Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: 20 years of columns started at Vail Daily
Vail, CO, Colorado
This is the time of the summer Olympics where numbers are flying back and forth by the thousandth of a second. The difference between a gold and a fourth in the Olympics is only 18/100ths of a second. How much is that in inches?
Given all of the focus on record numbers, I thought I would add a few numbers to my own record book.
August 2012 is the 20th anniversary of when I started writing my weekly newspaper column for the Vail Daily. That is over a thousand columns that average about a thousand words in length. That’s over a million words that average six letters each or six million key strokes. That does not count the space bar between the words.
My fingers haven’t been in this good a shape since I stopped hitchhiking everywhere I went, soon after I got out of the Navy.
Since I’m supposed to be writing about today’s ski scene, I had to include a little bit on this new GPS wristwatch I saw. This wrist watch can tell you how fast you skied on the last run, how many miles you skied, how much time you spent on the catwalks, how many rides you took on the lift, and even your total vertical feet of skiing for the day.
It can’t record that ermine running below the ski lift that you didn’t see or that pretty sunset from the lodge front porch.
But what you can do is transfer all of the data to your computer and send it to all of the people who didn’t come skiing with you this weekend.
I would also have to write about the new wide-angle GoPro helmet camera that a lot of people are using to record what is in front of them on every run. A lot of friends like showing me their helmet-cam footage when we go over to their houses.
If I have to look at one more shaky, point-of-view shot on a wide-screen TV after dinner, I will likely fake stomach trouble half way through the casserole dinner and go home early.
My marathon of writing originally began on a ski slope in the middle of August at Vail. I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery and was hiking with Art Kelton when the owner-publisher of the Vail Daily came by on his mountain bike and we started comparing stories of the old days when he said, “You write a lot of scripts for your movies. Why don’t you write a weekly column for my newspaper?”
We negotiated a weekly price starting out at $10 because in those days I was having so much fun writing scripts that I would have written columns for nothing. A few newspapers later, I raised the weekly price to $25.
It has been enjoyable from day one and keeps my brain from atrophying from non-use. The many columns of practice have also allowed me to write my biography as though I know what I’m doing.
This is the start of the fourth year of working on my bio, and I only have about eight or nine years left to write about. Along the way I have rounded up several thousand photographs.
One of them is the first ski picture I ever took. It was taken in 1937 at Idylwild, located above Hemet, Calif. We had left Hollywood at 4:30 in the morning for the long drive on a two-lane road most of the way. This was in February and a thin snow year in Southern California.
I started my picture-taking career using a Bakelite (early plastic) Univex camera that I had bought in a Sontag drugstore for 39 cents. It only had one shutter speed that was one-fiftieth of a second and no F stop adjustment.
We started driving home at about dusk after a two-hour walk down from the patch of snow we had finally found. I quickly fell asleep and woke up when our driver took a left-hand corner too fast and flipped the car. I broke my left arm and dislocated my wrist. I would not have another ski accident for 73 years of skiing until I came out of my binding and fell and broke my back in 2009 going 3 miles per hour.
I have been lucky to be able to write about some of the heads of state I have skied with and some almost heads of countries: President Jerry Ford at Vail; the governor of the Haute Savoie Province, France; Benjamin Netanyahu the prime minister of Israel; Vice President Dan Quale; vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp. All because of a 16mm movie camera that I made several hundred ski movies with. More numbers.
I also filmed and have written about ski pioneers, such as Dave McCoy, who borrowed $86 on a motorcycle to build his first rope tow and created Mammoth Mountain with 65 years if hard work; and Everett Kircher, who bought a used chairlift from Sun Valley, Idaho, for $4,800 , moved it to 400-foot-high Boyne Mountain, Mich. Today the Kircher family owns or operates more ski lifts in America than any other company, and they are run by Everett’s children.
When I started the film business and wrote the scripts for the movies, there were less than 15 chairlifts in America. While I have not skied all of them with my camera, I skied and filmed a lot of them.
I have written about tipping over in boats of all sizes and shapes, and sailing my catamaran to Catalina by myself for a weekend of sleeping on the beach and cooking dried food. I am lucky because as I write these words I am as excited now as I was the first time I wrote a column for the Vail Daily in August — 20 years ago.
Many times I have been asked, “Why don’t you slow down a little?”
I never have felt that I am charging along at an overly rapid rate. I do know, however, that as I cash the occasional check from a newspaper, I spend the money, for some golf lessons at our local Orcas Island, nine-hole golf course. I treat golf as what it is. It’s a game and I don’t need to keep score.
As Tom Weiskopf once told me when was teaching him to ski, “Don’t keep score, because the golf course will win every time.”
I treat everything I do as enjoyment. Why not? I consider myself one lucky dude and I hope I am able to keep you readers coming back for another 20 years of reading my writing with or without any score or numbers of any kind.
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 http://www.warrenmiller.org.