Toby Miller got his first snowboard when he was just six years old. In the two years that followed, he took so well to the sport that his parents packed their bags and moved from Southern California to the mountains of Lake Tahoe so he could snowboard all winter. A move that, at the time, likely left many of his classmates (and their parents) scratching their head.
Fast forward five years later and Miller not only proved to his peers the move upstate was warranted, but he started getting the attention of the entire snowboarding industry. At 13, Miller competed at the United States Snowboard Association’s National Championships, nabbing first place in the halfpipe competition. Over the next five years, the rising star picked up a slew of big-name sponsors from brands like Burton, Billabong, Capita, and Bonfire, to name a few.
The award wins kept flowing in, as well. Be it the FIS Junior World Championships or the Revolution tour, Miller consistently found himself gracing the halfpipe podium. It should come as no surprise then that today, many dub the young snowboarder (and Red Bull athlete) “the next Shaun White.” Given the fact that he’s spent the past two years traveling the world with the snowboarding icon, the comparison is spot-on — and despite a 14-year age gap, Miller considers White and him to be “best friends.”
Digital Trends caught up with Miller after his runs at the Burton US Open in Vail — viewable via Red Bull TV — to talk about what snowboarding gear he uses, where he thinks the industry is headed, and what it feels like to be best friends with a snowboarding legend.
Digital Trends: As a professional athlete, what relationship does your gear play to your performance when competing?
Toby Miller: It’s one of the biggest components when it comes to being a competitive snowboarder. As athletes we need the highest functioning gear — we aren’t going to be riding the boards they’re renting out at rental shops. We have to have the highest level boards our companies make to allow us to do the crazy maneuvers we have to do. Simply put, the most important part of being a snowboarder is definitely your snowboard.
“One of the biggest components, when it comes to being a competitive snowboarder, [is our snowboard]. As athletes we need the highest functioning gear.”
Which technical qualities are most important to you in a snowboard?
In terms of must-haves, when I compete in the halfpipe, I ride a camber snowboard and I like it to be stiff. When you’re going through the flat bottom and you have to go through that transition, you don’t feel the bumps as much. You just power through them and you don’t really feel the little things you might feel if your board was flexible. If I’m going out just to ride the powder or the park, sometimes it’s fun to have a softer board. It could even be a reverse camber because they’re fun to play around on.
If you were to wave a magic wand and design your perfect snowboard, what would it look like?
It would be a camber board, my size, and stiff enough to do what we have to do in the half-pipe. It would have the highest quality base out there so it could go fast in any type of condition the weather has to throw at you. And I definitely want it to be lighter, just so you can do these tricks that we have to do without it getting in the way.
How have you seen technology change since you started snowboarding?
Snowboards have gone from a traditional snowboard shape to the whole powder board where it looks almost like a surfboard. But the biggest change I’ve noticed in the industry is probably helmets and goggles. They’re really working on technology to keep athletes safe. When it comes to goggles, these companies are investing in better lenses so when it’s sunny out, they have the best lens possible for the sun or flat light lenses for the contrast in snow. A lot of companies are using Zeiss, which was a company originally making camera lenses, so they can have the highest quality out there.
Have you tried the electro-chromic ones with the push button?
I haven’t but they sound amazing. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed, though. Goggle companies and manufacturers have just basically been trying to beat each other out for the best goggle. I mean, look at Oakley. They put a camera in one of their goggles just to see what it’d be like.
And honestly, one of the craziest changes from when snowboarding started to where it is today is boots. If you look back, guys were wearing Sorels — they didn’t even have snowboarding boots. Companies were coming out with new technologies for how to tie your boots or put clamps on your boots so you don’t need binding straps.
Just seeing people sitting on the chairlift with their board connected directly to their boot — it’s pretty crazy to see that happening. For the person who just wants to go ride the mountain or go ride powder, I imagine that’s pretty amazing.
Do you see it sticking? What have you heard people in your world saying about step-ins making a comeback?
On the competitive side, I don’t know if it’s going to play a huge role because it kind of adds one more risk for us if we throw a trick. What if our foot rips out of our binding? We’d have to adapt to that technology on our side of the sport. But if you’re just going out to ride some powder or ride the mountain, I could definitely see it taking off and can see more companies come out with technology similar to that.
Ten years from now, what do you think snowboards are going to look like? What technology are we going to see that we don’t have now?
Honestly, in 10 years I don’t think you’ll see much difference just by looking at them. I think it’s going to be more what goes into them. You’re going to notice companies using higher quality materials to make them quicker, or break less, or move faster, or lighter.
It all comes down to playing to the consumer. Companies will start creating a snowboard where if you want to compete in slopestyle, here’s your board. Or compete in halfpipe, here’s your board. Breaking down what the athletes want and creating something to sell to the consumer.
It’s our understanding that you used to ride in Shaun White’s private halfpipe?
Yeah, I’ve been riding with Shaun since I was about 12 or 13 years old.
How did you guys meet? And how is he as a mentor?
I was training in Tahoe for the ’14 Olympics and I got invited to come ride with him. I was super young but I went over and rode with him a couple times and we slowly built a relationship. The next year, he invited me to come to Australia and ride a private halfpipe GoPro built for him. So, I went and our relationship just kept getting stronger and stronger. These last two years we basically traveled around the world together and became best friends.
He’s been the best mentor you could ask for, too. He’s the greatest halfpipe rider of all time so being able to ride with him and observe how he trains — it’s amazing. You really see his passion for the sport and why he’s been so successful.
People have compared you to him, calling you “the next Shaun White.” I imagine he must see a bit of himself in you. Do you think it’s nostalgic for him to see you coming up and passing the torch, in a way?
Oh, I hope so. I mean, I love riding with him. It would mean the world to me to follow in those footsteps.