|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XVIII NUMBER 1 Fall 2002|
Miller's Historic Boards
Amid all the Winter Olympic hope and hype last February, Mark Miller '90 received some serious airtime. A frontpage profile in the Salt Lake Tribune led to interviews with two national television crews, a European news wire, and a cover story in The Union-Leader. Yet Miller was no medal contender. Instead, he received coverage for his expertise and business savvy selling antique skis. In fact, when NBC's Bob Costas interviewed President George W. Bush before the opening ceremonies, Miller's World War II snowshoes were inches from the Presidential shoulder.
Miller, 34, who lives in Park City, Utah, eight months a year and Orford, N.H., four months, has been buying and selling winter antiques for 12 years. He started collecting old skis, snowshoes, poles and sleds in 1989 during summer months in New Hampshire, working at his family's summer camp, Camp Merriwood. Miller haunted auctions, flea markets and yard sales across New England. "I'd sit at an auction all night," says Miller, "and buy junk. I bought a box of used nails - that cost a buck." Besides bent nails, Miller also bought antique wooden skis. With minimal competition, Miller was able to acquire high quality goods at low prices.
Over time, he learned about the history of ski production by talking to White Mountain locals and studying old Miller's Historic Boards by Lindsay Pollock outdoor catalogs. He learned to distinguish various woods like hickory, pine, and maple and binding design from the heel strap to the bear-trap. He also learned about re-finishing. Sometimes skis found in old New England barns came encrusted with hay, bird droppings, and dirt. Miller learned how to restore the skis to their original condition through a combination of sanding and staining.
After a year of collecting, the family garage was piled high with over 100 pairs. Miller's mother urged her son to start selling. Instead, he moved to Park City and worked as a part-time ski instructor and burger joint manager. Miller soon discovered his new hometown was a winter antiques heaven ¨C with hundreds of ski condos in need of rustic d¨¦cor. He approached the owner of a tourist outpost on Main Street, who agreed to stock a few pairs. Sales during the first year were modest, and Miller continued flipping burgers and leading ski-wee classes. By 1995, though, business was booming and Miller bid farewell to burgers. Today he counts clients in Europe, Australia, Alaska and even sunny Florida and Hawaii. And, of course, he has a web site (www.antiqueskis.com).
With the arrival of the Winter Games, Park City readied for 45,000 visitors to the 26 medal events hosted there. Main Street was closed to cars. Miller took an NBC crew to film his exhibit of antique skis at a bustling tourist outpost, Southwest Indian Traders. As Miller described an early model aluminum ski for the camera, a man breezed in and spent $300 for a pair of 1934 wooden skis made by R.H. Macy's & Co.
Most of Miller's skis date to the 1920s and 30s and retail at $80 to $350 a pair. Earlier handmade skis from the 1880s and 1890s can go higher. "Every pair is different," Miller says, "and every pair has a story." Primitive bindings range from a leather strap to hay-baling twine. "New England is known for recycling," he says, "I've got skis from the turn of the century with 1940s bindings."
Miller's latest coup is a cache of 10th Mountain Division snowshoes, shipped from the United States to troops during the Second World War. The equipment, used by America's elite winter-trained soldiers, sat in a barn in Turkey for the last 60 years. Miller brought about 600 pairs home and used his salesmanship to wrangle a national television placement on the NBC set behind President Bush.
Miller's unusual expertise recently came to the attention of Dee Edmonds, a personal property appraiser in Salt Lake City. Edmonds had been hired by a ski foundation to appraise a collection of 250 objects including skis, poles, boots, and snowshoes dating from the late 19th century to present. This collection will be exhibited at Utah's first ski museum, which opened this year. "It was extremely hard to find someone knowledgeable of the history of skiing as well as the market," said Edmonds.
Miller got the job. "Mark was invaluable," Edmonds said. "He knows the history of skiing from the Alpine days in Europe to the handmade jumpers. Also, he has had sales of this equipment so he had comparable prices."
Mike Conti, owner of Park City's Mountain Timber Furniture, has sold Miller's skis for three years. He sells a pair a day and says, "Mark's quality is unmatched, and the variety is incredible."
In spite of all his commercial success, Miller is exceedingly modest, insisting that he still teaches skiing to supplement his income. But he has not blazed any trails wearing his historic boards. "I don't think my insurance would cover it," he laughed as the games began, heading out to explore Olympic festivities.
Lindsay Pollock is a freelance writer living in New York City.