Warren Miller

moon eclipse
To start off, here is a picture of the Super Blue Blood Red Moon that I took yesterday morning. It is nowhere near as beautiful as some of the images that I saw taken by others, but it is evidence that I did take time to go out and make some pictures of a unique event. There were a few more clouds on the horizon than I expected, but with a little patience, there were some moments when it was possible to get a few pictures.

There is another story that I want to write about this morning, however.

We drove into Boise, Idaho on a hot day in July of 1985. The trip across the desert from Twin Falls in a U-Haul truck with no air conditioning, had seemed to take a lot longer than I expected. I was hot and tired. The car in which my family was traveling was pulling a trailer and I was in the U-haul with another car in tow. The car on the dolly behind the truck had a ski rack with skis on it. By the time we got the U-haul unloaded and fixed up beds for everyone to sleep on and got the U-haul and the car dolly returned, I was totally out of energy so I left the skis on the roof rack. The next day, while running errands, I met a few Boise natives who were attracted to the kind of person who would be driving around in July with skis on the roof of the car.

That fall, through connections with the skiers I had met, I headed to the Egyptian Theater for the annual showing of the latest Warren Miller ski movie. It was an annual tradition in Boise and one that I managed to make most of the ten years that we lived there. That first year, I couldn’t afford the $125 for an annual pass that year, so didn’t go to that table in the lobby of the theater, but I had my seat for the show, which in typical Warren Miller fashion, was great fun. The movie that year was titled “Steep and Deep” and it featured some really fantastic helicopter shots of incredible powder on incredible terrain. It was the first time I had seen heliskiing. There was a shot of two skiers hanging on to the skids of a helicopter and dropping off at the top of the mountain at about 25 feet above the snow.

As is typical for a Warren Miller film, there were plenty of spectacular wipe outs with ski equipment spread all over the hill and a few dramatic collisions with trees and other objects. There were some shots of pretty crazy stuff, like a guy skiing under the belly of a horse. That was the thing about Warren Miller’s annual ski films. They kept you entertained all the way through a feature-length production.

Also typical of the movies was a collection of clips of people falling off of ski lifts. One of the things that Warren Miller used to say was, “A rope tow is a mechanical device designed to make me look like a fool. A chair lift is a mechanical device designed to make me look like a complete fool.”

We laughed and gasped and enjoyed the film. And for the rest of that decade I made it almost every year to the annual showing of the movie. Most years I had my money for my annual ski pass as well.

What I didn’t know at the time is that Warren Miller was already pulling back from the intensity of making a feature-length film every year. He served as executive director of his films only through Winter Heat in 1987, though he was the narrator of the films through the 2004 feature.

Warren Miller made his first feature film over the winter of 1949-1950 while living in a camper trailer in the parking lot of the Sun Valley Ski Resort. They were so short of money that they made tomato soup out of water and ketchup packets from the ski lodge. They couldn’t afford the ski passes, which were less than $10 per day, so they bribed lift attendants with beer to get to the top of the mountain to film. Miller couldn’t afford a sound studio and he couldn’t afford a distribution network, so he hand carried copies of the film from theater to theater throughout the west and stood off to the side and narrated the film live. There weren’t that many showings in 1950.

35 years later, the annual Warren Miller ski film was a well entrenched tradition with product placements, sponsors, and really good sound.

Warren Miller produced 38 annual feature-length films and continued to participate by narrating films through the 55th movie. His company continues to produce films and he was around and participating through the 2017 film, “Line of Descent.” That’s 68 feature length films in 68 years. It is, by any standard, an impressive run not matched by any other film maker.

Warren Miller was 95 when he died on January 24 at his home on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington. Along the way he managed to write and publish at last half dozen books as well as his amazing catalogue of films.

The world has changed. Ski racks no longer clamp to the rain gutters of cars, replaced by rack systems that cost more than an entire set of ski equipment used to cost. And those 210 cm telemarking skis that I used to pack around look outrageously long compared to the curvy skis used by downhill skiers today. And I’m a bit older and a bit stiffer and don’t shred the bumps like I used to. A half day of skiing leaves me a bit stiff and cramped. But I still remember the freedom that skiing gives and the culture of people who enjoy being out of doors, breathing fresh air and experiencing winter in its fullness.

So I didn’t want to let Warren Miller’s passing occur without a mention. He inspired a lot of us for a lot of years and added joy to our lives. His films continue to be worth watching.

Besides, when you need a pick up, you can always search YouTube for “Warren Miller ski lift bloopers” for a good laugh.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!