Warren Miller: Always been a storyteller
July 4, 2010
If I had been born 200 years ago, I would have been the guy who traveled from town to town, telling stories about the people who lived in the town I had just left, or maybe stories about a couple of towns ago if that town was more interesting.
For more than 50 years, I told stories with film and music, and I have about a million other experiences, give or take eight or 10. Some are stories that I have been told, others I read about in some small-town newspaper or experienced myself. But the rest of my stories were never told in any of the hundreds of movies I made.
If I repeat a story that someone else told me 19 years ago, is it stealing a story?
Someone once told me “there is no such thing as an original story. Everyone just copies from someone else, alters it a little and conceals the source of the original story.”
What if I told you the story about driving our boat full speed through a place called Hole in the Wall, where the current runs more than 8 knots at full flood? We were dodging whirlpools and feeling our 30,000-pound, 44-foot long boat being thrown around like a feather in a gust of wind. In the middle of negotiating the rapids, I saw two logs heading my way and forcing me dangerously close to the rocks on my left. My wife had already gone below because of our near-death experience six years ago in almost the same place.
Is it stealing if I tell you this story? I have read quite a lot of stories about people up in British Columbia experiencing the same rapids and not surviving.
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I have told stories about my wife and I getting sucked backwards into a whirlpool, and if the transom of our boat had not been as high above the water as it was, we would have sunk without a trace in about a minute and a half, or less.
I have read stories of a ship more than 100 feet long, with 50 passengers on board, spinning in a giant whirlpool until it started sinking, completely revolving dozens of times as it slowly got sucked under water like a spider in a bathroom sink, until only the top half of the masts could be seen. They were still spinning when they got sucked under and disappeared without so much as a single piece of the vessel or a body ever washing ashore.
It is scary and exciting to sit on the dock and hear some of the old timers’ stories, and it is exciting to ride in a ski lift and be an old-timer and tell some of my very own old-time experiences.
One such story is about Sun Valley, Idaho, in the old days, when they had only four single-chair lifts operating and slept 843 people, with 843 employees. Not counting the bowls, there was only College, Exhibition, The Canyon, The Rock Garden, The Ridge and River Run to ski down and ride back up. Vacant lots in nearby Ketchum sold for $350. I know this is true because I bought my first piece of real estate in Ketchum for $350.
Back in 1952, I started printing a giveaway program for all of my ski movie showings. In the program, I wrote a story about living in the parking lot in Sun Valley all winter while skiing every day and only spending $18.
I had a little bit of room at the end of that story for another paragraph, and my printer said, “Why don’t you call your story, ‘Excerpts From My Forthcoming Book”?
I did, but I added another sentence: “To reserve your copy at the prepublication discount price of $2, mail me a postcard and I will send you a C.O.D copy when it is published.” More than 1,000 people sent me $2. The next winter, the headline for the story in my ski movie program was “Good Grief, More Excerpts,” and people started writing me for their $2 back. I had already spent the money, so I actually had to write and publish the book. The result was “Wine, Women, Warren and Skis.”
In 1999, I did the same thing again and wrote another book, “Warren Miller Lurching From One Near Disaster to Another.”
Many of the more than 50 stories happened to me, some of them happened to people I know very well and a few to people I never met. One thing I do know is that you will enjoy the book and the cartoons. Don’t forget that I will never ruin a good story with the absolute truth.
Today, you can get either of those books, plus some others, on our website, http://www.warrenmiller.net. I’m working on a couple of other book projects right now, too: my biography, a vintage ski photo book, a book about the 100 best ski areas and a cartoon book about all my sports. If you’d like to get on a list to be notified when those books are finally finished, just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will make sure you get a notice – no postcard necessary.
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 onto WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.