By Ellen Gray
Some people are successful because of the world into which they are born. Others fight to achieve success. And then there are those rare individuals who take what life offers and melds it to create their destiny. And that is precisely where world-class skier Bode Miller seems to fit in the game of life.
The most successful male American alpine ski racer of all time is unstoppable, whether on the hill or in the boardroom. He seems to charge into life rather than letting it occur naturally, preferring to oversee his destiny in his own way and according to his own time. And it’s working pretty darn well.
The 42-year-old Miller and his stunning wife Morgan recently celebrated the birth of their new son, just months after their 19-month-old daughter drowned in a neighbor’s pool. Yet even in the face of such tragedy and utter sadness, Miller pushes through to the light, working tirelessly to boost pool safety awareness, helping build a high-end skiwear line, promoting his line of Bomber skis and commentating on the side. Some people let life happen. Others choose how life takes shape around them. And as far as Bode Miller is concerned, every day is an adventure and a challenge that he strives to meet head-on with an enthusiasm both unique and refreshing.
A brief look at Miller’s professional ski career depicts a true winner: a six-time Olympic medalist, two-time World Cup Champion and one of the most accomplished athletes in the history of winter sports. He burst onto the international scene in 1996, as an 18-year-old racer who defied the odds and always challenged convention. He became known as a bad boy, eager to have fun and willing to risk a bad crash if it meant he could win the race. And win he did, racking up 33 big victories and becoming one of five men to win World Cup events in all five disciplines. Whether racing in Beaver Creek, Vancouver, Sochi or elsewhere in the world, Bode Miller has been one to watch, projecting a laissez-fare attitude that seems to mask a driven, focused man whose goal is to do it all.
Miller has long been recognized as a maverick, an individual who likes to do things his own way. Take for example his fascination with the ski boot, a staple that most racers view primarily as a necessary tool to attach foot to ski. Miller, however, infused a much deeper significance to the ski boot, experimenting with different mechanics and features and configuring a piece of footwear that was highly unconventional and technically unique. And that seems to sum up Miller, a guy who prefers to select bits and pieces of the best, melding them into something entirely unconventional yet unfailingly effective.
Colorado Traveler recently spoke with Miller, to learn a bit more about what makes him tick.
CT: You grew up in a home with no electricity or running water. How were you introduced to skiing in this environment?
Miller: I grew up in upstate New Hampshire, where the winters were long and cold and the summers were hot and rainy. I was raised off the grid with no electricity or running water, and I had a l lot of freedom. I was homeschooled until the third grade and my parents let me do pretty much as I pleased. I was involved in a lot of different sports and early on I gravitated to skiing because I was independent and this was a sport where I didn’t have to rely on anyone else. I could do this on my own and didn’t need a team or opponent like you would in soccer or tennis.
CT: How did your passion for skiing develop?
Miller: I was the type of kid who early on wanted to control my own destiny. I was an unusual little kid because when I was young I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone else when I was older. So I focused on where I wanted to be when I was 25, and what I wanted to be doing, which was skiing. I never wanted to have a traditional job and skiing was the way I would get there. Growing up in New Hampshire was a great platform for me. Everyone in my family were skiers so this was something I felt comfortable doing. My family didn’t have a lot of financial resources but that really didn’t matter. My mom would send me to the ski area by myself and the lift operators knew me and would get me up the hill.
CT: Compared to many of your teammates you lacked the formal coaching that took them to the competitive level. How did you compete?
Miller: I was fearless when it came to sheer grit and speed in those early years. I was pretty much selftaught, but that really is the nature of skiing. Coaches can help you but given the right set of circumstances you can make this happen. And living where I did, I had all the tools I needed. The slopes were steep and icyand they taught me a lot about risk management, perseverance and determination. When I became relevant in the big picture I didn’t have the technical skills that some others had, but that didn’t matter. I was 14 and the coaches were not at all impressed by my ability. They said I should quit. But I was a stubborn kid and that just fueled me to do better. By the end of high school I made the U.S. Ski Team but some of the coaches were not that thrilled with me. The feeling was, this guy is not like the others. He’s less technical, he doesn’t look like the others. But I still made the team because it was an automatic qualification if you came in the top two in the U.S. Nationals and were a winner in the Junior Worlds. So they couldn’t deny me a place.
CT: You have said skiing is really more of a young man’s sport. Are you referring to the toll it takes on the body?
Miller: It’s really more about the risk management, the naivete. As you get older you build up a lot of scar tissue, but in a more mental sense. If you crash, the recovery can be long and painful, especially as you get older. But as you get older, you get more skilled in your ability to take less risk, so it’s not the same level of competition. Look at it like this: in ski racing if you win five percent of your races, you’re considered one of the best. So, 95 percent of the time you are not winning, and you’re crashing. At some point you realize you don’t want to be crashing all the time and you may be okay finishing fourth or fifth.
CT: What made you decide to retire from racing?
Miller: I’m not the kind of person who makes decisions based on just one thing. I wanted to spend more time with my family and the demands of training were high. There were parts of the sport where I didn’t like the direction it was headed. I skied with a group of guys who had a high level of intensity and passion. Many skiers today are more technical and maybe even better and stronger, but they also seem to have less heart.
CT: You retired from skiing and became very involved with Aztech, a wonderful, high-end line of skiwear and cold-weather gear. How did your partnership happen with them?
Miller: My family and my kids are my pride and joy. And my partnership with Aztech is another source of pride and fulfillment. Many athletes have sponsors chosen for them and I was fortunate to have more choices in this area than most. A lot of potential sponsors were not a good match for my personality, but Aztech believes and wants to be the best. We’re growing quickly and we’re a small agile team. It’s fun and exciting to produce a product that makes a sport better. We want to be known as the world leader and the entire team is involved in everything, from design and marketing to sales and support. We all do all of it, which allows for new processes to be developed that keeps us on the cutting edge.
Now it’s exciting to focus on the international market, which is a big part of our growth. The Asian markets are massive, and they appreciate the high-end brand. Aztech is a great luxury brand, and it’s luxury in a different sense. The modern version of luxury is really impressive and awesome and the exclusivity of the Aztech brand is right on target. It’s the Richard Branson model, it’s about taking risks, being experience-driven. Think of the Thomas Crown Affair, where you’re putting yourself out there and you’re willing to spend money to have the very best.
CT: You are still CEO of your nonprofit, The Turtle Ridge Foundation. What is your focus here?
Miller: This has been a long road, but a very fulfilling one. When I started the foundation, I ran it on my own for four years with the goal of just trying to be effective. My friend had been in an accident and was in a wheelchair. This was in New Hampshire in an area with a bunch of small towns where everyone helps each other. We didn’t want to bring in the big corporate dollars that would overshadow what the local donors were contributing. We wanted to let everyone feel like they were making a difference. Now it’s 15 years later, my sister runs the events, and we’ve done some amazing things. There are so many feel-good stories, which is the purpose of the foundation.
CT: What else are you involved in?
Miller: I have 50 different balls in the air at any given time, and there are always 10 coming down. I don’t really have time to do everything, but I continue to get sucked in. I live my life much like the title of my book: Be Good, Go Fast, Have Fun. In other words, commit to doing this, be honest and truthful, and make every day count.