Olympian Bode Miller Carves a New Turn as Ski Designer
By Brian E. Clark
In his nearly two decades on the U.S. Ski Team, where he bagged more than 30 World Cup victories and six Winter Olympics medals, Bode Miller had plenty of ideas about how to improve the skis on which he was racing.
But those suggestions often fell on deaf ears and he was frustrated that ski brands would rarely implement his ski design ideas.
Now, though, Miller has joined Seattle-based Crosson Ski (crossonski.com) with the title of Chief Innovation Officer, which means he is in charge of design for the first time.
That’s a huge opportunity for the 43-year-old Miller, who said his goal is to create an exciting line of skis that motivates skiers to improve and express themselves on the slopes. He joins founder Chase Englehart, a lifelong skier with a background in aerospace engineering.
“I was exposed to some of the best engineers on the planet for 20 years,” explained Miller, who said he’s elated to be working with the most advanced materials and ski building equipment at Crosson. “But even those engineers are isolated in a bubble. Because I switched from company to company, I was exposed to the best technologies of a lot of ski makers.”
“I had my own ideas and experimented with some (during my career), so I have a really unique knowledge,” added Miller, who skied on K2, Fischer, Rossignol, Atomic,and Head skis during his World Cup days.
Miller now lives in Big Sky, Montana, where he and his wife, former pro volleyball player Morgan Beck, are raising five boys. The two oldest are skiing, while the youngest – identical twins – are in the toddler stage at 14 months. The family relocated to Montana from their home in Southern California in the midst of the pandemic.
“Getting out of Orange County in the midst of COVID was a great move,” he said. “Once we got here, we began to explore school options and my wife said ‘Why don’t we just stay?’ With a house full of youngsters, it’s great for them to be able to explore nature right out the back door.
“Even though I got in around 25 days a year on the slopes, I missed being able to ski as much as I wanted. But the best part of living here is being in the mountains, in a community with a small-town feel. Where we lived in Southern California was great, but it didn’t have that. And it doesn’t hurt that I’m now skiing five days a week.”
Miller said he did not move his brood to the Treasure State so they could emulate their father and become racers.
“I want them to enjoy the sport, but not necessarily compete,” he said. “It was more convenient for me in some ways to live down there. But now that we are here, I don’t presume to have any control over what they decide to do. But the ones who are skiing are getting into it.”
Miller, who has been carving turns on the snow for nearly four decades, said he still gets a rush when he’s swooshing down a slope or floating through deep powder.
“When I get on a kickass pair of skis it’s exciting, motivating, and pushes me to test my limits in new ways,” he said. “I’ve wanted to build skis that give the average skier the chance to experience that same thrill. At Crosson, we leverage science, art, and craft to make great skis. We combine modern materials in new and creative ways to make our skis perform better for all abilities.”
Miller said it may surprise most people that he never considered himself hyper-competitive.
“But I did like the challenge of racing,” mused Miller, who grew up in New Hampshire in a house that lacked plumbing and electricity, was home-schooled through the third grade, and later won a scholarship to the Carrabassett Valley Academy, a ski racing academy in Maine.
“I just really like being outside. I learned early on that I didn’t like regular work, manual labor or any kind of 9-5 type stuff. I could be a great golf caddie because I like walking around outside. But I don’t really care about hitting the ball.
“When I ski now, I don’t care that much about going fast and I don’t take risks. I just like cruising around, so it’s not a whole lot different than when I was 7 years old and I skied every day that I could.”
Miller did, however, take risks when he was a World Cup competitor, which landed him on the top of the podium more than any other male American ski racer. He was sometimes described as reckless.
“But those were calculated risks based on what I was trying to do on the racecourse. I’m analytical and never deluded myself that I was good enough to win at that level without taking more chances than other guys.
“It was a necessity based on my skill level, my ability, and my technique. I was looking at things pretty objectively. If I’m worse than 40 guys out there technique-wise and worse than 50 guys in terms of fitness and natural ability, I calculated what I had to do to win the race. It was pretty clear to me.”
At this point in his career, Miller said he spends his time pondering how to make things better for the next generation of skiers.
“I ask myself what enhances people’s ability to enjoy skiing and improve,” he said. “I tried to advance skis over my career. But in some cases, the technology just wasn’t there. I spent a lot of time and energy on it, but just wasn’t able to accomplish much.
“Things have come a long way since then. With Crosson, I’m able to plug in and add a lot of value. I have a lot of ideas that I wasn’t able to pursue during my career because they didn’t fit so much in the racing space. They were more for freeskiing and now I can work on them.”
New this year for the company are two lines of skis, the Cloud and Dissenter series, The Cloud is a cumulation of Engleheart’s experimentation with carbon, lively and playful, designed with input from former Sun Valley pro skier Banks Gilberti and Olympic freeskier Bobby Brown, while the Dissenter stems from Miller’s expertise on the racecourse.
Miller said one of his favorites is the Dissenter 118, which surprised him.
“I built it to be a powder ski so we’d have something that was really great in deep powder,” he said. “But it ended up being exceptional on groomers as well. It’s always great when you are putting together something that has infinite variables.
“You make your choices and it turns out exceptionally well. That one has been exciting for me to ski on this year. To be able to push a ski that is designed for powder by tipping it up on edge on the groomers with my hip on the ground and be able to ski it to my ability level is really cool.”
Miller said he believes skiing is “primarily about your confidence and willingness to commit to a movement pattern.
“If you are just following your skis, you are kind of limited. You have to know the ski and trust it to consistently do the right stuff. If it feels erratic, you’re going to be conservative and fearful. That’s not the way I want to see people ski.
“I felt it was really important to take some of the knowledge that I had from working on racing skis – which ultimately must be the most trustworthy skis because we are going so fast and putting ourselves in sketchy situations.”
Miller said it’s his goal to bring some of that technology to the consumer market to make skis more fun and expressive for recreational skiers.
“I want them to have that feeling that the ski is always there for them and does the right thing all the time,” he said. “That allows you to build your confidence and ultimately experiment and try new things where the ski is almost tempting you and drawing you in.”
Miller said he believes major ski companies are reluctant to innovate because it’s expensive.
“So they stick with what works instead of trying new things,” he said. “Skis are all pretty much made of the same stuff, it’s just how you put it together.
“But there are a lot of subtleties that have to do with the way the sidecut is shaped and early rise and the tip shape and the flex pattern. If you miss one by a little bit, you can design a ski that could be the best in the world and still make it really unskiable. It takes a lot of knowledge of the concepts behind what each thing does because if you move one, you have to move two or three other things as well.
“It’s why most innovation is pretty slow in skiing and the industry is pretty stagnant. It takes a long time to experiment and it takes a lot of money and there are ultimately the infinite variables.”
Miller said he considers himself lucky that he’s now in a place where he can experiment.
“Now, by matching all the different components well, you end up being able to do something that others can’t do,” he said. “And copying that is really difficult. Even if competitors had my skis, it’s hard to copy because there are tiny little nuances that they might miss.”
Miller compares Crosson skis to the Bentley cars.
“When you get in, everything works because that is an attention to detail, and you can feel the craftsmanship,” he said. “Our skis are handmade and there is an incredible investment of time and energy to them, so they’ll just do what they are supposed to do.”
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.