Ski instructor’s confidential: Warren Miller’s thumb |

Ski instructor’s confidential: Warren Miller’s thumb

Allen R. Smith
Special to the Vail Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

Long before alpine skiing took off for the masses, I used to film my friends’ rudimentary attempts at skiing. In the evenings over beer, we would gather around the projector and kibitz each other’s futile attempts at staying upright.

Soon, another unknown ski photographer named Warren Miller starting making his own 8-millimeter films with more commercial aspirations. Some of Warren’s early attempts at filmmaking were primitive, at best.

It was not uncommon for his films to have overexposed frames and scenes where the camera moved around with a large thumb in the corner of the screen. So, before he went out on the road to present his films to paying customers, he would show them to his friends. This gave him the opportunity to get feedback and allowed him to practice his narration.

Film was also expensive in the 1940’s, so Warren tried to use as much of the raw footage as possible, discarding little. Instead of tossing unused footage in the trash, he would work it into his presentation and gloss it over with witty dialogue.

Aware that I had made some early ski films of my own, Warren came up to me after one of his screenings and asked, “Wolfgang, what did you think about the film? I only had to discard 35 feet of footage.”

I looked at him and said, “Yes. That’s the problem.”

Wolfgang Lert, San Francisco

The Vail Daily is serializing, “Ski Instructors Confidential,” Allen R. Smith’s book of on-mountain anecdotes from ski instructors. Smith is a freelance writer living in Vail. Copies of the book can be purchased at The Bookworm of Edwards or at

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