Bode Miller is still pushing limits after a lifetime of ski racing.
Last fall while high in the Chilean Andes, a trio of women in skintight cat suits wanted Bode Miller. They skied after him fast and with focus, having popped out from behind a rocky bluff a few hundred vertical feet above where he’d paused briefly to take in the view. A ski chase worthy of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service ensued — the women were fast but Miller was faster.
America’s most decorated competitive skier arced long graceful turns through the thickening powder, tucked on the groomers, and homed in on a helicopter waiting to whisk him away.
It was all in good fun. The women, one Swiss and two Americans, were actually Portillo ski pros, the classically retro antipodal playground for Olympians and hard-bitten lifers alike. They’d been hired to act as James Bond-style villains decked out in Bogner, Goldbergh, SOS, and Kask for a promotional clip featuring Miller. The real stars of the show, however, were the Bomber skis that the entire cast had clicked into.
You may have heard of Bomber before, but big changes are afoot this season and they’re largely thanks to Miller. Bomber Skis, a newcomer in the ski industry, came on the scene a few years ago and was already well-known for making some of the best and fastest racing skis when they approached New York real estate mogul Robert Siegel to invest in the three-year-old company. He and his business partner bought it in 2013. The plan now is to transform the Bomber brand into a luxury label worthy of Gorsuch, the chic ski boutiques in which these $4,000-plus skis will appear this winter.
But unlike so many luxury brands where consumers pay handsomely for the prestige of a name, Bomber’s new line of skis are designed by Miller himself and built by people he has chosen. It also means that now, on the cusp of retiring from World Cup racing, a ledge that many skiers have struggled to ease from gracefully, Miller is free to do what he’s always wanted to do: dump the sum total of everything he’s ever learned about the sport into crafting the perfect every-skier’s ski.
After shooting his Bond-worthy chase scenes in the Andes with a trio of beautiful women, the 38-year-old Miller — long considered a maverick both in and out of the gates — casually took a seat in the sun-yellow Hotel Portillo to explain his plans and theories.
[bs_label type=”default”] “We have to break the mold a little bit in terms of what the ski industry has been doing,” he says about Bomber. “A lot of people want really wide skis underfoot and the industry has helped solidify that. I see people on those skis at ski areas and I think, man, that would be miserable. It’s not their fault, but people are buying into the wrong stuff.”[/bs_label]
In short, Miller says the popularity of fat skis has done little to improve skiers’ skills. Wide tips are often too soft to maintain their shape when flexed in all but the softest, deepest snow. That mushiness means you sink as the ski flexes and a small wall of snow builds up in front of the tip. Inertia then carries your weight forward. The skis eventually plane and spring back into shape, which pitches you into the backseat. The result is an unpredictable ride. “It’s better to have a narrower ski with an even flex that gets you on top faster,” he says. “As you gain speed you still have that feeling of flying through the snow.”
From very early in his ski racing career, Miller’s had plenty of ideas regarding how to make skis perform under pressure; he’s also spent much of his life pushing skis to their limits. At six years old he’d walk five miles alone from his primitive home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire — no electricity, no plumbing — to ski the steep, edgy slopes of Cannon Mountain. He was caught in an avalanche at age 12 on Tuckerman Ravine. In high school, while sponsored by K2, Miller lobbied adamantly for the company to make skis in parabolic shapes that were similar to snowboards. “People said it wouldn’t work,” Miller says now. “They said that they’d tried it in the ‘70s and that it only worked on snowboards because you had two feet to flex the board.”
To prove them wrong Miller strapped just one foot onto a snowboard, cast off down a hill, and still managed to make the board carve. K2’s ski designers took notice. In 1995, the manufacturer launched a ski called the K2 Four with dimensions of a shaped ski; Miller rode them to three gold medals and one silver in the 1996 Junior National Championships. After that, K2 fans wanted shaped skis. The K2 Four was an instant hit, so much so that it sold-out shortly after its mid-season release.
With his World Cup career now at its end, and with more time to enjoy high-alpine escapes like Portillo, Miller takes his mornings more slowly: relaxing over breakfast, sipping coffee from a spoon, drinking protein shakes concocted by his trainer. He is 6-foot-2, built like an armoire, and remarkably handsome, with Daniel Craig eyes and just enough stubble to merit appearing in a cologne commercial.
But mornings are the only thing Bode Miller takes at leisure. As you might expect from a winner of six Olympic medals and 33 World Cup golds, Miller’s drive is relentless. His thoughts and conversation race through ways to make things faster or more efficient. He can expound on everything from the physical properties of composite materials, to the geology of the Andes, to the most memorable moments in his favorite book, Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. “I’m going to live to be 100 too,” says Miller.
Which brings us to the mystical side to Bode Miller. He says he is willing to believe in that which he cannot explain, especially when it comes to the power of the mind and the unseen forces it exerts over the physical world. He’s seen a healer make a ping pong ball levitate. That same healer made Miller’s own skin grow hot without touching it. As a ski racer, Miller says he hit 100 miles per hour on downhill courses by letting his mind go completely still.
[bs_label type=”default”]”Bomber’s new line of skis are designed by Miller himself and built by people he has chosen.”[/bs_label]
Then there are Miller’s other interests: namely his work with thoroughbred race horses, where he applies what he’s learned about endurance and strength to help them increase their speed and efficiency. It’s that sort of drive that led Robert Siegel, once a dedicated ski racer himself, to approach Miller about joining Bomber. “Bode Miller wakes up every morning and says to himself, how can I be better today?” Siegel says. “That’s the same for me in business.”
At Bomber, Siegel and Miller are focused on making skis that compete on quality, not price. Bomber skis aren’t custom built, but they are handmade in a factory in Italy — one staffed by experts who’ve worked with Miller in the past. The Olympian is confident these professionals have the skills and knowledge to build groundbreaking skis. He’s also confident in Siegel’s skills in the business of luxury goods — something with which Miller admits he’s unfamiliar. The fact that a company like Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot, for example, could grow into a $200 million business boggles Miller’s mind. “That’s a foreign concept to me,” he says. “That’s where Robert comes in. He understands both sides.”
Back on the sleek, treeless slopes of Portillo, it was evident Bode Miller is adept at playing both sides of his job, too. He says he hates acting, yet during the Bomber shoot there was little doubt he’s skilled at performing for the cameras.
It was also obvious that the man Sports Illustrated counts among the most gifted ski racers in history hasn’t lost his edge in retirement. After filming the chase scene, as Miller and the Bond women slid to a stop and caught their breath, Bode offered advice that seemed to apply to a far greater mission than the promotional film for Bomber: “Whatever level you’re comfortable at,” he said, “be at the edge of it.” – Written by Tim Neville featured in SNOW winter issue 2016.