What we used to call “fat” skis is worth a laugh. Back in October of 1993 we reviewed the Miller Soft in Couloir Magzine. Title of the article: “Fat Sticks for Alpine Touring.” Dimensions of the 200 cm Miller Soft ski we reviewed: 99/82/89.
That shows where skis were rapidly heading in terms of form factor, and Millers did look wide at the time.
Today, 82 at the waist looks like a toothpick when compared to “normal width” skis such as the Dynafit Manaslu (95 mm) and DPS Wailers (99 mm) I’ve got leaning on the wall next to my desk.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the Miller Soft is how long a run it had as a ski model. The first retail model came out around 1970 (anyone who knows the exact year?). We used them on Denali in 1973, and we were still reviewing them and enjoying them 20 years later. Though by then the “Classic Soft” was feeling a bit long in the tooth compared to planks such as the RD Helidog (91 mm).
Designer and inventor Earl Miller was a character. I used to love chatting him up at the ski shows. He always had a unique take and bucked the conventional wisdom at every turn. For example, Earl was never impressed with non-release snowboard bindings and worked for years on designing and marketing a safety snowboard binding. He loved describing the gruesome “fly swatter” foot fracture, which I’ll leave to your imagination. Let’s just say he dissuaded me from snowboarding.
Before his efforts with snowboard gear, he’d designed and marketed a much safer alternative to the leg-trap ski bindings of the 1960s. To promote his “Miller Binding” Earl sponsored the “Miller Falling Contest,” a sort of freestyle event in which participants were judged by how many whacked out falls they could take. Miller promoted the contest by stating “bring your crutches.”
Back to the Miller Soft ski. By making a ski that flexed easily and would “belly” down in soft snow, Miller was essentially making a rockered ski. It’s somewhat surprising that it took so long for skis to appear with built-in rocker, since decades ago Miller and other soft ski makers proved it would work.
The problem with skis such as Miller Soft was that in order to make the ski longitudinally soft they ended up torsionally soft as well and thus performed poorly on hardpack. The beauty of factory molded rocker is your planks can have some stiffness and beef and still be playful in powder. Hence, the amazing choices we have in skis these days.
Miller died in 2002 at age 77.
Also, check out this newspaper article about Earl.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.