When Andy met Bridger: Aspen Hall of Fame inductee shares insights with Gile

Madeleine Osberger
Special to The Aspen Times
John Denver, Elizabeth Paepcke, Hildur Anderson, and Andy Mill at the re-opening of the Hotel Jerome in January, 1986.
Aspen Historical Society, Aspen Times Collection
Hall of Fame

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It was during his final season on the FIS Alpine World Cup that American downhiller Andy Mill said he “finally figured it out.”

After spending a decade learning the nuances of legacy European race venues, experimenting with different equipment combinations in the rapidly advancing sport and honing his technique under myriad coaches, Mill at long last had it dialed in.

Though some bad crashes and bad luck conspired to keep 1980-81, his 10th year as an elite racer, from being Mill’s season of dreams, what he took away from those experiences proved more valuable than a gold medal.

According to the 68-year-old Mill, one of a trio of Aspenites who will be inducted early next year into the 2022 Aspen Hall of Fame, the culmination of events that came together late in his ski racing career provided a trail map for his future success as a broadcaster, television host and premier tarpon fishermen.

It was a formula Mill has been generous in sharing with other burgeoning Aspen athletes, including Bridger Gile, a 22-year-old member of the U.S. Ski Team. The two men met this fall for the first time.

Andy Mill will be inducted into the 2022 Aspen Hall of Fame class along with two other locals with longstanding ties to the community: theatre impresario Rita Hunter and EcoFlight founder and director Bruce Gordon. All three will be inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame Feb. 26 during a banquet at the Hotel Jerome.

‘Make every second count’

Aspen native Bridger Gile was a skiing prodigy whose earliest claim to fame was hiking and skiing Highland Bowl at age 4, becoming the youngest person at the time to complete that feat. That was followed by a featured appearance in the 2006 Warren Miller film “Higher Ground” which led to more media attention. After building a technical foundation through Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, Gile in middle school moved to Vail to attend their Ski and Snowboard Academy, finding the charter school’s scheduling flexibility and the pace provided by his classmates a benefit to his racing aspirations.

In 2019-20, Gile won the overall NorAm Cup, as well as the giant slalom and Alpine combined titles, which earned him the right to start in World Cup races last season. With it came his elevation to the national squad’s B team.

Gile is off to a fast start in 2021-22, having finished sixth and seventh in the opening giant slalom NorAm Cup events at Copper Mountain last weekend.

“With getting a couple good runs under my belt in Copper, I’m excited to go to Europe and try to put two of them together. And I feel like the skiing is there to do it,” Gile said Tuesday.

Andy Mill and Bridger Gile.
Courtesy photo

Andy Mill had sought through mutual friends a way to connect to fellow Aspenite Gile while allowing, “I didn’t want to be pushy.”

Despite his sixth-place finish in the 1976 Olympic downhill (behind winner Franz Klammer’s breathtaking win), and a broadcasting career that took him across the globe, Mill wasn’t exactly a household name to Gile. But when schedules this fall brought both men home to the old mining town, they convened over a casual lunch at the Aspen Golf Course.

“Ya, haha, I didn’t really know who I was looking for” when the Red Mountain Grille meeting was arranged, Gile said this week. “I knew how he did at the Olympics….but I didn’t really know who I was looking for,” he continued.

Mill quickly made Gile, who can be reserved, feel comfortable. Within minutes, Mill, who divides his time between Aspen and Florida, was sharing valuable life lessons and personal insights.

“His big thing was to make every second count,” Gile recalled.

Mill explained his three-point plan to success that included consideration of “a lot of small things that need to be polished.” He emphasized to the younger skier, “you gotta be in great shape. Much better shape than everybody else” and that you should feel as fresh at the bottom of the racecourse as when blasting out of the start gate.

“You’ve got to face the music. Get in the training room. Assess your heart,” Mill shared.

His second point focused on technique and the refinement of one’s skill sets. Third and perhaps most critical to success is having a desire for victory that encompasses all else.

“You have got to win more than anybody else,” Mill shared. “My message to Bridger was, you have to understand the difference between going fast and winning.”

Gile said he took away plenty from the October meeting that teed up before the opening races of the FIS World Cup in Soelden, Austria: “It was pretty sweet. He basically told me what he learned on the World Cup including what he figured out in his last year” of competition. One bit of advice was not getting distracted by the party scene.

“Andy said he realized he didn’t have all the time in the world,” Gile shared. “The biggest thing he said was, ‘make sure you send it. Leave everything out on the hill.’ “

There’s no doubt that Mill left everything on the hill during his final year on the World Cup. Mill said he approached the season with gratitude and a renewed work ethic spawned by a new head coach and a downhill victory where he won by a large margin.

Hometown favorite Andy Mill after competing in the downhill race in March 1976. Aspen Historical Society, Cassatt Collection

Second chances

Early in the 1980-81 season, Mill laid down one of the best runs of his life during a race in Val Gardena, Italy, narrowly missing the podium but still satisfied with his fourth-place finish. The following week, Mill showed his newfound confidence during training runs in St. Moritz, Switzerland, though a hard landing would sideline him for several weeks while he recovered from a tweaked knee.

Upon his return to the World Cup in early 1981, Mill attempted to pick up where he left off in Italy. Unfortunately, an ill-timed jump during the famed Lauberhorn race sent Mill soaring off course and into the hay bales. Among his career-ending injuries were a broken neck and back.

But Mill’s life is rife with second chances. He was able to parlay his racing acclaim into a broadcasting career, which then segued into the cable television program “Ski with Andy Mill.” Later, his passion for fly fishing led him to hosting duties for “Sportsman’s Journal with Andy Mill.”

“Life is short. We get one chance,” Mill said this week. “I got lucky and got a second chance at saltwater fly fishing. I knew immediately I had a chance to do something cool, something great at a high level.”

Tarpon fishing and bowhunting for elk remain two of Mill’s overriding passions that he shares with his middle son, Nicky, one of three grown children with former spouse Chris Evert.

Nicky and Andy collaborate on a podcast appropriately called “Mill House.” It’s touted as “more than a fishing podcast. Composed of in-depth conversations with innovators, legends and pioneers of the outdoors, we expose untold and compelling stories from industry leaders.”

Despite his acclaim, Mill said he was surprised and humbled by his selection into the 2022 Aspen Hall of Fame.

“You can never forecast anything like that. That it is voted on by your peers is so much more substantial than anything. This is a valley that is my home,” Mill said.

Madeleine Osberger is a board member of the Aspen Hall of Fame.