Bode Miller and Aztech Mountain both were made for the slopes. The six-time Olympian and two-time overall Alpine World Cup Champion skier first hit the snow at the age of two and has never looked back. It’s only natural that he should feel right at home in the sportswear and coats made by Aztech Mountain, which, after all, draws both its name and inspiration from the ski trails of Aspen, Colorado. Founded in 2013 by David Roth and Heifara Rutgers, the collection offers performance pieces that serve up the latest in technological innovations blended seamlessly with modern menswear design.
“From the moment I was introduced to Aztech Mountain, I knew it was world class,” says Miller, who took an equity interest in the company and signed on as Chief Innovation Officer last fall. “I wanted to partner with a company that provides top-level design and performance, both on and off the mountain.” Not only has the skier been adding his extensive expertise to the development on new styles for the past three seasons, but this fall he also served as the model for the brand’s newest campaign. We recently chatted with Miller and Rutgers about how their partnership continues to evolve each season, what it was like shooting the campaign, and which pieces you’ll find them wearing both on and off the slopes.
The Window: How did you guys first get introduced to each other?
Bode Miller: I actually came across Aztech Mountain for the first time when I was on the set of a photo shoot in Portillo, Chile. We had several different brands that had been pulled as wardrobe for the shoot, and I kept gravitating back toward this one jacket, even against the U.S. Ski Team gear and all these other brands. It was performing the best, and it was comfortable. The photographer was gravitating toward the same jacket because it looked the best. It turned out to be the Nuke Suit, Aztech Mountain’s signature style. I asked my agent to look into the brand, and he started telling me that it was a smaller line and relatively new to the market. I got super interested in meeting the guys and talking to them. We randomly ended up meeting at a party in Manhattan and talked for quite a while, and ultimately I floated the idea of joining the company. I loved Aztech’s attitude and personality, as well as the fact that it was such an agile and small brand.
Heifara Rutgers: When we started the company, it never, ever would have crossed our minds to have someone with Bode’s credentials on the team. I mean, Bode is a six-time Olympian and the greatest American ski racer ever. When I found out we were dressing him for that shoot, I thought nothing of it. Even when I got the phone call from his agency that he wanted to have a meeting, I still didn’t think anything of it. It took us completely by surprise, but at the end of the day, it was a validation of our vision and of the product.
BM: I live and breathe Aztech. It’s what I wear all the time—I’m wearing it right now!
What’s the working process among the team? Where do you start when it comes to new designs?
HR: Given that we’re a small company, the design and development process has to start so far in advance, even more than most brands since we make technical outerwear. Bode is our chief of innovation, and he has—Bode, what, 20-plus years?—of competing on snow, using and testing products in the most extreme conditions. We rely on him to be a driving force and on his experience as it pertains to outerwear, whether it’s the way a garment moves or fits, the placement and direction of zippers, you name it—it’s really generated from him and his insight.
BM: That’s a big part of what was so appealing to me about Aztech Mountain. In talking to Heifera and David right from the beginning, it was clear that their focus was on building the best pieces. Being able to innovate in a way where I think we can make it even better is really rewarding. As Heifara said, I have a lot of hands-on experience as far as what it’s like to be in good clothing or bad equipment. That gives me a background to support what I want to do from a technical perspective, and there are elements from a fashion standpoint that have to be integrated with those technical components. When there’s something I want to do, it’s met with an attitude of, “OK, let’s get it done.” We have sit-down meetings with everyone on the company, we come up with an awesome plan, and then we execute and move on to the next thing. It feels great to be part of such an agile, well-equipped, and fast-moving team.
HR: That nimbleness is something that’s remarkably different and unique to Aztech. Even though we have to start the process of a design very far in advance, the ability to course correct once things are in motion is more important now than ever. If things aren’t working, we have the flexibility to fix it.
Can you tell us about balancing the high performance aspect of the products with the sleek style that makes the pieces feel at home on city streets?
HR: Our hometown of Aspen has always been our secret weapon—it’s the one element that’s consistent to all of our collections. Even though it’s a tiny ski town in the heart of the Rockies, it’s also an internationally recognized cultural phenomenon. It draws the world’s elite, captains of industry, sports figures, celebrities—you name it. That trickles down to an understanding of what that guy wants to wear when he’s in Aspen, and from that, what he wants to wear when he’s in New York, London, Hong Kong, or Tokyo.
BM: That element of travel is a driving force behind my design input on the fashion side. I preach versatility. I don’t want pieces that only look good one place. Our pieces have to easily transition from Aspen to New York City to Coto de Caza in California. The difference between some of our clothes and other companies is just that—theirs might work well in one area or at one temperature point, but they aren’t as dynamic as ours. That’s something we’re all proud of, and because of that, it appeals to a wider demographic if people and translates across a lot of geographic locations. That versatility isn’t only versatility of function, but also of fashion and style.
HR: A lot of that comes down to fabrication. We’ll take the best-selling style, the Nuke Suit, and offer it both in a four-way stretch nylon and in waterproof wool. The customer sees that it’s an amazing ski coat with the latest and greatest performance-driven technologies, but the wool elevates it in a way that means he can wear it with denim, slacks, or over a suit jacket.
That seems to speak to and support the lifestyle you and your clients live, where you need both.
BM: At the end of the day, there’s a certain struggle that some other companies have with authenticity. But as Heifara said, he grew up in Aspen and it’s in his soul. We all have that balance in our own lives and an authentic relationship with every piece we make. There’s never a doubt about our ability to back up our product.
HR: The common thread, again, comes back to Aspen. It’s something we didn’t think about when we were starting out. We were looking to fulfill a hole in the market, but now four years later, it continues to resonate. Aspen informs our design and functionality—it’s our muse.
How has your working dynamic evolved since you all joined forces?
BM: The coolest thing was that I walked in the door already in love with 98% of the product. The things I didn’t wholly love were just things that didn’t work—a cuff that didn’t function like it should, a zipper that was in the wrong place, or something that needed to have pockets added. Just little tweaks. It was really cool to see that development over time as the new styles were going into production. Based on the lead-time Heifara was talking about, it couldn’t happen all at once. But we knew we could get it done, and now we’re seeing the first collection that I was part of from its inception. We continue to learn from each other and develop these hybrid ideas. We’ve all changed how we see this process and how we interact—it just keeps getting stronger and better.
HR: Yeah, I’d add that, in the beginning, when we had this major celebrity and sports figure come and join part of our team, that comes some nervousness. Now, years later, we’re at a point where I can call Bode and have full confidence that we’ll get exactly what we need in order to yield the best results. There’s a greater level of confidence that we’re a team.
BM: That’s the critical piece—we’re truly a team. We had to grow into it, and it will continue to benefit us for a long time.
Bode, can you tell us about your time in front of the camera as the face of the fall campaign? What was that experience like?
BM: It’s strange, because I’ve done a lot of photo shoots in my life, but I was much more comfortable on this set than I have been in the past. I’ve never enjoyed that side of it, but with Aztech, because I have so much personal, hands-on input with product and so much energy and time invested in it. I’m also feeling a little bit better about promoting it, because it feels authentic. Anytime you’re putting something on that isn’t ‘you,’ you’re going to have a sense that it isn’t right. I don’t do things that don’t feel right, and I’ve had to fight against that when doing photo shoots. But that’s not the case when I’m wearing Aztech, which is a relief. It’s a pleasure to do.
HR: We have a really cool creative team that we’ve put together, and working with industry mavericks like photographer Bruno Staub has yielded incredible results. He made Bode feel at ease on set, confident, and comfortable, and that’s really evident in the imagery.
Do you guys have any personal favorite pieces from the current collection?
BM: It sounds cheesy, but I love everything we’ve produced in the past few collections. I wear every piece all the time. It’s all I wear. The quilted shirts this season, though, are standouts. You feel so good in them. They reflect a bit more of my New Hampshire heritage, with the flannel look, but they’re extremely well made.
HR: For me, it’s the Dale of Aspen, the brother to the Nuke Suit, which takes the technology of our welding and down combination with our water resistant sweaters. It’s a piece you can wear from September through early May, something that’s not too heavy, water resistant, and offers the tech advantages of our heavy-duty pieces. It’s the perfect all-year-round jacket.