Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Never at a loss for words
Vail, CO, Colorado
“Writer’s block.” I have read about it over the years, but so far, I have evaded its grip. I think I have not suffered from it because there is just so much to write about. (My wife would say that that is a hanging preposition, but I don’t know about those things.)
I have finally written my way through 87 years of an up-and-down life in my autobiography, and I have written way too many words.
Now I have to go back and throw out stuff that might not be of any interest to anyone else, such as people who might swipe their credit cards in a bookstore or online.
I’m hoping they become involved in it and that it will become a page-turner for them. Will Warren survive yet another financial disaster? Will the helicopter crash – as it did one day when I could not join an end-of-season ski trip in Elko, Nev., when we lost my good friend Frank Wells.
I have to sort out what I have written in the bio and the more than one thousand weekly columns for the Vail Daily during the many years, and make sure that this week’s story is different than last week’s.
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This is one of the best times of the year: When you look to the east every morning and hope that the sun will rise under the low scudding clouds, recalling the adage of “Red sky in the morning is a sailor’s warning,” hopefully meaning a storm is on the way, bringing snow. I know it was true the day we got sunk in a hurricane in the South Pacific a few days before Japan surrendered.
This is the time of the year during which anyone who owns any sliding-on-snow equipment can hardly wait to strap that equipment to their feet and spend the day risking their lives when they almost catch an edge and barely miss a tree at any speed in excess of 3 mph. Those trees are all very solid, and all of those insurance companies you see advertised on TV don’t help when you hit one with any part of your body.
Why not write about one of the early freestyle contests – when a competitor had to do an aerial of some kind, continue down through the bumps and do some ballet maneuvers at the bottom, all nonstop? There were a couple of contests in which a contestant was a little too juiced up and did his entire run naked. He lost because the judges were not paying attention to his maneuvers; instead, they were focusing on flying body parts. These were the old days for a lot of people, and cold days for those guys.
What about the day that they started up the first chairlift in the world at Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1936? The PR department had invited a lot of Hollywood and New York celebrities to come and ride this new-fangled gadget and enjoy Christmas in the snow.
They all arrived a week before Christmas, and there was not a single snowflake until the first week of February. Sun Valley survived for a lot of reasons. One of them is because the freight car of coal they burned every day to heat the place came in on the Union Pacific Railroad, which happened to own Sun Valley.
It would be almost five years before they built ski lifts on Baldy because the skiers and the equipment that they used were not good enough to handle its steep and unforgiving trails. There were only two runs down from the Roundhouse: Canyon and Exhibition. Both are difficult and steep, even by today’s standards.
As the sun gets lower in the southern sky and daylight saving time is now gone, stuff begins to appear in my mailbox, offering vacation discounts if I rent the holiday condo early. What if I make my decision when I see enough snow on the ground to be sure that all of the millions of dollars the ski resorts have spent this summer will whisk me to the top of their various mountains 5 or 10 percent faster? What do you do with that lift ride time that you have saved?
I really used to like the fixed grip double chairlifts because I could ride with someone and get into a nice discussion.
Today when I get on a detachable quad chairlift with three other people, one of whom I might know, chances are the others will be on a cell phones, texting someone for bragging rights.
A couple of years ago, I skied with a few guys who had their own GPS gizmos with them. After each run, they would send a text message to someone in New Jersey or Alabama to make sure they really had serious bragging rights when they got home.
One of them even downloaded his GPS path for the day into his computer and then printed it out for his vacation diary.
I wish I could write about the abundant snow in the ski resorts all over the world but, unfortunately, the snow has been falling in places such as New York City, where there are not a lot of chairlifts.
I have been wondering for many, many years why so many people who really loved to ski still live in a big city somewhere and don’t just hang it up in the city and move to a ski resort and do the same thing they do in a city.
Almost every job that is done in a city today is also done in a ski resort. If you spend any amount of time in front of your computer at home, working instead of going into the office, why not do it on a table in your kitchen, where you live within walking distance of a chairlift instead of a subway station?
It probably sounds as though I am an evangelist trying to get people into the mountains instead of living the city life. Maybe I am. All I know is that I spent most of my life traveling the world with my skis and my camera, and I found work wherever I went. I also found help wanted signs in a lot of the ski towns I visited.
The winter snow at the ski resorts will come and go in what will seem like the blink of an eye – how many days will you be making turns? That number is entirely up to you and how much you really want to enjoy the freedom that you get on the side of a hill.
I am one of the luckiest guys in the world to have found Laurie 28 years ago and married her, because she also loves to ski. Unfortunately for me, I always have to catch up to her, but she waits for me at the bottom of the lift. We have lived at ski resorts ever since we met and shared countless runs together. Only you can evaluate how much time you can set aside to go skiing. Why not move to where it is and go to the city occasionally? I think that is called role reversal.
Averill Harriman led the way when he had the foresight in the 1930s to start the building of Sun Valley. Dave McCoy financed Mammoth with plowed-back earnings from his first rope tow. Alex Cushing, an attorney from Boston, put up the money to build Squaw Valley.
Walter Papke from Chicago put up the money to build the first two chairlifts in Aspen. Vail was financed by a large group of skiers, businessmen mostly from Denver, some of whom bought $10,000 vacant lots and got a pair of lifetime lift tickets in the deal. Those financiers are manufacturing freedom time for anyone who buys a lift ticket.
Get going because you only have until next April to carve turns on your skis or snowboard.
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, visit warren
miller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warren