Ski racing icon Bode Miller and the operators of Granby Ranch are teaming up to build a ski academy at the Grand County ski area.
The first-ever Bode Miller Ski Academy, announced Friday, will occupy a planned campus at the base village of the resort, which was acquired earlier this year by St. Louis investors David and Bob Glarner.
Miller on Friday joined the resort’s operators, veteran resort executive Andy Wirth and his son Jace, in announcing plans for his academy.
Look at ski racing’s luminaries, Miller said in an interview with The Sun. Like Lindsey Vonn, Kristina Koznick, Mikaela Shiffrin, Terry and Tyler Palmer.
“And me. We come from these tiny little out of the way ski hills that nobody ever heard of and we went on to beat the world,” he said. “You can develop incredible ski skills and a love for the outdoors on a little bump in Minnesota or anywhere.”
Miller said he started dreaming of starting his own ski academy while he was a teenager attending Carrabassett Valley Academy at the base of Maine’s Sugarloaf ski area.
He’s not critical of New England’s storied ski academies, it’s just that “they have not adapted to new technology in education,” he said.
Miller’s plan is to partner with the 20-year-old Institute for Civil Leadership, or ICL, which was created by the Spahn family who founded the renowned private Dwight School in New York City. The ICL Academy has developed an online curriculum with dozens of remote teachers that cater to students pursuing passions in athletics, music and art. Last year Miller partnered with ICL to launch an online academy.
“We are just applying the evolution of education,” said Miller, who retired from racing in 2017 after two World Cup overall wins and six Olympic medals, more than any other American male skier. “The purpose is to have kids master content and understand the requisite things and understand how to learn and acquire new skills. I want to put something in place that will change our entire education system for sports. Not just for skiing but for musicians, artists, actors … I want to create empowered self-managed little humans.”
The ICL learning system deploys teachers in remote hubs. That means fewer teachers on campus, so more revenue can be directed into athletic programs, coaching staff and scholarships, Miller said. Miller and Andy Wirth are big on scholarships. Miller had a swell of community support to help pay his tuition at Carrabassett. Jace Wirth, who manages Granby Ranch ski area, had a scholarship to attend Lowell Whiteman School outside Steamboat Springs.
“I will be more excited than anybody to welcome the first 10 kids from Middle Park, Colorado into the Bode Miller Ski Academy,” Wirth said.
Miller and Wirth hope to have 20% of the students at the 125-student academy attending with reduced or free tuition. It’s all part of Miller’s overarching plan to open skiing to more young athletes. He recently joined Alpine-X, a company vying to develop year-round snowsports resorts, starting with a $225 million indoor ski hill and resort in northern Virginia.
“The fact that the U.S. is not as strong as it should be across the board in skiing is mostly because we don’t give access and opportunity to our best athletes,” Miller said. “Alpine-X will expand across the country, allowing easy access, low-cost opportunities to experience the sport and then we can spool kids up into the academies. If you have the desire, you are in.”
Yes, he said academies, as in more than one. Miller has long planned to anchor his flagship ski academy in Big Sky, Montana. That’s still the plan, but Granby Ranch emerged as a first location when the new owners, the Glarners, offered slopeside land for the dormitory, training facilities and classrooms. The school will be a nonprofit, Miller said.
“I’m not making any money on this,” said Miller, whose wife recently had a baby, making him the father of seven kids.
Denver architect Don Ruggles, with Ruggles Mabe Studio, is designing the 58,000 square-foot campus, which is divided into two buildings. He’s been designing homes and commercial buildings in Colorado since the early 1970s. Ruggles wrote a book that connects research from neuroscientists with architecture, arguing that the human brains need balancing patterns to stay calm and healthy, while jagged, pointy, unusual designs deliver stress.
His thesis in his 2018 book “Beauty, Neuroscience and Architecture” is evidenced in the classic, balanced design for the Bode Miller Ski Academy. Ruggles sketched the ski-in, ski-out timber-and-stone buildings after hearing Miller and Wirth’s plans for an educational compound for alpine, moguls, Nordic and adaptive skiers.
“When they came by and visited with us, their vision and enthusiasm was so infectious, and that, frankly, is what we look for,” Ruggles said. “They have high aspirations and it’s going to benefit people. They checked all the boxes for us. It was hard not to say yes.”
Ruggles recently visited with Roy Tuscany, the founder of the High Fives Foundation and his fiancé Paralympian Alana Nichols. The two are advising Wirth and Miller on the plan for what will be the nation’s first school and training facility dedicated to adaptive athletes.
Tuscany, whose High Fives Foundation supports the recovery of athletes who have endured traumatic injuries, said Ruggles welcomed the opportunity to incorporate “universal transitions” into the design of his buildings. For example, in between the two main buildings a snow runway will allow seamless entry and exit for athletes on sit skis.
“Any person, regardless of their ability, will not face any challenges from getting their equipment and getting on snow and getting back off snow and into the classrooms,” Tuscany said.
There are many facilities that work with adaptive athletes, including the internationally renowned National Sports Center for the Disabled up the road in Winter Park. But at almost all those facilities, the embrace of adaptive athletes came after the facilities were built.
“Nothing, to my knowledge, has had this kind of consideration from the formation,” Tuscany said. “It is rare — so rare — that disability is considered from the earliest stages of design and layout. It’s part of the landscape in this plan. That is just so cool.”
The Wirth’s Ridgeline Executive Group, which took over management of the ski area in early 2020, has directed about $4.5 million into Granby Ranch in the past year. While the operators have upgraded the resort’s snowmaking system, most of the work so far has been in “truckloads of deferred maintenance,” Andy Wirth said.
The new owners and operators have dubbed their recent campaign to revive the ski area “Granby Ranch Rising.” The previous owner, Brazilian heiress Marise Cipriani, spent 24 years struggling to realize her vision for a year-round resort at the 5,000-acre property on the Fraser River. Facing foreclosure, she walked away from the ski area in late 2019, leaving it to her lenders.
“Granby Ranch the ski resort has had a uniquely challenging history, from undercapitalization to poor management. It’s remarkable in many ways but not many great ways,” Wirth said. “To get better you have to be honest with where you’ve been and the truth is that it’s been a really challenged ski resort.”
The ski academy is not connected to the resort’s new owners, who plan to ink a long-term lease to the nonprofit that will operate the academy. Wirth estimated the cost to launch the project around $25 million and he’s lining up investors, grants and endowments to support the school. They are still raising the money to build and start the school through the newly formed Bode Miller Ski Academy Foundation, said Wirth, who hopes to welcome new students in three years, maybe longer.
The Wirths have a long calendar of events at the ski area, including this weekend’s World Pro Ski Tour, featuring top ski racers competing in a head-to-head dual racing format. The U.S. Ski Team’s moguls squad will set up an Olympic training camp at the ski area in January. Wirth said the new academy will have access to dedicated race lanes, moguls and cross-country tracks.
“There’s no reason whatsoever that Granby Ranch should not be a great mountain that generates some of the greatest Nordic skiers, bump skiers, alpine skiers and adaptive skiers,” Wirth said. “There’s no reason this little hill won’t generate the greatest of all time, both scholars and athletes.”