RIP Chelone Miller: A Legend Lost Too Soon

RIP Chelone Miller. Flying high above the 100 foot-plus mega booter at 2009's Snowboarder Magazine Superpark at Mammoth Mountain.

I didn’t get a chance to know Chelone Miller for long. But what I did get to know impressed me greatly.

At the end of a long and fun 2009 northern hemisphere snow season I was fortunate enough to receive photo accreditation to shoot US Snowboarder Magazine’s Superpark at Mammoth Mountain. It had always been a dream of mine to witness this iconic annual extravaganza of shredding, but with a handful of Aussie and Kiwi snowboarders getting the invite that season, I also had the opportunity to shoot and write a feature article about it all for Aust-NZ Snowboarding Magazine.

Radich_Superpark2009_cabin-2Falls Creek ripper Jade McJanet kindly offered me the use of her old room at Mammoth Lakes as she was already on her way home to Oz. She had a housemate, a guy I had heard a little bit about but had never met – Chelone Miller.

I stayed for a few days in the little log cabin, which even the golden Californian spring sunshine failed to warm. We sat outside on the green grass while Chilly practised his golf swing with his drivers, both of us trying to dry out sodden spring snowboarding boots in the sun because the cabin had no heating. To make the living more bearable we even had to turn on the oven with the door open to try and warm up the lounge and kitchen area! Chilly showed me his collection native American (indian) artefacts that he had found on his many trips bouldering and rock climbing out in the desert with Lonnie Kauk. He told me about his older brother, infamous downhill skier Bode Miller, who was on the outer with the US Ski Team after telling the world he was considering quitting skiing just nine months before the 2010 Winter Olympics. (At Vancouver 2010 Bode came back with a vengeance, winning a gold, silver and bronze to become the most successful American male ski racer of all time). And Chelone also told me about the near fatal dirt bike accident that he couldn’t remember but which left him with a souvenir – a visibly moveable part of his skull nearly half the size of his bead. From the early reports it sounds like on-going complications with this accident caused a seizure that killed him in his sleep.

The impression I got of Chelone was of someone very relaxed, very chilled, very friendly and easy-going … but with an almost unparalleled attitude for gnarliness when he stood sideways on a snowboard. Some of the stories he first told me were almost too hard to believe … until I witnessed him destroy the monster features of Superpark.

Like this remembrance in Snowboarder Magazine says, at the end of the first day of Superpark rumours were running wild about one crazy unknown guy launching off the monster 100-plus foot Loon Mountain kicker with nary a photog or video guy around. I was sort of surprised to hear that it was the mild-mannered Chilly I was sharing a house with, but also mostly unsurprised.

Chelone Miller waiting for the signal to lead Will Jackways and a brave crew of riders into the Loon Mountain monster jump at Superpark 2009.
Chelone Miller (green and blue) waiting for the signal to lead Lonnie Kauk, Will Jackways and a fearless crew of riders into the Loon Mountain monster jump at Superpark 2009.

When I heard of Chelone’s death via Instagram and Facebook yesterday morning I thought that I might have a nice shot of Chilly. But when I saw the shot at the top of the post, with Chilly touching the  rays of the sun, it just seemed perfect. I took this frame at the monster booter on the second day, in between shots I took of Will Jackways for Snowboarding Mag. But as Chilly was a reasonably unknown rider, the shot never ran in print or online. I wish it had.

Superpark 2009 - Chelone Miller and Ryan Tiene. Photo: Sean Radich/radmania.com
Chilly with his 2009 Superpark winnings and an injured Ryan Tiene at the after party.

For some reason I missed the official presentation after Superpark, but was so pleased to discover that Chilly had won the Gatorade Standout award and a wad of cash when I made it to the after party. Since that winter I’ve tried to keep an little bit of an eye on how Chelone was going, and was pumped when I saw his epic photos published in Snowboarder Mag the next season. At the time I met him, Chilly was just receiving some basic hook-ups from Columbia Outerwear, Bataleon Snowboards and Smith Goggles. But after his break-out during 2009’s Superpark, he received some love from within, and outside the industry. Chelone was a snowboarder’s snowboarder – someone who goes big, all the time every time, and yet does it with the minimum of fuss. You can see from these videos what a ballsy rider he was.

Arbor Snowboards’ profile video:

Some commercial work for Jeep in 2010.

My thoughts and sympathies go to his close friends and family.

RIP Chelone. You were a legend.

Here’s a nice tribute video posted by The Ski Channel.

Chilly flying high in full colour.

Homeward bound…but where is home again?

To paraphrase the Michael Buble hit: Another winters day has come, And gone away, In even Reno and LA, And I wanna go Home, Let me go home. (And no, I’m NOT gay – I bought the CD for my Mum!) I didn’t really want to go home, but as I had finished my last photo shoot at June Mountain and I felt my shooting season was done I started to think about getting home to enjoy my first big family easter in five years in a little place in central Victoria called Tarnagulla. The more I thought about it, the more I began to miss home and started to plan all the final steps: packing the bags, cleaning the apartment, getting the landlord inspection, driving the crew to the airport, finding a place to store the car for several months…and finally running the gauntlet of check-in chicks with my excess baggage. Then of course there is the three actual flights and 17 hours or so of sitting on my arse from Reno, via LAX and Sydney, to Melbourne. Why can’t heading home just be easy? I guess any big move is always a pain.

Things were winding down at our place as we all thought about home, but although I wanted to pack it away, the camera couldn’t quite go in the camera bag yet. A couple of candid “lifestyle” portrait shots needed to be taken, and it was down to the wire to get a shot of Cohen Davies. A huge snow-dumping storm had rolled into Tahoe on the last couple of days making all our outdoor locations a bust, and with his lack of mobile phone credit, he was lucky to catch me still at home before I busted a move back down to Reno (I had aleady made a trip down and back to drop Darragh off at the airport early that morning…only seeing 4 wrecked cars on the side of the road in the blizzard!) Evil Editor has the shot and it will come out in issue 1, but not the frame I preferred as somehow Cohen was reading the newspaper upside down. I swear I thought he was actually reading the paper as I fucked around getting the lighting right – he must have upside-down eyes, or didn’t notice as a result of the previous night’s action?

We filled our last few days in Tahoe on a little bit of a party train – unfortunately everyone else in town was winding down and the party ended up basically being 20 bored guys around a dowstairs pool table. We had to find ways to amuse ourselves. The highlight for Darragh was his packet of peanut M&M’s (he’s mad for the things!) and the 3 buck McLovin fake ID he bought in 7-11!

More fun was to be had on my last night in Reno. I booked into the awesomely rad 30 buck-a-night Terrible’s Sands Regency (Terribles is actually a chain based out of Vegas – not merely capitalised adjective as you might think – but has the added benefit of running petrol stations around Nevada so you can cash your “Terribles Bucks” for gas on the way out of town. Awesome.) I was rooming with Longy, who was down to his last 10 bucks (in fact he had to borrow $5 off me to pay for his $10.99 all-you-can-eat at The Eldorado Casino) and couldn’t eat again till late the next evening when he got aboard the V Australia flight home. In fact, now that I think about it, Longy never paid me back for that 5 bucks!

It was Tim’s birthday, and the last night in the States for 3 of us as Ben was flying out to London on the Wednesday too, so the three of us not-totally-skint-guys (ie, not Longy) hit the town. It was an adventure, to say the least, but a lot of fun. Sort of like a trashy Vegas. But not bad for a Tuesday night. However, now I know why The Man in Black sang ” But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”: he was putting the guy out of his misery!

I had a reasonably late arvo flight, and despite the gods of time and scheduled lunchbreaks working against me, I managed to store the car away, check in and get my bags checked through all the way to Sydney (even if I had to secretly stuff some gear back into my board bag behind the pillar before I dropped it off at the Oversize Baggage section). I was confused when I saw the destination for my Horizon flight flash up as Mammoth – apparently, weather depending, that flight makes a short stop on the way to LAX in Mammoth Lakes. The flying scaredy cat, Longy, would have hated the swirling and turbulent landing, but it was worth it for the amazing snow stormy views out the door. Longy had taken an earlier flight to LAX, but would join me on the V Australia flight to Oz (one of the only times I have shared a flight with a mate in a long, long time. It was a welcome change…and I got my revenge for the missing $5 by freaking him out pointing out every mysterious plane noise, bang and bump on the 14 hour flight home!) As I took off from Mammoth, I turned around to see Falls/Hotham rider Lauren Smith a few rows back – while I had spent the day ferrying crew to the airport, running round Reno and waiting for my flight, she had been cuting laps in knee-deep Mammoth pow before she threw everything in a bag and made the 5.30 flight to LA and onto Oz. I wish my last day was so simple.