The first time I met Carter McMillan, he was 18 years old, standing in a bitter, windy start gate at the top of Lake Louise Ski Resort. The finals of the Lake Louise Big Mountain Challenge that year were staged on E.R. 3, a bulbous piece of terrain that protrudes out of the slope like an angry tortoise shell. Cradled in the rough crease of the Rocky Mountains, it was a complicated line to figure out. But McMillan had grown up at “The Lake,” under the guiding light of the Rocky Mountain Freeriders program, with coaches like Eric Hjorleifson and Chris Rubens.
So while McMillan chatted comfortably and made friends with everybody around him that blustery day, guys twice his age were busy knocking their knees and trying not to puke. When the contest closed, his first ever in the adult ranks, McMillan took home third place. It was the beginning of a reputation that would precede him for years. The affable blond from Calgary, with his clear and quiet intelligence, became one of the most consistent and well-liked podium pounders on the North American big mountain contest scene, and few were surprised.
“I had the pleasure of coaching Carter through a bunch of his teenage years,” Chris Rubens says. “It was pretty clear from an early age that he had some serious talent, and he was quickly throwing backflips off everything.”
Flipping the script at CMH Bugaboos, B.C. Photo by John Evely
Today, at what feels like a well-seasoned 27 years old, McMillan has an over-40 competition résumé, with six wins, 20 podiums, two series championships and an impressive haul of awards.
So why are we only hearing about him now?
Nearing the end of his university years, McMillan had narrowly missed securing a spot on the Freeride World Tour as it absorbed the similarly titled Freeskiing World Tour, in which he competed. He spent the years that followed dividing his time between studies, work, a now long-term girlfriend, shooting photos and doing regional competitions. Known locally as one of the best freeskiers in Western Canada, he still hadn’t managed to garner the kind of support he needed to ski full-time. Finding a “real job” with his degree in biology seemed to be the incoming reality. Then, in 2016, he saw a callout for Candide Thovex’s One of Your Days video contest.
Carter McMillan's One Of Your Days
McMillan, whose prowess with a GoPro and editing is almost as impressive as his gigantic naked backflips, put together an outrageous entry of high-flying tomfoolery (on ski-touring pin bindings, no less) around Lake Louise that Thovex chose as the winner. McMillan then got to fly out to Thovex’s home resort of La Clusaz, France, for a trip sponsored by Quiksilver. Thovex loved the quirky Canadian’s skiing so much, he single-handedly turned the tide for him. “It was actually Candide’s suggestion that Quiksilver take me on,” McMillan explains. “And then Blizzard and Tecnica moved me onto their international team. Things definitely changed from there, and now I want to see where I can go with this.”
With a growing number of photographers searching him out and two major brands behind him, the breakthrough athlete’s schedule is increasingly filling up, and his brazen big lines and aerial ease are finally getting the spotlight they deserve. Ask Rubens, though, and McMillan’s current moment all stems back to something way more important.
Working man's smile. Photo by John Evely
“What always stood out to me was his mild-mannered nature: always stoked to shred, a forever-humble Rockies man. It’s so cool to see the success he’s had over the last couple years. He’s a classic example of a real skier; he would be doing it either way, with or without cameras and contests.”