Alpine Olympian Bode Miller announces nonprofit ski academy at Granby Ranch
Granby Ranch will be the future home of an innovative ski academy dreamt up by the most decorated male Alpine skier in the country.
Announced Friday, the Bode Miller Ski Academy is a vision of the Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion in partnership with his friend and business partner Andy Wirth, who’s part of the management team at Granby Ranch.
While their vision started in Montana — where there will hopefully one day also be a Bode Miller Ski Academy — the Granby Ranch location is quickly moving from an idea to a reality. Both Miller and Wirth saw the values of a ski academy prioritizing academics and athletic development, including for those that may not be able to afford it.
Miller attended the Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine with the assistance of a scholarship and the community, going on to become the most successful male American Alpine ski racer of all time. Wirth’s son and the general manager of Granby Ranch, Jace Wirth, attended Lowell Whiteman School, now the Steamboat Mountain School, on scholarship to excel both academically and competitively in Alpine skiing.
“I look back, as did (Miller), and said, ‘Man, We’re so grateful for the people in that circumstance that brought that about for us,'” Wirth said. “We didn’t look for it. We didn’t suggest we were needing support. It just came to us and it meant that much more.”
There are two principles at the core of the Bode Miller Ski Academy: the best academics and athletic programs paired with providing the same type of opportunities for young athletes from all backgrounds.
“With clear intent, we’ve built into the business plan the ability to — no matter how many kids are in the academy — there will always be scholarships in the neighborhood of 25% of the student body,” Wirth said.
This ski academy will also be at the forefront of athletic development. Miller explained that while his time at Carrabassett was invaluable, he felt the model of most traditional ski academies aren’t flexible enough to evolve with the ever-changing landscape of competitive skiing.
“I just kind of felt like they were missing some evolutionary steps,” he said. “I think of school or any kind of situation like that needing to be at least flexible enough to evolve, to utilize modern technologies, to sort of incorporate modern concepts.”
The nonprofit academy will focus on four disciplines, including Alpine, Nordic, freestyle and adaptive skiing. Along with working with the National Sports Center for the Disabled down the road, Wirth has already brought on friends Roy Tuscany, an adaptive skier and founder of the High Fives Foundation, and Alana Nichols, a decorated winter and summer Paralympian, as strategic consultants for the adaptive side of the ski school.
“They’ll have a great education and the best resources in North America brought forth to support their goals,” Wirth said.
While Miller, who lives in Montana, won’t always be at the ski academy, he is overseeing every part of it from the building to the instruction, design and hiring processes. He said he’s most excited about implementing the training methodology.
A self-described “late bloomer,” Miller was small and weak when he started training for competitive skiing. He said the programs at his school didn’t benefit him in the way it should have.
“We have a bunch of base training methodologies that kids like me will benefit from enormously,” he said. “I was an athlete my whole life, and it’s kind of exciting for people to watch people evolve in that aspect. Just to get stronger and to change physiologically and prevent injury and that type of stuff. I’m probably the most excited for that because it’s ultimately a defining characteristic.”
Miller and Wirth plan to house the world-class academy in the best facilities. Wirth said the owners of Granby Ranch were quick to support the ski academy, offering the nonprofit a free long-term lease on a parcel of land immediately west of the Granby Ranch Base Lodge.
The ski resort’s west mountain will be the main training area, where the resort has already invested millions of dollars into snowmaking. Wirth said even more investment is on the way for the west mountain.
“Now it’s a great venue, but by the time we get done with these additional investments it’ll be a phenomenal venue,” he said.
Miller believes strongly that small mountains can produce incredible athletes, naming off a list of decorated skiers who started at smaller resorts like Granby Ranch, including himself.
“I think what you really need is a conducive environment, a really supportive environment and the ability to get a bunch of volume,” he said. “I think Granby Ranch has all those things. It’s a supportive crew there. They understand and they’re aligned in terms of doing this for young people and trying to set up something that is sustainable and creates a great educational/sports development opportunity for kids.”
The 56,000 square foot building is being designed by Don Ruggles, CEO of the award-winning Ruggles Mabe Studio in Denver and author of “Beauty, Neuroscience & Architecture.” Ruggles said he was quick to be a part of Miller and Wirth’s project.
“We were immediately captivated by their vision, their inspiration, their energy,” Ruggles said. “It was impressive. We knew pretty quickly that we wanted to be part of this.”
Ruggles’ work combines architecture and neuroscience to promote happiness and relaxation in a building’s user.
The ski academy, which sits on the steep hill next to Base Camp, has been designed as two buildings with an alley in between. Ruggles’ design aims to be a barrier free, ski-in and ski-out design for skiers of all abilities right on the side of the mountain.
“There’s an old phrase in architecture, which is ‘Difficult sites generate dynamic solutions,'” Ruggles said of the unique location. “All of that contouring, all the slope of the land that happens going uphill, we tried to use to our benefit creating different terraces and different levels that lace together.”
Wirth believes the building will become an iconic one in Grand County. The building will also serve as a community accessible facility with a multi-functional space for events like indoor concerts.
The initial model for the Bode Miller Ski Academy envisions 125 boarding students, plus roughly 40 to 50 non-boarding or day students. The school will be tuition based with extensive scholarships with academics through a partnership with Youth Performance Academy.
With Friday’s announcement, Wirth said a number of various partnerships are in the works and the capital campaign for the school begins. With an estimated $25 million needed for the project, the timeline to the grand opening of the academy is roughly three to five years.
Miller, a father of several children, said his overall goal of this project is to provide kids the opportunity to get a great education while pursuing their passions.
“The educational system in the U.S., for me, is in a need of an upgrade,” he said. “Just to prepare people, whether they’re going to be athletes or just people, we need something better. I think all the resources are there; it just hasn’t been done. My overall goal is that we kind of raise the bar a little bit.”