Vail Valley Voices: Nearly got skunked |

Vail Valley Voices: Nearly got skunked

Warren Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

It was that time of the year when I looked out my living room window on the north slope in Montana and watch the brown dirt creep up the side of the south slopes across the valley. Once again, nature continues its cycle of revealing all of the blemishes that Montana has kept hidden under a blanket of snow since last December.

It took three or four days for Laurie and I to pack up our trailer for the annual pilgrimage back to our island in the rain up near the Canadian border in Washington State.

We once again turned our backs on a winter spent living right next to a chairlift, a perfect location for anyone who likes to turn a pair of skis, and for both of us it is the culmination of a life spent working very hard so we can put our skis on and make turns down to the lodge for lunch whenever we want to and ride back home for our naps!

All of the great memories of yet another winter are now crunched together in a few brain cells to be trotted out on occasions and reviewed to see if we can do it even better next winter.

When most people go on a ski vacation, they try and get everything in one suitcase and rent their skis when they get there because of the excessive charges of the airlines. In our case we go skiing for four or five months at a time, and it is hard to take everything we think we need without a large trailer.

Laurie brings all of her bookwork to run her foundation to teach entrepreneurship to high school kids, and I bring along all of the material to work on my weekly newspaper columns and help write my autobiography, which seems to be coming along just fine … except slowly. (I’m only up to my early 20s. I’m afraid I’ll be dead before I get to my 50s!)

Meanwhile, I am trying to remember what happened between when I was teaching skiing at Sun Valley and got a job working for Emile Allais at Squaw Valley … besides surfing and working, what did I do during that summer?

I think it was the summer I worked for Featherlike Pneumatic Products testing air mattresses for leaks. Sounds like a pretty soft job, but I had to fill up the air mattresses with about 80 percent of the necessary air and then submerge them in a tank of water and mark where the bubbles came out with a special marking pencil. Then I would hang them out to dry and carry them to the ladies who were running the machines to glue patches over the leaks.

On Friday afternoon, I would merge into the southbound traffic for San Onofre, and two hours later I could catch a few waves on my 100-pound, 11-foot long, redwood surfboard. I’m not too proud to admit I was probably the last guy to convert from a heavy surfboard to a light one, but I had spent my life running back and forth on a long board, and I just never made the transition. I did have a 3-year-old Ford business coupe (it had no back seat in it). I had opened up the back so I could sleep and cook back there as well as haul my surfboard safely and comfortably.

We all used to sleep in a subdivided but not yet built neighborhood in South San Clemente, and one night I made the mistake of laying the nose of my surfboard on the ground and the other end on the back bumper. This made a perfect ramp for a skunk to walk up the surfboard and enjoy a loaf of bread out of my food box. I don’t know how long it took that skunk to eat that loaf of bread, but I held my breath for a new world’s record while he ate it. When he finally finished, he walked back down my surfboard and went back home for the rest of the night. If I had frightened him and he had sprayed, I would have had to sell the car to a junkyard. I would never have gotten the skunk smell out of it.

That same, beat-up ’46 Ford got me to Squaw Valley for that first winter when several important things happened. Squaw Valley was the only chairlift in the Lake Tahoe Basin, we had two other rope tows, we could sleep almost 40 people, and with four ski instructors in the ski school, there were days when we each had a pupil. On days when I didn’t teach, I started running my camera for the first time. With the $376 that I was able to earn selling cartoons and still photos, I bought 37 100-foot rolls of 16-millimeter Kodachrome film that I managed to shoot, edit and script for my first feature length film, called “Deep and Light.” Apparently, it did not smell like that skunk in my car the summer before because it was the first of hundreds of movies that I shot and glued together since 1950.

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 and stuff, log on to

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