Beyond Exploration: Adventure Conservation

Skier, Photographer Kt Miller on Going Light, Zen Moments & Climate Change

Kt Miller takes photos. Lots of them, and all over the world. One of few female adventure photographers, she captures people and animals in action on the wildest corners of the planet. When not photographing polar bears and receding glaciers, she hunts for steep, unskied couloirs. She claims first descents from Montana to the fjords of south Greenland. Miller uses efficiency as a tool to compensate for being small. “It’s about carrying what you need, but absolutely nothing more,” she says. Her philosophy: the lighter your load, the more you can free your mind and enjoy what you are doing. Miller applies her minimalist philosophy to everything; she lives light, buys little and resides in small town, Montana. “Less is always more. That’s what it’s really about in the end. To go light is to live more simply, to live with less, and as a result, be able to experience more.” We recently chatted with Miller about what motivates and inspires her.

What gets you up in the morning?
All of the awesome things that have yet to be done, whether it’s editing photos, sipping on a delicious cup of coffee, skiing powder laps, or climbing an incredible mountain. I like to view life as if heaven is on earth, because it’s pretty amazing down here— mountains, rivers, oceans, friends—does it get better than this?

When and why did you adopt a minimalist philosophy,?
I’m 5’1” tall, so I didn’t have much of a choice. To do the things that I want to do in the mountains, and keep up, I had to learn to go light. In the past few years I’ve really taken it to the next level. I learned a lot from other mountain partners. It was a little hard letting go and embracing the minimalist program at first. I worried I would miss having something (extra pockets, zippers, helmet attachments, gloves, water, way too much food, tons of extra layers, a gargantuan first aid kit). But the reality was, when I ditched the weight it freed me up to move more efficiently and I could go farther, longer, with less. I was safer because I could move faster and be more comfortable (less back pain, less sweating, less exertion overall).

In what ways have you applied this philosophy to the rest of your life?
It’s incredibly freeing when you carry only what you absolutely need and nothing more. At the end of the day things are just things, but experiences last forever. By traveling light, or living light, perhaps one gets to experience more?

How do you achieve your optimal self?
I have to always be learning, whether it’s through podcasts, books, news articles or mentors— as soon as I’m not learning I start falling into a rut. I also need lots of sleep (I love to sleep), time to reflect, silent walks in the mountains (on foot or skis), and plenty of healthy food.

What gets you to your Zen moment in the mountains?
I like to Zen out by skiing or running through the forest in areas where I can stick my arms out and touch trees, branches or tall grass. Doing this on windy ridge tops also tends to elicit similar feelings of elation, appreciation and respect. I’ve been into the idea of grounding lately—the idea that our bodies are full of electrons and need to be grounded to the earth in the same way that electricity has to be grounded to the earth. Our culture breeds a society that is very disconnected from our surroundings; I like to try and defy that social norm. I often have some of my most creative thoughts after experiences like this.

What motivates you to focus?
Passion keeps me focused. I like to come up with projects that might be able to influence the way people think. With many of my projects, as well as day-to-day story telling on social media, I aim to have a positive impact on a current issue or future challenges. These challenges keep me focused. Sometimes I focus a little too much and need to just loosen up and go ski some powder. I would say my primary goal is to contribute towards protecting the future of skiing and the future of snow in the face of climate change.

On a given day, what absolute necessities are in your pack? What extras?
Backcountry Skiing Day Kit

Essentials: beacon (wearing), shovel, probe, skins
Extras (almost always with me): chocolate, 1/2 liter thermos of tea/miso soup, headlamp, buff, Leatherman, ski strap, boot tongues, tape, lighter, pain meds, snow study book (Rite In The Rain), mechanical pencil, snacks, small camera (1lb), 1 warm layer

Optional (weather/objective dependent): down jacket, warm mittens, goggles, extra hat, small first aid kit, 1/2 liter hot water in cozy, snow saw, thermometer, big camera (7-10 lbs),

Ski mountaineering add ons (weather/objective dependent): aluminum or steel crampons, mountaineering/ice axe(s), rope, helmet, anchor gear, minimalist harness

What issues are you passionate about and why?
I think it’s super important to protect the places we play for future generations. Currently that means coming up with solutions to the climate crisis and communicating to our leaders that we want to see rapid and drastic action on climate change. I’ve spent a fair bit of time working in the Arctic with polar bear and climate scientists learning the intricacies of what is going on in the Arctic ecosystem. There are huge impacts worldwide due to climate change, but the Arctic is particularly important because it acts as the earth’s temperature regulator. If we can save polar bears and their sea ice habitat we will save the rest of the planet as well, including the snow covered landscapes and glaciated peaks in which we play.

What sports do you primarily partake in?
Backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, trail running, peak scrambling and a scosh of alpine climbing

When and why did you join the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team?
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear crew (from owners, to staff, to ambassadors) has a LOT of passion. It’s an honor to work with a company that not only values their product, but is working to change the industry norm, educate people and get more folks outside (being comfortable is key to enjoying the outdoors). It has also been an incredible opportunity to work with such a great group of athletes over the past two years—I am constantly inspired by what everyone else on the team is up to.

What’s your favorite piece of Hyperlite Mountain Gear equipment and why?
I’d have to go with the Porter Pack since that’s what I use the most, but the stuff sacs are pretty awesome, and I’m psyched on the UltaMids, too.

Miller's latest film, "Shifting Ice," is featured in the Winter Wildlands Alliance's Backcountry Film Festival. Check to see if it's coming to your area on their website.

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