Toby Miller competes at the FIS Snowboard World Championships on Feb. 6, 2019 in Park City, Utah.
PARK CITY, Utah — Australia’s Scotty James may have won every halfpipe snowboarding competition this year, including his third world title at the 2019 FIS Snowboard, Freestyle Ski and Freeski World Championships with a huge score of 97.50. But American Toby Miller could very well be the future of the sport.
In a hotly contested three-run final, 18-year-old Miller finished fourth at the 2019 world championships, just 1.25 points from a medal. On his second run, he landed back-to-back double cork 1260s (two flips with three and a half spins) — the only rider to do such difficult tricks one after the other — and scored 90.00. He was also the only American rider to qualify for the halfpipe snowboarding final.
In most competitions, a score in the 90s would have put him on the podium. But not at the 2019 world championships. After James’ huge score, 17-year-old Yuto Totsuka from Japan flew to a 92.25 on his second run for the silver medal, and Patrick Burgener from Switzerland landed six tricks (rather than the more typical five) on his second run and moved into bronze medal position with a 91.25.
Still, Miller was happy with his performance. He seemed to soar higher than anyone, especially on his first hit, and flip and spin his way down the rest of the halfpipe. Four of his five tricks were double corks.
“I couldn’t be more stoked to land my second run,” Miller said. “The level of riding out here was just through the roof. This was one of the craziest finals of the season, I’d say.”
So who is Toby Miller?
From California, Miller started snowboarding when he was young. His parents quickly realized their son had talent and moved to Lake Tahoe. As a kid, Miller shredded the Sierras, coming up through the ranks with Chloe Kim, whom he met around age 9.
“I don't even remember [where I met her],” he said. “I feel like I’ve known her my entire life. We’ve been best friends since we were probably 9 years old, just been growing up snowboarding together.”
Miller and Kim are now an item — the power couple of halfpipe snowboarding. The most fun they’ve had together lately? Reading books. (Kim is slated to attend Princeton in the fall. Miller, who graduated from high school in Lake Tahoe, is taking online classes at Westminster College.)
The bigger influence on Miller’s riding is triple Olympic gold medalist Shaun White. When Miller was 11, White’s coach at the time, Bud Keene, invited him to ride with White for a day. Despite their age difference (White is 13 years older), they became good friends. White helped his young protégé learn new tricks in the pipe. But he has been more helpful in other ways.
“I’d say the number one thing I took away from him aside from learning some tricks is his mentality on snowboarding,” Miller said. “Yes, he was on top, he would go and he would win a contest, but it was never good enough. He was never satisfied. He wanted to better himself. It was a contest against himself more than against other people.”
This model has helped Miller keep his head during competition.
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“I’ve been trying to focus on my training: What can I do to better myself instead of focusing on what everyone else is doing,” he said. “I just want to be the best snowboarder I can be.”
Although Miller has been on the snowboarding radar for half a decade, he stepped it up a level in the past year. He made his X Games debut in 2018, finishing fifth.
Miller did not qualify for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. But he traveled to South Korea as part of White’s support team and saw in person the hype of the Olympic Games.
Then in September in New Zealand, Miller won the 2018 junior world championship halfpipe title (after finishing second twice in previous years).
In December, Miller finished second at the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper — his first world cup podium. A week later, he claimed third at the Dew Tour. Scotty James won both contests.
At the 2019 world championships, Miller received a text from White after he qualified for the final.
“He was super excited that I made finals and he just said, ‘Go get ‘em,’ the usual,” said Miller. “He’s such an amazing person to be around and to have on my side.”
Miller, who turns 19 on Valentine’s Day, tried to up his game on his third and final run at world championships. He had moved into second place briefly after scoring a 90.00 on his second run. But then Totsuka and Burgener bounced him down to fourth with their higher-scoring second runs.
In his third run, Miller upped his final trick to a frontside double cork 1440 — adding an extra half revolution from the original 1260. It’s one of the most difficult tricks performed in the pipe, and Miller has landed it before.
But he “got a little lost in the air, wasn't sure where I was, wasn’t able to put it down.” He crashed right at the bottom of the pipe.
Look for Miller to step it up and become a consistent podium threat soon. When asked how he plans to distinguish himself from being known as Shaun White’s protégé, Miller seemed happy that his name is mentioned in the same sentence as his idol’s.
“I’ve heard those words come out quite often,” he said. “It’s a huge honor. They are big shoes to fill. But I’m just going to try to be the best snowboarder I can be and focus on progressing and try to help push the sport as far as it can physically go.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.