Toby Miller Q&A: What I learned from Olympic champion Shaun White

In an exclusive Instagram live interview, the snowboarder revealed what life on tour with Shaun White is like, how he overcomes mental barriers, and what tricks he is working on ahead of the Beijing 2022 Olympics.
By Olympic Channel

America's Toby Miller is considered by many to be the next big thing in halfpipe snowboarding.

Despite being just 20, the former junior world champion has competed on the World Cup circuit for four years.

Miller is coached by Olympic bronze medallist JJ Thomas and trains closely with triple Olympic champion Shaun White. In fact, as part of White's close entourage, Miller had a front-row seat at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics where his mentor memorably won gold with his last jump.

Miller joined Olympic Channel for a candid Instagram live interview, where he revealed what lessons he has learnt from White, how he unwinds away from the snow, and why snowboarding has such an exciting future.

Check out this, and more, below!

Olympic Channel: It's been a surreal time. Not only was there a coronavirus pandemic, but you also broke your wrist last year and spent a lot of time recovering from that. So I imagine your plans have changed a lot this year as a result?

Toby Miller: This training season has definitely been different. Usually we're going from training camp to training camp, from Mammoth to Mount Hood to New Zealand, then then down to Europe. But due to the events that are currently happening those training camps didn't happen. We got pretty fortunate with being able to go to Mount Hood and they put on a great camp for us. We had a halfpipe and air bag. Frank Wells was actually cutting halfpipe, who's a world renowned halfpipe cutter. So we were very fortunate to be able to go to that. Now we're here, and we weren't sure if we'd be able to come earlier in the year. But the U.S. team worked really hard and did everything they could to allow us to be here. We're just trying to make the most of it and be on snow as much as possible. And when we're not, we're definitely working out more than we usually do.

OC: What kind of training do you do off snow?

TM: Obviously the basic in the gym, lifting weights, working on stability, strength, all that fun stuff. But back in March or April I decided that if gyms were going be closed and we didn't know what lay ahead, I took it upon myself to buy a road bike and I've gotten pretty into it. It's a fun hobby and it's it's a great workout. It's definitely something that I've kind of fallen in love with through this process. And it's nice because it benefits my snowboarding as well. We've been skateboarding quite a bit. I actually learnt how to surf this summer. So, you know, I mean, those sports, they translate a little bit, mainly skateboarding. You know, the balance, the balance really translates. So I think that's been a huge factor in feeling normal.

OC: How much time have you actually had on the snow this year?

TM: We've definitely been taking probably the biggest breaks that I've had in my professional career this year. After the U.S. Open back in March, we more or less had until the end of June or July off snow. So we had about three weeks on snow last week of June, first two weeks of July in Mount Hood, Oregon and had to camp out there. It was weird to be back on snow but it was magical. You forget how much you love it and it's really made me appreciate the little things more than I used to. And then after July we were off snow until yesterday. Wow. The breaks have been hard because we've had to try and stay positive while making the most of the time that we have off.

Toby Miller (left, silver), Scotty James (gold) and Chase Josey (bronze) celebrate on the podium after the 2018 Snowboard Half-pipe Finals in Copper Mountain, Colorado.

OC: You like photography and were seen taking snaps at the top of the halfpipe at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. You were there with Shaun White and your coach JJ Thomas. How did you get into photography?

TM: Photography and videography are a hobby I picked up probably back in 2016. I can thank Ryan Wachendorfer, a fellow U.S. team snowboarder, for that one. He got really into it a year prior to that. I would love taking his camera and taking photos with it. I never really thought about buying my own until one day he's like, 'Just do it!'. I bought it and I haven't really looked back. It's just been a great outlet for me to be creative. We're going to these beautiful places all around the world and it's such a cool way to capture either cool moments or make a video or whatever it is to be able to relive that. And it's just something I've fallen in love with and been able to do hand-in-hand with snowboarding. It's pretty incredible.

OC: That must also be a great way of letting friends and family back home know what you're up to while on tour...

TM: I can confirm that my mum and dad, they absolutely love it when I post videos on YouTube. It allows them to feel like they know exactly where I am, what I'm actually doing. You can talk on the phone to your family, your loved ones, your friends as much as you want, but you can't really paint the picture of what it looks like, where you are, what it is truly like until you can visually see it. So, that's been a really cool.

Toby Miller talks with half-pipe Olympic champion Chloe Kim at the 2019 Snowboard World Championships in Utah, USA.

OC: Speaking of adventures, you talked about surfing before you were in Mexico. What was that?

TM: I'm very fortunate and very appreciative for having these opportunities and for where life is taking me. I learnt how to surf in San Diego when I was younger, but I really started trying to learn more this past summer. I actually got an invitation to go to Waco, Texas, believe or not to go surfing because they have a manmade wave out there. So Sean (White), JJ (Thomas) and I and a couple of others, we went out there and that's really where I figured it out and learnt how to surf. And then a couple of months later, J.J. texted me and was like, 'Hey, should we go to Mexico?' It was actually my first trip I've ever been on dedicated to surfing. So that was really cool. I definitely want to do more of those in the future. It was the second vacation I've truly ever taken as everywhere else I go is mainly for snowboarding or for training. 

OC: Let's talk about the Beijing 2022 Olympics. Do you think about it very often?

TM: Yeah, I think about it all the time. I mean, it's on the top. My goal is to make the team, and then perform well and hopefully walk away with a medal. It's always in the back of my mind and every time I'm training it's in my head. I'm super excited for it. I've seen photos of the venue but unfortunately I haven't been out there yet. It sounds like we might get the opportunity to go to a test event this winter which I'm really excited about. But, yeah, the Olympics, it's exciting.

OC: Is it fair to say that at the PyeongChang 2018 Games you were part of Team Shaun White? It was your 18th birthday on the day he won the gold! What was that experience like?

TM: Yeah, that experience was pretty surreal. So that conversation actually came up when we were both trying to qualify for the team and I believe we had one or two qualifying events left. Shaun pulled me aside and flat out said to me, 'Hey, I want to make this team with you more than anything. But worse comes to worse no matter what happens. I want you there with me. We've been growing together as a team up until now. Like, let's see this thing through together, whether we're competing together or we're just all there.'

Being able to go out there and really see what the Olympics were like, watching opening ceremony, seeing the behind the scenes interviews, getting the team uniforms and then the practises, this is the stuff you don't really get to see on TV. It was pretty surreal and it made me more motivated than ever to make the 2022 Winter Olympic team, because my experience of the Olympics was 100 percent what you see on TV, which is incredible, being able to see it first-hand really motivated me. We did celebrate my birthday the day Sean won the medal and ate birthday cake for breakfast, which is pretty funny.

Does that make you a little bit nervous to think that the next time you'll be at the Olympics if all goes to plan, you'll be there as an athlete with expectations from yourself and others to perform?

TM: That excites me more than being able to go there and just watch because, you know, I love pressure and just being there as a competitor is going to be just a childhood dream come true. The past two Olympics, the men's halfpipe final has been on my birthday. So fingers crossed that Beijing would be the same. I heard you got good luck when when it's your birthday!

OC: Give us an update on on how your wrist is at the moment...

TM: My wrist as of now is one hundred percent. Mt. Hood was actually a big step in the right direction because it was the first time I'd snowboarded without a brace on because I broke my wrist back in February of 2019 and I got some surgery. Once I was back on snow I was able to get all my tricks back. And then last year, exactly at this time, we had the same training camp and I had to my appendix removed here in Switzerland. Luckily, we had one more training camp in Austria and I went to that and was able to fully recover and get ready for the upcoming season. So now I'm feeling stronger and better than I've ever felt on a snowboard going into going into the up and coming season. It's going to be exciting.

OC: How do you allow yourself to keep pushing the limits and keep risking injury when you've already suffered bad crashes before?

TM: No snowboarder is going up there and doing the things we're doing without accepting the risk that comes with it. Whenever you're learning a new trick, you know that there are risks that you can get injured, that it can go wrong. But that's why we take the right steps and that's why we have JJ and Ricky Bower and all the coaches and the people that look after us there because they're ensuring the proper steps are taken to avoid injury.

But it does happen and that's part of the sport. I think the biggest thing is just accepting that it happened and knowing what went wrong, accepting it, fixing it and moving on, because I know all professional athletes are very competitive and it just adds one extra challenge that we have to tackle. It just feels that much better. When I broke my wrist, it was actually the second time I've broken it on that exact same track. So getting back up there and having to do that trick again, it was definitely more nerve wracking than it would have been if I didn't break my wrist. But I went up there, I did it and that's just part of the sport.

OC: Are there any new tricks that you're working on?

TM: Yeah, for sure. The tricks and halfpipe are just getting bigger and bigger and as you saw at the last Winter Olympics. That was probably the most competitive and impressive halfpipe final ever seen in the history of snowboarding. Going to Mt. Hood, Oregon, I ended up re-learning the front side double cork, 1440, otherwise known as the YOLO Flip, which is a pretty funny name. Iouri Podladtchikov actually invented it. And then my main goal is to learn the one on the other wall. So I would have back-to-back 1440s like you saw Shaun perform at the 2018 Olympics. So those are two high tricks on my radar. And then you've got Scotty James doing the switch back side double cork 1260s and all that. So snowboarding's in a different place than it used to be where it was just big tricks would win it. Now you have to have big tricks, high amplitude with every different type of rotation on a double cork. I think the industry's future is going to be really exciting.

There's new tricks still being invented to this day. And there's still more more rotations to be done. You see in slopestyle, they're doing 1800s and triple corks and they've just started doing quad corks too which is four flips in one air. On the halfpipe where we're currently just doing two. As long as the riders keep pushing it like we are, I think we hadve a long road ahead of us before we see a ceiling on what's possible.

OC: Shaun White holds the record for the highest air on a halfpipe, which is seven metres. Have you ever thought about trying to crack that or do you think he's going to try and go even higher?

TM: I've honestly never thought about breaking the record for highest air, but now that you mention it, it would be kind of fun to break his record and just to say I did it. But it for sure will be broken. As long as the tricks get bigger, the amplitude gets bigger as well. So I think you will see that get broken in the next couple of years. And it might be by him myself or another U.S. athlete or a Japanese athlete. It could be anybody. I mean, the level of riding amongst all the riders and all the nations is so high.

OC: Are you sick of people calling you Shaun White's protégé?

TM: I never really thought about it a ton. I mean, it means a ton to me. Shaun is a snowboarder that I've looked up to since I started snowboarding. I think it's safe to say that he is most little snowboarder's idol, and he was mine growing up. So having him be an older brother to me, a mentor, a best friend, I mean, it's pretty surreal. And no, I don't get sick of it. I think it's it's pretty incredible and I'm very honoured that people are saying that. And I'm excited to have him looking after me and being able to train with him, it's incredible.

OC: What's the most valuable lesson that you would say he's he's taught you and the time that you've been training with him?

TM: Well, that's a tough one. I would say the biggest thing that I've taken from Shaun is the way he trains, whether he goes out and he wins a contest, gets first, second, third, or if he doesn't make finals, he treats his training the week after, the day after, exactly same. He doesn't change a thing if he wins it. He doesn't sit back and relax and then wait for the next one. He he trains as if he lost. And he treats every single day as if it's a competition. And I think that is super valuable. And it's something that I've taken to my own training and to my own riding. It's definitely made some improvements. I'd say that's probably the best lesson he's ever taught me, without knowing he's taught it to me.

OC: You're someone who is being talked about more and more, with a large social media following. How do you feel about being in the spotlight?

TM: Yeah, it's incredible. If I'm being honest I don't really think about it a ton. What I mainly focus on is just being the best snowboarder I could possibly be and showing my life for it, for what it really is. And it's pretty incredible that people have followed me and want to know more. So I'm very thankful for that. I'm just trying to be the best snowboarder I can be and the social media is just happening alongside with that.