Warren Miller: Good skiing doesn’t stop with the lifts
Vail, CO, Colorado
It is April, and in the past two weeks in Montana, we have had two of the biggest and best snowstorms of the year.
One dropped 22 inches of light Montana powder snow, and the other one this week dropped 21 inches. This guarantees that the spring skiing will be fabulous until the resort reluctantly shuts down on the day after Easter.
Most ski resorts shut down at the same time because almost all of the skiers have headed for a supposedly warm beach somewhere.
However, the ocean is still cold, so they will spend their time sitting on the beach in the fog while the bill is mounting on their rented surfboard and wet suit.
You can tell the affluent beach-goers because they have already spent a ton of money at their local Malibu tanning salon and are weeks ahead of the alabaster-white bodies of their skiing friends.
The smart people have hung around the resort and been climbing for a run or two a day on the best corn snow in the history of the world. If you are in shape and you leave early in the morning, you can climb about a thousand vertical feet an hour.
It will take about three hours to climb to the top of Baldy in Sun Valley. Plan it right, and your friend’s car will have been left beside the highway halfway to Hailey, and your car will have taken your group to the bottom of Warm Springs.
Once you get to the fire lookout on the summit of Baldy, there is time for lunch and a bit of liquid as you look forward to carving your skis in the half inch of delicious corn snow. You know enough to traverse until you find the just-right melted texture and then head down.
Some of my best memories of a 73-year career of making turns were carved on the south-facing bowls at Sun Valley. I had already exposed enough film for my next movie, and the whole day was reserved for my own memory bank.
Probably my best memory of spring snow was when we were coming down off of a glacier in Zermatt, Switzerland. The group I had been filming had gone on ahead in an effort to make the last gondola down that afternoon.
With my heavy rucksack full of camera, film, lenses, batteries and a weighty tripod, I was gliding along a four-mile traverse with the Matterhorn bisecting the scenery and rising skyward as it easily becomes the most photographed mountain in the world.
To the left was the Theodel Pass, and in the late afternoon backlight of the sun, I saw a pair of skiers heading my way while carving figure eights.
I side-slipped to a stop, lowered my heavy packs to the ground, set up my tripod, got out the camera and attached a long telephoto lens to it. I hooked up the heavy battery and watched for a turn or two as I composed and focused the scene in the viewfinder.
Then I thought, “Wait a minute. For the last 40 years, I have captured scenes such as this for the many films that thousands of people watch every winter. I’m going to save this scene just for me.”
And I did. I can write about it forever because the old, old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words holds true, especially when the picture is as unbelievably beautiful as this one was.
Maybe the next time I go to Zermatt, I will turn my camera on for this special shot. In the meantime, most of the images that Don Brolin and I both gathered that day are grooved into a DVD whose name I cannot even remember.
The next morning, instead of flying to the glacier in a Pilotus Porter airplane for more filming, we rode the gondola and then climbed to a special place where we could frame the Matterhorn exactly right for a very special shot. There, the four skiers, together with Don and me, spent about an hour building just the right bump so that when the sun was in the center of the picture and the Matterhorn was in the righthand side, Don could run the special 1,000-frames-per-second high-speed camera as the skiers did tip drops in front of the sun.
That visual memory of Switzerland found a place in a short film called “Free Ride” that became a finalist for an Academy Award.
If I had won an award, would it have changed my life? I don’t think so, because I have spent a lifetime with the absolute best career in the world ” traveling the world with cameras and skis.
Now I get to sit inside during a blizzard with 40-mph winds and write about some stuff that no one else in the world has seen firsthand and some stuff I shared with millions of people.
I can do that because when the ski lifts used to shut down in the spring, I knew there was a lot of fabulous spring skiing still available.
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 WarrenMiller.net