Vail Valley Voices: New year, new first day |

Vail Valley Voices: New year, new first day

Warren Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

My wife, Laurie, gave me an iPad for Father’s Day, and so far I haven’t gotten my fingers on it. By the time she gets up in the morning, she has read the Seattle Times and the Wall Street Journal, has checked out all of her e-mails and is all set to start the day working on the Freedom Foundation. In the meantime, I have cooked my daily bowl of oatmeal, cleaned up after spilling some of it and put the dirty stuff in the dishwasher. I was shaving last week when she said, “Wow, Warren, I just got an e-mail from our friend Roscoe (who lives in Big Sky, Mont.) that it snowed last night for the first time this year.”

I don’t care what anyone says – August is too early to start thinking about the beginning of a winter of making turns on my skis. I know there will be a few people in Montana who will gather their ski gear and climb up to where some of this early snow has blown in and is deeper than the rocks are tall. They will climb all day, make three or four turns and have bragging rights for the earliest skiing of the 2010-11 ski season. Wow, what an honor!

On the other side of the equation, does this mean that it is the end of the trout season, boating season, golf, hunting and hiking season and all sorts of other stuff? Not for me because I don’t live in Montana during what I consider the summer. When I get there in December, I will still have 120 days when the ski lift is running right outside my front door. Not to mention the same number of days that I will get to shovel the deck around our mountain chalet.

Usually, the first skiing of the season is at Arapahoe Basin, where people have been known to get in line as much as a day or so before the lifts start so they can have bragging rights of making the “first turns from a chairlift in Colorado” for the winter. Things such as this are very important in the resume of some people.

I have to admit, I get a little hitch in my git-along when I think about all of my first days of skiing for the winter, and there have been a lot of them. I even had one when I was in the Navy and stationed in Chicago. I got lucky because I had two weeks’ leave between when I got my commission in the Navy and when I had to report to a duty station in Florida. I had to spend a lot of time riding the train – from Chicago to Los Angeles and then back to Chicago and south to Florida – but I got up the hill.

When I was in Los Angeles, I got hold of a friend, and we drove up

to Mount Waterman for a day of skiing in January. There was plenty of snow on the hill, but it was frozen as hard as the asphalt we drove up on. The lift, of course, was not running, so we climbed to the top on frozen snow. The ice-hard snow was full

of Volkswagen-size bumps before

Volkswagens were invented. We had a leisurely lunch of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Three each, as I recall, and then half-a-dozen fig bars, which we washed down by sucking on an icicle that tasted a lot like the pine tree which it had hung from.

When it came time to ski down, neither of us were good enough to handle the steep hill, the big bumps and the icy conditions. We tried to make turns, but we kept traversing and traversing and traversing until we got across the ski run and ended up on the uphill side of a tree. We leaned against the tree for security and did an uphill kick turn. Finally, after at least 4,000 traverses and kick turns, we got within sight of the road at the bottom. The sun had long ago gone down, so we took our skis off and walked down backwards, kicking steps in the icy moguls.

When we got back to my home in Hollywood, as far as anyone learned, we’d had a fabulous day of skiing during my eight days in Southern California as a navy officer on leave, before going on active duty to help end the war in the Pacific and in Europe. Fortunately, we were not in the 10th Mountain Division ski troops or we might not have eventually won the war. (Could I be exaggerating my importance to the effort?)

Another memorable first day on skis was in 1946 at Alta, Utah, when we started out on an epic journey in November that would last through May of the next year. Lift tickets were $2.50 a day, so we worked on Saturday and Sunday at the Snow Pine lodge and earned $10.00, which paid for four days of skiing. We were living in parking lots for free and while those were the good old days, they were sure the cold old days.

And now, even though it is August and it has snowed in Montana too early, my broken back has healed and I am excitedly looking forward to yet another first day on my skis this year. I wonder when it will be?

For more info about Warren’s wanderings, go to or visit him on his Facebook page at To learn about the works of his foundation, please visit the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation,

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