Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Short stint as ski tour guide
Vail, CO, Colorado
After my first filming trip to Europe that Merrill Hastings, publisher of Skiing News Magazine, promoted for me in 1953, the only way to convince the airline to send me the second time was to promote a ski tour to the Alps via Scandinavian Airlines.
At every one of the shows that fall and winter, the audiences were told of the opportunity to be in my next movie by going to Europe and skiing with me for three weeks.
After promoting the tour in about 75 cities that year, 14 people signed up, and I met them all in New York City for a fun-filled, powder snow trip. And this only four and a half months after my young wife had died of cancer of the spine. I was ill-equipped mentally to handle the trip, but the people had all paid in advance so there was no turning back.
The flight was a slow two-stopper in a propeller-driven plane. We had to stop in Gander, Newfoundland, to refuel and then again somewhere in Ireland. I assumed the plane had four engines because at least one of them would stop somewhere over the Atlantic, and one did.
We finally arrived in Munich and grabbed the afternoon train to Kitzbuhel, where a real surprise awaited us. The person arranging the ground portion of the tour for Scandinavian airlines assumed no one would book the tour, so he or she had made no reservations. My 14 guests slept in 11 different inns, hotels and a chalet. As soon as I got everyone settled, SAS in Los Angeles was called and notified of the nearly catastrophic start of my first annual ski tour, and which could well be my last at that time.
Arrangements were made so we could all eat together, at least. The tour started off so badly for me there was no time to even think about taking movies.
A perky little blonde lady was the first casualty of the tour with a broken ankle on the second day. While I was visiting her in the hospital, she was already taking German lessons from her roommate, who was reported to be an Austrian countess of some kind.
The countess was almost out of money and sold me an antique pocket watch that was dated in 1898 and almost four inches in diameter. I endorsed a $20 traveler’s check to her and at dinner that night I was offered as much as $200 for the watch and silver chain. It is an antique in our home in Washington to this day.
By the time the group arrived in Zurs, Herbert Jochum had already heard of our plight, and this time, I spent the next five days sleeping on a sheet of plywood atop a bathtub. I could not go to bed until everyone had taken their bath.
Officials from SAS in Los Angeles had flown to Europe to try and straighten things out. The only thing I could accept was that every member of the tour would be getting their share of room and board refunded.
I tried to get their air fare back, but since they had arrived sort of on time (“on time” meant they arrived on the designated day), that wasn’t possible. I did save a lot of money on my travel expenses, but the footage of skiing that was taken suffered a lot. As I had in the past, I covered up the missing footage with a lot more words than I did in subsequent years.
The following summer, I was scheduled to lead a tour to South America aboard Panagra Airlines, but I ran out of time to do it and cancelled 60 days before the tour was scheduled to leave.
My second annual ski tour to Europe had adequate reservations, and I mentally eased up on my responsibilities and took time off from the tour to spend a few days filming, but I never ever had enough time to get the job done that I had set out to do.
On the second tour, we were skiing in Badgastein and decided to ski down to the next town and take the train back. This seemed like a good time for one of the members on the tour to fall and break his leg. There were very few ski patrolmen in those days, so I had another member of the tour haul his equipment down the hill, and I skied down with him on my back.
We caught the 5:53 train back to Badgastein with me carrying the 180 pound body with the broken leg on and off the train and along the two blocks to his hotel.
Our concierge found a doctor, and the message we got was just bring him in and the doctor would take care of him. The doctor was four blocks from the hotel, so it was another back-breaking slog through the narrow streets of Badgastein with my tour customer on my back. He caught up with us 10 days later in Davos, Switzerland.
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.