Brody Leven and KT Miller aren’t world famous skiers. Neither has landed a role in a Warren Miller movie or a spread in Powder, but in my could-be-more-humble opinion, they are among the most innovative and talented athletes of this rising generation of skiers. They are both self-described ski-mountaineers and have established themselves as young leaders of this fringe sect of multi-disciplinarians.
KT hails from the impressive playground of Bozeman, Montana and although she is pint-sized and only 23, KT’s climbing and skiing resume would humble a seasoned shredder twice her age. She did a two year stint guiding for a heli-skiing operation, grew-up climbing under the tutelage of Conrad Anker, and has bagged serious peaks from the Andes to Alaska. Brody comes from…well…Ohio (more on that and his escape below). In an industry notorious for short-lived careers and high-probability of injury, Brody stands out as an athlete who navigates the business side of the outdoor industry as well as he does the claustrophobic couloirs he energetically seeks out.
I managed to sit down with the dynamic duo during a break from summer camp aka Summer OR. The two had just returned from a ski expedition on Denali (both summited) that was led by Conrad Anker and included luminaries like Jon Krakauer, Jeremy Jones, and Jacqui Edgerly.
Annie Agle: You two have been all over the map this season…literally: Romania, Alaska, Svalbard, Iceland. Casual–I feel no envy whatsoever. You guys finished out the season with back-to-back trips to Romania and Denali. What were some of the highlights?
KT Miller: After partnering up this past winter, Brody proposed a ski trip to Romania to establish new lines in the Bucegi Mountains of the Transylvanian Alps. I was all about it. The line that sticks out in my memory is Valea Costilla. It was the first line we spotted. It was an extremely aesthetic, funnel shaped couloir that began at the top of 50 degree bowl and trickled into an 8 foot wide sustained gun-barrel framed by rock walls. We ventured into the line, not knowing whether we would be able to walk out the bottom, or if it ended in cliffs and we would have to climb back out. It was extra spicy when we discovered the 2 foot wide runnel gushing through the core of the line, which we had to jump over, or on top of it, as we descended. As for the highlight of Denali…well, of course, summiting Denali was a dream. A few members of the group had already summited, but it was my fifth attempt and it was the last possible day to try for it. I made it to the top with Jon Krakauer and Phil Henderson both of whom had been unsuccessful on previous visits, which made for a very emotional experience. The ski descent finished with the scariest run of my life. We went down the rescue gulley, which we had skied previously in decent conditions, but on that day we found ourselves on the 45 degree slope with 3 inches of dust on top of blue ice…with a mess of man-eating schrundes below. I had to down climb inch by inch with two whippets but it was one of the most profoundly memorable experiences of my life.
It seemed like the Denali expedition was designed as a ski/snowboard mountaineering trip-not something I usually associate with Conrad Anker—what was his motivation for promoting ski/snowboard mountaineering.
Brody Leven: I don’t feel as though his motivation was to promote ski mountaineering. He was very casual about the whole affair. He saw it as a climbing vacation with some of his and his son’s friends.
AA: Right, ‘cause Denali is like NBD for super-mortals. (Conrad, I would be oh-so-happy to carry your umbrella drink and beach towel on the next “vacation.”)
KT: The trip was put together by Conrad’s son, Max, who is a skier. So, the cast ended up including quite a few people with ski and snowboarding backgrounds. Conrad added a mentoring component to the expedition-so the group was compromised of about fifty percent very experienced climbers and fifty percent relatively young and comparatively less-experienced climbers. It made for a tremendous learning experience: everyone on the trip had a skill set or characteristic to learn from.
BL: Climbing with Conrad was definitely a highlight-he was always the fastest and most reserved. He never seemed out of breath and had all of these tid bits of knowledge. I learned seemingly small things: like when you dig a kitchen counter at base camp, be sure to dig out a space for your feet; and take a whole cache of mini-biners, as they are great tools for lashing down gear. The craziest thing was his magic Mary Poppins backpack.
KT: Yep (nodding head emphatically).
BL: Conrad had this seemingly magic backpack that was noticeably smaller than everyone else’s but held everything he needed plus all of these random items to share with other members of the team: socks, snacks, gloves, hot drinks…you name it. My backpack was twice the size and I barely had what I needed.
AA: Brody, you’ve made a whole business around yourself. A lot of people chalk it up to self-promotion, but to me, it just seems like you are clever, understand marketing, and want to share your lifestyle with a wider audience. You’re both athlete and brand ambassador-was that deliberate?
BL: Yes, it was deliberate. I have always liked business. At a young age, I started and ran my own full-time DJ company. The profits from the company allowed me to leave Ohio and attend a private ski academy in Vermont. Then, I went to Westminster College and graduated with an economics degree (he was also two-time student body prez)—I wanted to set myself up for a future, not just have a five-year stint as a professional skier. I know that what I’m doing can be a sustainable career if I can stay malleable and alert. But more than that, sharing my stories and content through social media and blogging is not just a means to an end; I want to inspire a wider audience. The majority of people who follow me through instagram and facebook are never going to be backcountry skiers or embark upon climbing expeditions but I want to encourage people to live their lives and have adventures on their own terms.
AA: KT, you also moonlight as a free-lance photojournalist and as a media guru for Polar Bears International. Your work has received some very positive criticism. How do you utilize your photography as a skier?
KT: I use my photography to invite people into places they don’t have access to or haven’t even imagined. Ultimately, I want people who view my images to get excited about adventure and wilderness and through that begin to care about environmentalism and conservation. In my job for Polar Bears International, I have spent the last few years documenting the destruction of polar bear habitat. (sad face.) I care passionately about using whatever platform I have to bring attention to the issue of climate change and I think the outdoor industry and its athletes should be setting better examples in terms of sustainability. At the Outdoor Retail show this week I noticed a plethora of bottled beverages, plastic bags, and non-recyclable food containers. (sad face)
AA:What’s in store for next season?
BL: I am just staying in shape and keeping my options open. I never have any idea what is in store.
KT: I have this obsession with the north. I will definitely be heading back that way. Baffin Island sounds enticing…