Bode Miller is back for another World Cup season and his breakaway ski team is more independent than ever.
His personal head coach and longtime mentor, John McBride, retired at the end of last season, and his uncle Mike Kenney also is no longer around. Miller's new squad is essentially a group of his closest pals.
Forest Carey, who used to ski with Miller at the Carrabassett Valley Academy in Maine and on the U.S. Ski Team, is the new coach. At 32, he's only a year older than Miller.
"I know him well, but I'm definitely not here as an authority figure," Carey told The Associated Press by telephone from Austria recently. "John and Mike were the two best coaches I've ever been with and we're going to miss them.
"It's almost like we're taking it to the next level as far as independence. Johnno is 42 and Mike is 50, and now it's like we all go through the process together."
After clashing over rules with the U.S. Ski Team, Miller formed his own personal squad last year and ended the season with his second overall World Cup title.
The 2008-09 men's season begins Sunday with a World Cup giant slalom in Soelden, Austria.
Miller did intense dry-land training in New Hampshire and Aspen, Colo., throughout late summer and into the fall. He got back on snow in New Zealand in August and has been in Austria for the final phase of his preseason.
During his 17 days in New Zealand, Miller trained with the Austrian men and women, although the top Austrian men, including Benjamin Raich, were elsewhere. He also didn't catch up with Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, the 2007 overall World Cup winner, who is back after missing nearly all of last season following a serious crash.
Still, Carey said Miller doesn't necessarily need head-to-head training with his rivals at this point.
"He's kind of at the point at 31 years old where he knows where he's at," Carey said.
Miller, who declined to be interviewed, broke his hand at the end of last season but is completely healthy now.
There were reports that Miller was overweight midsummer, but Carey said he's carrying only a couple extra pounds.
"He fluctuates, but last year he was 220 and now he's maybe 222," the coach said. "He's been focusing on his explosiveness -- like the way NFL running backs burst through the hole. He's fit and healthy and happy, and happy with his skis."
At one point in his career, Miller seemed to change ski brands every year and never appeared content with his equipment. Now he's in his third season with Head skis.
"He's been happier every year with Head and they signed two top slalom contenders -- Rainer Schoenfelder and Markus Larsson -- so they're making an effort to get better in that area," Carey said.
Miller hasn't won a slalom since December 2004 and would like nothing better than to regain his form in that discipline.
This season's highlight will be the world championships in Val d'Isere, France, Feb. 2-15.
"As far as world championships go, he's not talking about peaking then," Carey said. "But last year he just kept gradually building strength all year because he was hurt at the start of the season."
Carey will be assisted by former Vail ski and snowboard club coach Craig Daniels, who has known Miller and Carey for the last 10 years. Fritz Zueger, a former Swiss coach who assisted periodically last season, will also be on the hill.
Miller has also overhauled his transportation from the past five seasons. The team now has three vehicles that will be hauled by pickup trucks.
Bode, his girlfriend and boyhood friend Jake Serino will live and travel in a motor home that will be a bit more spacious and homey than his RV of past seasons. His coaching staff will use a "toyhauler" that has a closed section in the rear for Miller's gym equipment.
This season, Miller's ski technicians will travel with him. Rather than constantly setting up and breaking down their equipment at each stop on the circuit, they can now work out of their mobile homes.
Miller's agent, Lowell Taub, said all three vehicles are available for sponsor messages, although nobody has signed on yet. Miller has renewed agreements with Nike, his helmet sponsor Superfund, and goggle maker Briko. His deal with Head lasts beyond the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.