Shaking Up The Ski Industry
BY MIRA BRODY
Despite a career where seconds hold significant weight, Bode Miller has always honored the long game. With that in mind, an anecdotalist might say that Miller’s Peak Ski Company began on Comp Hill at Sugarloaf Mountain when he was 18 years old after he took his first turns on a pair of K2 Fours, an unridden shape ski he helped engineer. After completing the run, Miller—who on those same skis, would win the Junior Olympics in giant slalom by 2.3 seconds and super-G by 2.7 seconds—grinned at his coach.
“I thought, ‘I am gonna crush people with these skis,’” Miller said, recalling that run 27 years later. Back then, after bandsawing his snowboard in half to quell his craving for edge, the young alpine ski racer pushed for the development of the Fours in an era when shape skis, defined by their hourglass figure, were a foreign concept. The moment he felt the skis’ sidecut grab the course that day in western Maine, he knew it would be pivotal for the industry.
This innovation is an ethos that Miller, today the most successful U.S. Alpine male ski racer of all time, has brought to Peak alongside resort mogul and Peak CEO Andy Wirth. Bonded by their commitment issues with retirement and their deep knowledge and passion for the ski industry, the co-founders launched the Bozeman-based company in spring of 2021, promising a direct-to-consumer product that would “make skiing fun again.”
“It felt really natural to do something that advanced the sport, that maybe brought more people to it, that changed the way people experienced skiing,” Miller said. “The industry as a whole has been a bit stagnant in my opinion, so Peak was a tool, sort of a mechanism, to move the sport forward.”
Much like Miller has earned success taking podiums (79), collecting World Cup titles (six), World Championship titles (four) and Olympic medals (six) before retiring in 2017 to raise his children in Montana, Wirth too has culminated a storied 30 years in the resort industry and just as long volunteering for beloved causes.
He’s been on the leadership teams of Palisades Tahoe and Steamboat Resort; was a ranger for Rocky Mountain National Park and San Pedro Parks Wilderness Area; a Wildlands Hotshot crew member; a licensed skydiver (a hobby that nearly lost him his right arm and life in 2013); served on a number of nonprofit boards spanning work in conservation, sports clubs and tourism management; and today focuses on the active support of combat veterans.
The two met in 2010 around the time when Wirth, then-president and CEO at Palisades Tahoe, was vying for a Sierra Nevada-backdropped Olympics. As their friendship grew, so did their vision for Peak Skis. Wirth, a cowboy with a penchant for ranchmen’s metaphors, says his hope was to “take the halter and the bridle off” of Miller and establish a venue in which the athlete could craft the culmination of his career into a new legacy: a product that would allow everyone to enjoy their favorite mountain in the best possible way.
“It’s one thing to take this brilliance that he has and move it into the ski; it’s another to build a sustainable company around it, and that’s really where I think we complement each other,” Wirth said. “My background allows me to develop a credible business plan that enables what is in his mind in unfettered fashion that is purpose built.”
“It felt really natural to do something that advanced the sport, that maybe brought more people to it, that changed the way people experienced skiing. The industry as a whole has been a bit stagnant in my opinion, sort of a mechanism, to move the sport forward.” – Bode Miller
With these self-described “contrarians” at the helm, Peak has partnered with Slovenian ski manufacturer Elan and assembled an executive team of both great minds and athleticism, including big mountain skiers Michelle Parker and Chris Davenport. Additionally, Peak has adopted a Six Sigma-inspired prototyping methodology that allows its team to slowly eliminate imperfections in each ski model in the company’s quiver, a concept Marc Peruzzi, Peak’s VP of product and content development, is intimately familiar with.
“When you’re a magazine editor … and a contributing writer for so many years, you learn to self-edit and self-editing is everything,” Peruzzi said. “When you’re writing, you make your own drafts until it’s correct. You just have to have this undying attention to detail to find errors and that translates directly to prototyping and designing skis. It’s just like working on a draft of a longer story, you just keep revising it until it’s ready for the consumer.”
Peruzzi’s journalism career at University of Montana and with Outside, Ski and Mountain magazines was modestly preceded by a childhood spent waxing skis in his garage for neighbors and working in his mother’s ski shop in southern Massachusetts where he grew up. He stocked shelves with the fated K2 Fours and has since built a career around testing skis (around 200 over 20 years) and the precise elements that come with each turn on the mountain. Today you’ll find him in Peak’s Development and Innovation Center in Bozeman, translating this experience into the latest revisions toward perfection.
If dropping into Comp Hill on the world’s first shape ski in 1995 was a brick laid in Peak’s early foundation, another would be a run Miller took on a pair of Rossignol GS skis just a year after taking home gold in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. A factory worker had glued the damping plate under the skis, creating a “hole,” adding an inflection point at the tip. This allowed Miller to stay in a tuck and carve gently on flatter sections of the course, shaving seconds off his run—a lifetime for a ski racer.
Peak took this fluke and engineered it into a focal concept made ready for the consumer market called KeyHole Technology. While the level of precision KeyHole provides translates to more wins for competing athletes and fewer injuries, for the recreational skier, explains Miller, it means a little bit more fun.
“A funny thing is that most people think of Bode Miller as this extreme downhill athlete, and he was, but he actually skied on skis that were really easy to ski on,” Peruzzi said. “That was his entire mission was to produce skis that were forgiving and let him be an athlete as opposed to riding a ski. And everything that applies to a World Cup ski racer can kind of be tweaked for your everyday consumer.”
In 2009, Miller quit the U.S. Ski Team, passing along his Rossignols to fellow World Cup and Olympic racer Lindsey Vonn. Although an uninspiring part of his own career, he recalls how exciting it was to watch Vonn have fun—and excel—on his old skis.
“It just kind of reminded me it’s just fun,” Miller said. “It’s rewarding even if it’s not known when you’re doing it and it’s fun to watch people do things they didn’t think they could do.”
Surrounded by the serrated horizon of several mountain ranges, Peak’s showroom is in the Four Corners area west of Bozeman in the corridor between Bozeman and Big Sky. Inside, behind the displays of skis and other Peak-branded products, there’s a mural of a stark, snowy peak with a bolt of lightning piercing the sky, somewhat of a symbolic anomaly, Wirth explained, representing the rarity of Miller’s talent as a ski racer.
“Grit is that somewhat amorphous, enigmatic trait that drives us … into the headwinds in the business environment and has us not yielding,” Wirth said. “If you look at Bode’s career, there’s quite a bit of that expressed in so many forms.”
There’s something else deliberately unique about the existence of the showroom itself. Peak is a direct-to-consumer company, another against-the-grain decision by a team devoted to shaking things up. Miller says most ski brands are “stuck,” bound to narrow margins, inventory needs and graphic trends instead of innovation. By communicating directly with its manufacturer and its customers, Peak is able to react nimbly to feedback.
In Peak’s offices adjacent to the showroom, you’ll also find the brains behind the operation. Wirth is often running from one meeting to the next, shaking hands and chatting about his partnership projects with local nonprofits, his children or his next big idea, spurs still chiming on his mud-specked cowboy boots from a morning ride on his horse, Alto Cinco. On the wall across from his desk hangs a tapestry that reads: “We are not here to do what has already been done.”
Miller appears most comfortable with a ski or two in his hands, eyes running over its edges with the vision of both an artist and engineer. In vivid memory, he recounts his 8-year-old self planted in front of the TV watching a VHS recording of his heroes, Steve and Phil Mahre, and Bill Johnson. He wondered how they got to ski so well. They were doing what they loved, his grandmother reminded him, and had worked that passion into a career despite having no promise that it might turn into one.
“The reality is that they had to go through a long period where no one knew if they were going to be good enough,” Miller said. “Ultimately they stayed with it and they were able to discover a gift.”
From snowmobiling and hitchhiking his way to Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine’s sub-zero winter temperatures, to standing on podiums, and today engineering the next great leap in the ski industry, Miller spent decades pursuing his own gift, all built around a drive to do better—and a love for skiing.
Mira Brody is content marketing strategist at Outlaw Partners and the producer of Mountain Outlaw.