Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: My memory pile
Ryan Summerlin March 1, 2013
In my office, I have two 8-foot-long tables with 24 lineal feet of three-ring binders full of my writings about my life, as well as 17 years of weekly newspaper columns.
it is hard to concentrate on a single event that happened in my 73 years of skiing, interrupted only while I was filming and producing my annual ski film. In those three-ring binders are many ski resort filming stories I have long ago forgotten about because during the editing process that resort that I thought was phenomenal while I was filming did not pass the editing and rehearsal process.
There were not very many times when I climbed on an airplane without my 16mm, hand-wound, Bell and Howell camera. It has been a lot of years since I switched to an electric driven Arriflex, as my search increased for higher production value in the films continued throughout all of those years.
I can open a three-ring binder and it is about living in Topanga Canyon, north of Santa Monica in 1930, and what I had a chance to learn in those days when my brain was almost empty. It seemed to soak up knowledge minute by minute for the rest of my life. It’s just recalling it that’s the problem.
There is another notebook about the construction on Orcas Island, where we built one of the best skateboard parks in the world.
And there is another three-ring binder labeled “Vail,” where my wife, Laurie, and I settled down for the first 12 years of our married life together. In early 1987, we had been riding on a fixed grip, double chairlift one day, hunkered down out of the blizzard, when I said, “I’m getting tired of all of my towels in my apartment having a green Holiday Inn stripe down the middle.”
We both had been recently divorced. Before I knew it, we had bought one of the few ski-in, ski-out, vacant lots left in Vail from our friends, the Byers. About a year later, we were married in the living room of the home we built next door to the Byers. All during those 12 years in Vail, we were skiing together nearly every day of each winter.
There is another binder about those days of selling half of my film company to some partners on a five-year contract. Those were exciting, changing times, as has been every day of an up-and-down life that gets more exciting every day.
Another project in a binder is about a school we have down in Big Sky, kindergarten through 12th grade. The other day I was talking with the TV class and suggested that the class produce a half-hour TV show about their school.
I promised to get a production bid sheet from Hollywood. The teacher could then assign jobs to the kids in the class. When the film was finished, I suggested that they have one of the students who was partly raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, translate it into Russian and narrate it. She could then take it back to St. Petersburg when she goes for a month this spring and show it to her classmates there. It would have a general theme of living in Montana and more specifically, about what her school was like.
A camera has always been a magic blanket for a journey to freedom for me. Why not do it on the 12-year-old student’s level? So little cost for a great experience!
I have notes to remind myself that in certain areas of certain states, I should never go over 2 mph over the speed limit. And another one about the result of letting my driver’s license expire while driving a rental car in Utah. I wound up with a Utah driver’s license with a Hermosa Beach, Calif., address.
Late 1-below-zero night, I was stopped for speeding, but the car I was driving was one of the annual loaners from the Ford car pool in Maryland with Boston plates on it. The arresting officer finally told me to check into the first Howard Johnson’s Motel I came to and sleep it off. I didn’t (don’t) even drink!
I think that was one of the few days I ever bought a chairlift ticket. I was being shown a ski resort in Maine. After we walked the base facility with the manager, some local skiers and I walked over to the ski lift. I had my rucksack and tripod. After everyone got on the lift, it was my turn to ride.
I was standing with the manager when the lift operator asked to see my lift ticket. I had to go back to the lodge and buy one while everyone waited to be filmed skiing on hard-packed, Maine snow-ice. I cheated a little bit on this shoot by running the same roll of film through the camera four times.
Later that month when I was back in Hermosa Beach, they called to ask how it looked. I said it looked good through the viewfinder, but we wouldn’t know for sure until we see it on a big screen. Call me in a week and I’ll let you know.
Of course, it ended up on the cutting room floor! The ski area policies didn’t take into account how many, many thousands would have seen the film that next year. Again, that was the only lift ticket I bought once I started the film company. But that’s Maine, right?
And more notes about new skis on the market: When Howard Head first showed up at Sun Valley with a dozen pair of his shiny new aluminum skis. Only a couple of the more than 20 Austrian ski instructors would try them. Their attitude was that if God had made aluminum trees, then it would be OK to ski on aluminum skis.
I have over 80 years of this kind of stuff and the written records to prove it! Most of the stories are being put together as I write my autobiography. It’s such a huge job and my wife is right beside me, helping all the way. She has said, however, that I have to either die or cut off the story now at 88 years old. It’s too much work!
She’s like that.
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.