Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Thanksgiving musings |

Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Thanksgiving musings

Warren Miller

I am on my way to Southern California for a week of seeing my three kids and some old friends. I know it will be a time for nostalgia and catching up with people, but sadly a lot of my old friends are now gone.

For many years Mammoth was the ski resort of choice for all of us on Thanksgiving weekend. Rope-tow tickets were $2.50 a day, and Dave McCoy (the founder of Mammoth) was working everywhere. Dave’s wife, Roma, had a cigar box with a lid on it, keeping all of the $1 bills from blowing away.

Most of the weekend skiers slept in the campground, skied their brains out and then had a very sleepy 350-mile drive home Sunday night. The cars were so slow in those days that you could fall asleep while driving and not end up very far off of the road.

By 1959, my ski-film business had grown to where I was doing almost 100 personal appearances with the film each year. At that time, I narrated my shows live from the stage. For the greater part of the ’50s, it was always a dollar to see what I had spent a year creating. In a few odd cities, admission ticket prices had climbed as high as $1.25 a seat.

Without fear of exaggeration, I think my audiences averaged somewhere around 500 people per show. Some shows higher and some shows lower, but about 50,000 people saw my film in one year. As a side note, Beta and VHS would not appear for 15 or 20 years.

To show a film in that many different places involved a lot of airplane, bus and train rides and a lot of sleepless nights behind the wheel of a rented car, not to mention a lot of motels.

I learned early in the motel-rental business to never try and go to sleep on the side of the bed that has the telephone close at hand. Statistically, that is where everyone else sleeps, and the mattresses all have a deep groove on that side.

My 40 percent of the $50,000, from the $1 ticket sales, was enough money to care for my family, make the next movie and finally give up carpentry work at $2.50 an hour. During the summer I missed that $18 a day of wages that carpentry would have earned me.

Fortunately, I was able to put my Chevy up as security in order to gain a loan from a local bank. That line off my Chevy got me financially through September and half of October before the $500 a show from narrating my movie started rolling in again.

I am enjoying technology today and the fact that I can show and tell my creativity to more than 50,000 people through Facebook with a single keystroke. People can also read my column full of my skewed view of things in a ski-resort newspaper in almost a dozen places.

In today’s “instant everything,” sometimes the thrill of the chase for information of almost any kind is missing. There is no reason to telephone someone I once was in the Jantzen International Sports Club with – such as Frank Gifford, Bob Cousy, Ken Venturi or Bud Palmer – because when I want to write about them, I simply Google their names, and everything I need to know about them is there before my eyes in a couple of


The same kind of information about me is there for anybody who wants it, no upfront and personal on the phone.

I am sure glad I followed my grandfather’s advice when he said, “Never tell a lie, because you don’t have a good enough memory.” Even with that, there are mistakes I made that are coming to life as I write my autobiography.

If you did not make any mistakes when you have lived as I have, you just were not trying hard enough. I say this because there was always a lot of guesswork in many of the things that I did. I did not have sufficient knowledge to know whether or not I should climb that far out on a limb and not have it break under my weight. Even without Google to help me, I knew that I was always trying to do things that were statistically improbable.

Fortunately (and statistically), in all of the untracked powder-snow slopes I filmed and skied on, I never once recorded an avalanche on film, nor was I in one.

If I wanted to investigate more deeply, I could look at the fact that I have already outlived my statistical lifetime. If you go by that very real statistic, it is no wonder that many of the people I surfed with and skied with 60 or more years ago can’t answer the telephone when I’d like to call them and have dinner during my Thanksgiving trip to L.A.

Gratification, for me, has always been greater when the time clock was working against me. The only people who told me I could not become a filmmaker were other filmmakers who had done it for a long time.

In my gut it seems as though that was the only thing I ever wanted to do until I came to the realization that all I really wanted to do was tell and write the stories, such as the one you are now reading.

There are more than 300 million people in America, so what are the chances of me having you reading what I have just written on a small island 100 miles north of Seattle? Slim to none, but wine and stories take a lot of experience and a long time to ferment and be enjoyable.

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

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