Warren Miller


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August 1, 2013
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Summer skiing

Often in the first decade after someone learns to ski, they want to do it all year around. As a result, a lot of summer skiing ideas have come and gone since I tried to do it in the 1940s and ‘50s.

A lot of ski resorts and small hills close to a large population have tried a lot of different summer substitutes for skiing.

For example: In Orange County in Southern California, an entrepreneur sprayed Gunite on a 200-foot-high local hill and put up a couple of rope tows. He attached plastic bristle brushes of some kind all over the small hill so skis would slide and edges would grip. The resort was a success for a few weeks until a group of motorcycle riders did wheelies up the hill and ripped grooves in the plastic brushes and the investors declared bankruptcy.

Mt. Baldy is 10,000 feet high and less than 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The operators promoted weekend skiing on straw for several years. They also offered Austrian folk dancing lessons, Bratwurst and ski jumping onto straw from a ramp that was 3 feet high. You had to buy a $5 single ride lift ticket to get from the parking lot to the top of the straw-covered ski slopes. It is hard to enjoy making turns on straw when the thermometer is in the 90s and a thick layer of ugly brown smog is at the bottom of the chairlift.

Over the years, quite a few resorts have installed alpine slides. This is a plastic trough that resembles a bobsled run but without the high speed and danger, plus you are sitting down while you are doing it. These slides, of course, are removable for the winter season.

But after Dad gets nicked for a bunch of $5 or $10 rides for each of his kids and their friends, they spend their summer vacation somewhere else that doesn’t have such a cash-drain for Dad.

One year in my film, my son, Scott, filmed roller skis for me. Imagine roller blades with 6-inch-wide wheels that stay on top of the dirt. He chose the knee-high spring-green grass near San Francisco and the roller skiers looked just as though they were skiing in deep green snow. Unfortunately, the roller skis crush and kill the grass, so land owners are not too keen on letting the roller skis wreck their hilly pastures. I think the importer of the roller skis might have sold several hundred pairs nationwide. It is rumored that today he is selling personalized golf tees.

In the past two decades, mountain biking has replaced the thrill of downhill skiing for a lot of younger people. The chairlift will haul you and your bicycle to the top of the mountain, but the costumes of some riders speaks to the danger of doing it.

I think I’m too old on a hot summer day to put on ice hockey hip pads, football shoulder pads, a motorcycle crash helmet with a chin guard and go racing down a narrow, rock-covered wooded trail just for the fun of it.

Instead of taking a summer vacation from your air conditioned office, why not trade off with someone and take two winter vacations and let them have your summer vacation? Getting the extra skiing makes sense to me.

You can ski all year around at Mt. Hood just east of Portland, Ore. They have a chairlift suspended over a large glacier where a lot of ski racing camps rent part of the snow for the summer. The camp owner runs his race camp on a hundred or so foot wide strip of snow or glacier, and you can send your aspiring racer there to try and keep up with a kid his own age whose father can afford to send him there for the entire summer instead of just one week.

Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia offers all-summer skiing on their high glaciers, and reports of the good skiing can be heard from anyone who can afford the time and money to fly there and ski in June and July.

I was very lucky because I lived not too far from the ocean and discovered the total involvement that surfing can wrap around you in the summer, and I found this out at a very young age. I built my first surfboard in the seventh grade in woodshop in 1937,and my summers were completely booked up for the rest of my life until surfing got too crowded because of the invention of the light surfboard. Then I went on to catamaran sailing and then eventually, windsurfing.

In the summer of 1937, there was a ski resort on Cahuenga Pass, only two miles from Hollywood and Vine.

Sepp Benedicter had hauled a lot of pine needles down from the San Bernardino Mountains and covered a hill where Studio City is today. He attached one end of a rope tow to an oak tree and the other end ran around the rear wheels of his truck. On a good weekend when it was not too hot, Sepp might have as many as 50 people riding his rope tow and taking ski lessons from him.

There were a lot of very dedicated Austrian skiers who were smart enough to get out of Austria before Hitler marched into their country. They led the ski schools at most of the major ski resorts in America until 1960.

Some of them would spend the summer traveling and promoting skiing, and a few of them even had a ski movie to show.

In 1940, Sun Valley had Dick Durrance make a ski movie. They gave a copy of the movie, a railroad ticket and a movie projector to ski instructors to excite potential visitors during the next winter. During those years, ski clubs began to build their own Nordic ski jumping hills as well as ski club houses that they could sleep in during the winter, which are still in use by the next generations of members today.

Skiing is a disease that people who are infected want to share. And it spreads like the flu!

It was as though a skier needed to have people around him or her who shared the enthusiasm and could preach the gospel of freedom during the hot summer months..

When I got back from the South Pacific in July 1945, I put my redwood surfboard in the back of the old Buick and went surfing at Santa Cruz. Stashed alongside of my surfboard were my skis and boots. From Santa Cruz, I drove east to Yosemite, picked up a friend and drove to the top of Tioga Pass, where there was still some snow. We managed at least half a dozen runs each and enjoyed every one of them, including the climb to get them.

As the saying goes, “Been there and done that.” In between then and now, I have managed to get enough skiing in during the winter and a lot more than most people. I’ve been pretty lucky.

I was also able to watch ski movies almost every day all summer while I was busy editing my annual ski movies. I understand the urge to keep on turning down the side of the hill, but without the frozen white stuff under your feet there is a key ingredient missing. So far no one has found a substitute for it. Well, maybe in Saudi Arabia, where they have built a giant indoor ski hill, they just cool off the inside of the building so they can cover the hill with hose-driven snowflakes, or manmade snow as it is called.

There is no substitute for a clear blue sky on a January morning when it is just above zero, there are 8 inches of untracked powder, and you are the first in the lift line waiting for it to start.

Now, if someone just knew where the white goes when the snow melts, we could all go there and ski in July or August.

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.


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 29, 2013 01:49PM Published Aug 6, 2013 02:41PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.