Warren Miller: Shushing through the ski memories
Vail, CO, Colorado
Santa Claus has come and gone and left the best present of all, powder snow in abundance all over the West.
Here in Montana, the skiing is beyond description as in perfect. Our guests have come in from a day of skiing with frostbitten gums from smiling so much because “The snow covers any blemishes that the earth might have.” And it does!
I’m just starting my 71st winter of making turns during my 84th year on whatever I could strap onto the bottom of my discount ski boots. Sharing as many of those experiences as possible with you because it is what I enjoy the most about such a freedom filled life so far
Experiences such as: Skiing through a gigantic ice crevasse-tunnel in a glacier we named the Cathedral of the Gods. It happened in Zermatt, Switzerland, on a warm April afternoon. We followed our guide down into a crevasse that opened up into a quarter-mile-long, 75-foot-high cathedral of deep blue ice. I had all of my camera equipment in my rucksack and I didn’t take a single picture of it. During almost 50 years on the side of a hill there were a few things I experienced in my travels that I saved just for my own brain, perhaps, to write a long story about it later.
On July Fourth of 1953 I went to Mt. Baker, Wash., to film the Slush Cup. This was in the days when it was a real glacial pond and before it got shut down because of too many people trying for greatness while using chemicals in place of courage.
There was an early December day in the late 1950s when Walt Stopa at Wilmot, Wis., had cobbled together one of the first snow-making machines in the world. He had bought a lot of galvanized pipe and fittings, rented an air compressor or two and rammed air under high pressure against water that made such small drops out of it that it fell to the ground in the form of snow flakes. (Ice?) It was a big white patch of the only snow east of the Continental Divide and I was able to borrow a16mm camera and film it for my next year’s audiences. I was doing about 100 different cities with on-night stand personal appearance lectures then.
Every winter, when I would travel to Europe to film, I would take my tape recorder to play my musical score for my film and hire a local translator to deliver my narration into the local language. Here were two major problems. Sometimes my translator would get so involved in listening to what I was saying that he wouldn’t translate for me. One of them had been a U.S. prisoner of war in Texas and learned his English with a Texas accent. The other problem was that the electricity was 50 amp 220 volts, so my music would play about 10 percent too slow. I had to put my tape recorder on fast forward occasionally so it would catch up and work with what was on the screen at the time.
Over the years I would get phone calls from friends who said, “I’d like you to come up here and fly around in a helicopter with us for a few days and take some movies. We need a promotional film to raise money to build a new ski resort.” I traded my time and talent with a movie camera for undeveloped land before the ski lifts were built.
I filmed the growth of Courchevel, France, from a single gondola and a few surface lifts into a trio of resorts that has almost 250 lifts and is 14 airline miles from one end of The Three Valleys to the other.
What about Everett Kercher, who came to Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1948 and bought the Dollar Mountain chairlift from Pappy Rogers for $4,800. It was the first one built in the world. He and his ski school director, Victor Gottschalk, took it apart bolt by bolt, hauled it to Michigan and put it up on Boyne Mountain. Everett had bought that mountain for a dollar because it was too steep to grow potatoes on. Or so that part of the story goes.
I could, fortunately, for me, write a long story about the only time that I ever turned down a free helicopter ski trip. It was to be with my good friend Frank Wells, who was the co-president of Walt Disney at the time and we would ski out of Elko, Nevada. Laurie and I had already been scheduled to pack up and move to Orcas Island that weekend, so I missed the trip.
I would have been sitting in that helicopter, right beside Frank, telling stories to each other. On the last flight of the day Frank, the pilot, the cameraman’s’ wife and the guide were killed instantly when the helicopter engine flamed out and it slammed into a tree at 125 mph.
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, beginning this week. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto http://www.WarrenMiller.net