After traveling the road for 55 years with my skis and my cameras to share the freedom of skiing with the rest of the world, I was invited to Montana for the first time.
It was a unique invitation to the state because when I arrived there, I first skied on a 14,000-acre piece of private property with three different mountains on it. When I discovered what Montana had to offer, Laurie and I quit traveling. That was in 1997. I have since discovered a few things about the state, and the numbers fit in with the current deluge of numbers we watch on TV.
Montana is the fourth-largest state in America behind Alaska, Texas, and California. Before I go too far, consider that I was born in Hollywood, Calif., a couple of miles from Hollywood and Vine. In those days, Los Angeles only had about 1 million people in it and you could buy ranch land in the San Fernando Valley for as low as $50 an acre.
Times change things and in Montana, we have 16 ski resorts with at least one chairlift each. There are so few people here that only four of the ski resorts are open seven days a week. The rest that have a chair lift are only open four days a week because there are not enough people to form a lift line.
All of the 12 ski resorts that are open only four days a week might advertise in the same manner as this sampler ad I recently narrated for one of them:
"We suggest that you visit us on Thursday because we are closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so you have a better chance of skiing in untracked Thursday powder snow. Our accommodations are seven miles down the road and we suggest that you stay in the motel that advertises free color television. There are three restaurants in town, but we suggest you drive six miles farther and eat at the truck stop because they serve bigger meals and also make great brown bag lunches, so buy one because we do not serve food at our nearly private resort. We do serve cold soft drinks, beer, wine, hot coffee, tea, cider and chocolate. By the way, an all-day lift ticket is $42 and kids under 12 can ski free if a parent accompanies each.
"For skiing like it used to be, come visit us only 19 miles off of the interstate. Montana is the home of Yellowstone National Park as well as some of the best fishing in the world."
The other night, I had dinner with an addicted fisherman and asked him if he released all of the fish he catches. He replied, "Of course." Some people might consider him as dumb as a skier who rode the chairlift and didn't bother getting off at the top, riding back around to the bottom.
Montana has some of the most abundant fossil digs in the world. This is where Jurassic Park actually was when those 40-foot-tall dinosaurs roamed the earth. You can sign up for a tour and spend your holiday in the hot Montana sun digging for fossils. A friend of mine did that and she had so much fun finding a lot of fossils that she went home and sold her house in Newport Beach, Calif., and came back to Montana and married one of the younger fossils that she met on the dig. He was a stockbroker from Nantucket who was tired of commuting to Boston and had also moved to Montana.
Years ago, I was producing a snowmobile film for Yamaha in Cook City, Mont. In the 10 days we were there, it snowed 8 feet and they don't even have a ski lift. But it is the ultimate destination for anyone who straddles the throbbing engine of one of those machines all winter and is looking for the best place to do it.
Where else but in Montana can you stop in a roadside restaurant and have a buffalo burger, and while waiting for it, you can pull the handle of a one-armed bandit enough times to have to wash dishes to pay for your burger.
Up until 15 years ago or so, Montana had no speed limit on some of their highways. (Now that they do, my wife is on a first-name basis with nearly every state patrolman in the state. She even tried to bribe one of them with a box of chocolates she had with her. He didn't go for it.)
A friend of mine bought an expensive Porsche and came over here to try it out. He was clocked by a highway patrol airplane at 165 mph. When he crested a hill, way out in front of him in the flat, three State Patrol cars were stretched across the highway.
When he stopped, the first words from the State Patrol officers were, "Don't you feel a little silly? Now get out of the car and lie down in the middle of the highway on your stomach with your hands over your head while we look in your car."
There were no drugs, and when my friend finally borrowed enough money at the bank to pay the fine, he sold his Porsche and bought a Hummer and now skis at Sugarbush, Vt., with his movie star wife.
While on the subject of movie stars and celebrities, there are very few celebrities skiing in Montana. The reason is very simply because there are very few people here to watch them do what they do - like in Aspen or Vail.
Besides that, the paparazzi might be afraid of coming to Montana because of all of the Wild West stories they might have read as children. Also, there are very few direct airline flights that land close to any the 16 Montana ski resorts from their home towns of Malibu, Kennebunkport, etc.
Where we live in Montana, I sit in my office on the side of a ski hill called Pioneer Mountain at the Yellowstone Club and tell stories with my computer. My advice is to put one or more Montana ski resorts on your next year's ski trip itinerary. Who knows, with some luck we might run into each other waiting for the chairlift somewhere Thursday through Sunday at a ski resort, where the skiing is exactly as it was in the old days. And by the way, the parking is always free at these resorts.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller's stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to www.warrenmiller.org.