After more than a decade of personally narrating each showing of my feature length ski films, it got to be as though my trip from city to city was almost as predictable as if it was chiseled in granite. From the middle of November until the middle of December, I did the show in 29 or 30 different Eastern cities as part of my almost 100 cities each winter. Thanksgiving in Canada occurs in October, so I would always do Detroit the evening before Thanksgiving and then a show in Eastern Canada somewhere on the final Thursday of November, Thanksgiving in America.
One day in Montreal, I heard that there was snow at Mont Tremblant and that the Canadian Alliance of ski instructors would be there for a few days skiing with Ernie McCullough, the ski school director and great ski racer.
I had Friday night off, so I quickly called Ernie and he said, “Sure, come on up and we will all ski for you and your camera.”
I quickly rented a 16-millimeter camera and bought a dozen rolls of Kodachrome. Then, I rented a car so I could drive to Mont Tremblant after the show on Thursday night and be ready to film the first thing Friday morning.
At breakfast early the next morning, I arranged for a “pass the hat show” of my film that night.
My filming and ski costume was right out of Central Casting in Hollywood. I put on both of my nylon wash and wear shirts for upper body warmth and my tweed suit covered the rest of me. Two pair of sweat socks for mittens, rented skis with very dull edges and soft leather lace-up rental boots completed my attire.
Fortunately, the temperature was only single digits below zero, but barely. The filming went very well when you consider how icy it was. I did manage to get one shot of 32 ski instructors, side by side with locked elbows and skis inches apart making one coordinated turn all at the same time without falling.
Twelve rolls of Kodachrome recorded about a half an hour of ski action.
The ski instructors were most generous that night at the “pass the hat” performance, and I collected enough money in Canadian cash for me to buy my kids some nice Christmas stuff.
I had a show scheduled on Saturday night in Rutland, Vt., which is near Pico Peak, where Andrea Mead Lawrence, winner of two Olympic gold medals, was born and learned to ski on a T-bar her mother owned.
It was always difficult to depend on local knowledge to figure out how long it would take me to get from Mont Tremblant, through downtown Montreal, then through Canadian and American customs and then to Rutland, Vt., and find the high school auditorium and be there in time for the show.
I learned early in trying to do these difficult trips to find a taxicab and get him to lead me to the other side of town.
It was simple. I would tell them, “Here is $10,” Then I would show him a $20 bill, tear it in half in front of him and give him one half and keep the other half while I told him, “You get the other half when you get me to the right southbound highway to Rutland, Vt.”
I arrived at the Rutland high school auditorium with all 12 rolls of 16-millimeter Kodachrome exposed for the next year’s feature length film, a small paper bag full of Canadian $2 bills and a lot of coins, and set up my tape recorder to play the background musical track for the movie.
In those days I did not have a written script. It was all in my head.
I did have a two-day beard however, so I had to do a cold water shave in the backstage slop sink without a mirror. I took off one of my wash-and-wear shirts and put on my red and white polka dot bow tie.
It was always fun to tell an audience that the skiing and filming was great that same day, especially when there is no local snow.
It was only Thanksgiving weekend and I was already ahead of the curve on footage for the next year’s film. I had done a show on Thanksgiving night, and had that small paper bag full of money from the impromptu Friday night show. (A word of advice for money changing: The closer you convert it to the country of origin the better the exchange rate will be.)
The complexities of my travel problems were all part of the challenge of the job. This was before I put my voice and music on the film soundtrack and sent it to venues without me. Some of these experiences stand out in what I would call a normal few days in my ski film making business, one which I always thought that I never worked a day in the almost 60 years I owned it, it was so much fun.
The Rutland, Vt., show was a sell-out and early the next morning, I left my motel to drive my Canadian rent a wreck to the next show that was only a 273-mile drive away. On the way, I had to find a Railway Express office to ship the 16-millimeter camera back to the store in Montreal where I had rented it. FedEx had not been invented yet. Then I had to wrap the Kodachrome up and ship it to the lab in Rochester with instructions to return it to my office in Hermosa Beach. I don’t think I ever got to see anything I had filmed within a week or two of when I shot it. You just had to have confidence in your ability with a camera. There was no Take 2 and no way to go back and reshoot anything anywhere.
Summing things up: In three days, I had personally narrated the film in Montreal, Mont Tremblant and Rutland, Vt.; skied and filmed two of those days; somehow found my way in a rent-a-wreck to each location; shot 30 minutes of ski action and managed to sleep at least five hours each night.
I always considered opportunities such as these the icing on the cake.
The only bad part of the business was how difficult it was to get my laundry done. It was not difficult to get done, it was impossible. I would seldom get to my next show town before noon and so it was nylon, wash-and-wear dress shirts and wash my underwear and drape it over the heater in my motel room to dry. Then, with the heater turned way up to dry my underwear, the room would get too hot to get a nap in the afternoon.
Everything in life is a trade-off and experience is the only way to learn how to make good trades. Those three days of trade-offs worked for me and my growing, one showing at a time, film company.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto www.arrenmiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to www.warrenmiller.org.