Warren Miller
Valley Voices

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March 14, 2014
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Vail Daily column: Notable guests

There is a lot to do at a ski resort besides ride a chairlift. I have spent most of my adult life riding them and then making turns or filming people making turns all day and attending more than my share of dinner parties.

My wife, Laurie, was a great cook, but she figures she has cooked 14,000 dinners in her life and she’s done with doing the whole dinner ... so if people want to come here, they help out! You should see her put aprons on the men for the washing up. They don’t dare say no to her! She is still a great dinner-party planner and hostess. Unfortunately, our dining room table only seats 16 people at a time unless you can keep your elbows in when you are cutting your meat. Everyone that comes for dinner brings something because our dinner parties are now nearly all potluck.

American Hero

In the last week, our dining room table was graced by (three-star) Gen. Tom McInerny who flew more than 400 combat missions in Vietnam. A genuine American hero! His son Tom Jr. had just bought a membership in the Yellowstone Club. The general was getting to know their just-around-the-corner new neighbors up on the golf course, Tom and Laurie Weiskopf, and getting tips from Tom for the soon upcoming golf season. Tom was sitting across the table and as a world famous golfer having won the British Open, Tom also designed and built our club’s golf course. I traded out teaching Tom how to ski, starting with the first lesson where the pointy end of the ski goes in the front, for golf lessons. Tom owes me 76 hours of private golf lessons. (My wife says I exaggerate a bit, but why ruin a good story with the absolute truth?)

It was nice to listen to these two men compare where they got first tracks on the mountain that day.

House Guests

Our house guests that joined the party that night were Jim Whittaker, the first American to stand at the summit of Mount Everest, and his wife, Dianne, who once held the record for a woman high-altitude climbing without oxygen at 26,000 feet on Annapurna. Their son Leif was also with them, and he has already summited Everest twice at the age of 26.

With table guests such as these, all I have to do is ask an occasional question and learn the inside stuff about how they achieved the pinnacle of their sport, but when everyone gets off the chairlift the next day, they are all equal. Whoever is the faster skier waits for everyone else at the bottom. That is usually my wife, Laurie.

At our weekly Saturday afternoon tea, Jim Whittaker and Conrad Anker told about some of their exploits near the summit of Everest in the death zone above 22,000 feet.

You can tell how tired you are by how many breaths you have to take between each step you take. He demonstrated that when you get to five deep breaths for every step you are starting to get in trouble.

Try doing this as Jim demonstrated and you can easily see how long it would take to climb that last two or three thousand vertical feet on Everest.

Conrad told us how he devoted a lot of time on one Everest expedition to the search for Mallory’s body. Mallory, in his expedition in the early attempts to climb Everest, was last seen at the base of the Hillary step. This is a 90-vertical-foot wall of rock that is the last obstacle to get to the Summit.

This is when a cloud came over and he was never seen again, nor was his climbing partner, Irvine. Conrad Anker found Hillary’s body and returned his compass and other personal effects to his heirs.

I have never wanted to climb for two reasons. First is that I am too careless, and second I did a lot of climbing on snow for a lot of years when I wanted footage of untracked powder snow. Just as important is that the climbing season is in the summer when I was editing my movies and every spare moment I had, I went sailing or surfing.

Search For Freedom

The one common denominator among everyone in the room was their constant search for freedom, which they also find on the side of a hill.

The level of worldwide talent and achievement develops further when we share dinner with Greg and Kathy LeMond. With Kathy’s constant support and love, Greg won the Tour de France three times and was the only American to ever legitimately win that incredible race. The final time Greg won it was with 39 lead shotgun pellets in his body from a hunting accident, three in his heart and several in his liver that cannot be removed. Even with those pellets in his body, he won the final stage and the entire tour by 18 seconds. Very soon, two movies will be out about Greg and his career. “Slaying the Badger” includes the politics involved in cycling. The second film is about Lance Armstrong’s career of doping and his fall called “Stop at Nothing.” With a background as a filmmaker, I thought both are very, very good and should be watched by everyone, cyclists or not, just to see the unfair practices that had developed in the sport.

I’m lucky Laurie likes to entertain such interesting people as I enjoy listening to every one of their stories and putting them in a nook or cranny in my memory bank and then telling you stories about them. They are all my heroes.

Laurie and our guests can walk a hundred feet from our front door and be in the middle of a great ski run called Pioneer and then ski down and meet other skiers, such as the ones I have talked about, and climb on a bubbled, quad chairlift and ski in untracked powder snow until the lifts shut off for the day.

Since we are right on the edge of the run, we open up our home to members and guests every Saturday afternoon for hot chocolate and schnapps or tea and to listen to stories of people such as I have just described.

On occasion, Chris Wright, who played a huge part in developing the technology to make fracturing in search of oil and gas viable, speaks to us about where that industry is. He has the most interesting talk that he gives on the history of energy which puts so much of it into perspective. He has flown to many countries to advise them on their fracturing and recently spoke to the House of Lords, helping them evaluate the pros and cons of making their country energy self-sufficient by increasing their own oil industry through the current, latest fracturing technology. Chris also brought David Rose from London to speak to us about the truth in evaluating “global warming” data. You can imagine how fascinating and illuminating that talk was.

When we are short of an overachiever of the week, I fill in as a substitute speaker and tell stories about the good old days that were good but very cold, except when we snuck into the big round hot water swimming pools at Sun Valley. They were just a short walk from where we were living in our small trailer in the Sun Valley parking lot.

I have finally figured out that I have 83 million stories somewhere in my brain. All I have to do is remember them.

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 WarrenMiller.net. For information about The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to www.warrenmiller.org.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 14, 2014 08:07PM Published Mar 14, 2014 03:24PM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.