things for the good of my business, but my phone isn’t going to rule my life. These devices are useful tools and that’s all they are. When I leave them at home and get outside, I’m able to organize more thoughts, breathe, and slow everything down. Anytime I need to do some deep thinking, I switch off my phone and put it in my truck. We’re in danger of losing control of our time so it’s more important than ever to create better boundaries. If I can get out in the mountains or the desert, I’m able to revel in the quietness, focus on everything I’m grateful for, and be fully present. Being back on the ranch around my family also reminds me of my priorities. I disconnect from my phone so I can reconnect with the people who matter most. 

Carter Country Meats Mark on the ranch

Masculinity is under a lot of scrutiny these days. What do you think it means to be a man? 

To be honest, hardworking and good to people. If you say you’re going to do something, you have to follow through no matter what. People aren’t accountable these days like when I was growing up. It’s not just about the big things. If you tell someone you’re going to call them this afternoon, then call them. When you’ve set an appointment, be respectful by showing up on time. My father always told me that a man is only as good as his word, and that’s why being truthful and straightforward is so important to me. 

Decades from now, how would you like to be thought of? 

As someone who kept his word and did his best to benefit his community. If I can provide a little inspiration to young people to get outside, chase big dreams, and live free, then I’m happy. So many people try to hold you back by telling you what they think you can’t do. My teachers thought I was going to be a criminal and I was so discouraged. But then I realized that I could do anything that my imagination could conceive. Your mind is so powerful and kids need to understand that there is no set path, even when school is telling you that you have to do this or that. Don’t build restrictive walls in your head. Figure out what you want and go chase it. And actually go places and experience things. You can form an opinion about a place, but just looking at photos of it online isn’t going to do it justice. Go and experience it for yourself.  

How do you define a successful life? 

Definitely not by how much money I have. It’s a tool and as my father always said, money brings out people’s true character for good or ill. I’d rather have control over my time and the freedom to go out and do what I want to do than to be rich. You can’t put a price on being able to wake up most days and decide what you’re going to do. Another thing that’s really important is being around friends and family and investing in those relationships. Interacting face to face in a genuine way is core to being human. 

That extends to people you disagree with, too. If you just look someone in the eye and view them as a human, you’ll start to see their perspective even when it’s totally different to yours. In this country, we’ve got so much separation between us because too few people are willing to stand in front of others and have honest, respectful conversations. It’s very easy to attack someone online, but if you wouldn’t say it to their face, then don’t write it on social media. If all you’re connected to is the internet, then you’re missing out on the chance to find common ground and actually understand where people are coming from. 

What does mastery mean to you? 

Committing your life to one thing and devoting every part of your body and soul to it. You can never think you’re doing anything perfectly or there’s no room for progression. I’m by no means a master of snowboarding, but I’m driven to be myself and learn from those around me. Travis Rice’s work ethic and attention to detail are second to none – he’s superhuman. Bryan Iguchi has so much experience and still pushes himself every time. In my mid-20s, he taught me that you shouldn’t worry about what anyone else is doing – just be authentically you. He keeps coming back to the mountains because it fulfills him, and that’s inspirational. Bryan and Travis also showed me that while everyone wants to ride the trophy lines, you’ve got to leave your ego at home and think about the good of everyone on the team.

Mark Carter on dirt bike in Ten Sleep Wyoming shot by @MotherHuss

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