Vail Valley Voices: Not the size of the hill that counts, says Warren Miller |

Vail Valley Voices: Not the size of the hill that counts, says Warren Miller

Warren Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

The wind is howling out of the southeast at 25, and the rain is driving hard against the windows of my office. The local newspapers report that the local snow is the best in a couple of decades and nearby Mt. Baker already boasts over eight feet.

My rowing dory is in the garage for the winter and my get in shape routine is bogged down in details. Should I work out before breakfast, after dinner or in between?

So far I have only been able to make up my mind on infrequent occasions. As a result, I’d be hard pressed right now to ski nonstop for more than 11 vertical feet.

However, if tomorrow I was faced with an untracked powder slope, a sunny day, and a pair of the new, turned-up-on both-ends skis, I would be so excited that I could probably make turns until I got to the bottom of whatever hill I started at the top of.

I read that Al Gore and his global warming corporation are spelling the doom of some ski resorts within the next 15 years. If they hang on for 16 years, I will be able to help celebrate their closing on my 100th birthday.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

Scientists say the world is changing because of greenhouse gases, but have you ever seen gas coming out of a greenhouse? I think the lack of snow at some ski resorts is a function of too much asphalt in the towns near their base.

This is no fault of greenhouse gases, or the ski resort, but instead the real estate developers who build strip malls for miles in either direction of any resort that has one or more quad chairlifts.

I’m forever asked what my favorite ski resort is and what kind of snow is the best. As long as the snow is white, it’s on the side of a hill, your edges are sharp, your skis are the latest and best for that kind of snow, then the only thing that matters is who you are skiing with.

When you go skiing with your friends, in reality you go chair lift riding with them because on the way down the hill you are either in front of or behind them. There is not a lot of time set aside for chatter when you are making turns.

I remember one time at the summit of Boyne Mountain when the people I was skiing with said, “Let’s meet halfway down and then figure out what other trail we should take.” Halfway down was 225 vertical feet below us.

But vertical feet, snow conditions and equipment are a relative thing. At the recent Chicago Ski Dazzle, I watched someone walk out of the ski swap with a pair of 30-year-old K2 Hamburger skis with Marker toe irons and long thongs that they had bought for $28. That person doesn’t know that there are easier pairs of skis to turn. But they will soon be out on the hill, making turns with a smile, and most likely doing it at Wilmot, Wis., which has at least a dozen chairlifts and only 300 vertical feet.

Let’s hear it for the hundreds of small ski areas across America that afford the opportunity for people to make their first turns and thus experience their first taste of freedom. Those resorts are where you can still get a hamburger for under $15 and what grooming there might be is done by a 30-year-old Tucker Snow Cat or the ski patrol sidestepping. A resort where everyone walks from the muddy parking lot to the base lodge, in their fur-covered after ski boots, carrying their brown bag lunch in one hand, their ski boots in the other and their skis and poles over their shoulder. A place where lift tickets are sometimes less than half of a so-called “destination” resort. But isn’t a small resort also a destination?

When the sun goes down at a small local resort, after riding in a double chairlift that moves slow enough that you can have a private conversation with someone you care about, you are just as tired and have had as many of your wishes fulfilled as someone who has been cruising the groomed stuff at a major resort where it cost over $300 to fly to the airport, to rent a 4-wheel drive for $100 a day, so you can drive another 100 miles or so, to sleep in a $250 a night condo.

It doesn’t matter which resort you are at when you start down the hill, the only thing holding you back is your limited supply of adrenaline. There is nothing in the world that can compare to the feeling of being an extreme skier because in your mind, at any moment you are on skis, you are one.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. We’ve brought him back to where he started. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log onto

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