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Warren Miller: Snippets from bedside notes

Warren Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

I have had the pleasure of being one of the luckiest people in the world.

When my search for the free ski lift ticket started full-time in 1946, there were fewer than 15 chairlifts in North America, and I could still buy gas for less than 20 cents a gallon if I searched long enough for a nickel-off gas sta-tion. Yes, you could still buy a Coca-Cola for 5 cents, and a substantial used car could be bought for less than $100. The only downside was that mini-mum wage was still 25 cents an hour, and McDonald’s’ hamburgers had not yet been invented.

Since then, it has become a very different world with each passing year. I was lucky to get a job teaching skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1948-49 and at Squaw Valley in 1949-50. When that 16mm hand-wound movie camera showed up in my post office box in Sun Valley that day so long ago, it became my magic carpet to travel and film and share my home movies with whoever wanted to see them. It has been my lifelong career without ever working. I had a discussion with someone recently about writing my autobiography. I told them that I am as excited about writing it as I was when I was filming, editing and nar-rating footage of Jean Claude Killy ski-ing on a snow-covered, erupting vol-cano in New Zealand in 1968.

I’ve been trying to make notes of things that have happened in my life so that it might make writing my auto-biography a bit easier. I usually wake up a couple of times every night any-way because of a medical problem that anyone my age has. Every time I wake up, I make some more notes about what happened in 1958 or 1937 or whatever year has emerged from a fold in my brain that night.

This morning, my notes said: Many dog bites, Encino, California, 1932 or ’33. They also mentioned an operating table where someone cauterized 42 dog bites, and this morning I remem-bered that the table was stainless steel.

Wait a minute! A hospi-tal operating table has a white sheet on it, and a vet-erinarian has a stainless steel table. The notes were about a near-death inci-dent I suffered from the teeth of a very large dog. The incident prompted my father to take me to a veterinarian instead of a hospital because it would be cheaper. My memory is of me on the ground with that dog chewing on my shoulder and neck, shaking me like a rag doll. …

The next note: 1959, Bill Cooper led the four of us on an expedition up the Colorado River instead of down. We got as far as Lava Falls when he drove his boat into a humongous wave and sunk it. It took the rest of us four hours to recover whatever we could of the boat and other debris.

Then there was the 3 a.m. note: My first filming trip to Europe, when I stayed in the best hotel in Zurs, Aus-tria, for $4 a night, including three meals. Today, the same room with meals costs $400.

The note as I was waking up to get up and face the day said: Major change in Chamonix at La Flegere. I got to ride 10,000 vertical feet to the summit while sitting in a construction gondola that was nothing more than a few sheets of plywood. We were hun-dreds of feet in the air, gliding along on a fixed cable while being towed by another one. We had a box of metal parts with us to balance the weight of French ski champion James Couotet and myself. It was late spring, and we skied and filmed in knee- deep, untracked powder snow for the first 5,000 vertical feet. But by the time we skied the second 5,000 feet to the val-ley floor, we were walking down a dusty trail with our skis over our shoulders. In a restaurant at the bot-tom of the soon- to- be- new gondola, there was an old painting of the glacier when it came clear down into the val-ley 150 years ago. Since then, it has receded at least two or three miles.

There was another note, a very short one: Photographing a horse-racing film that received an Olympic silver medal in an Italian film festival. That note got me thinking. It was really a hoot to be able to direct my cameraman about what to shoot in Hawaii while I was running the home office. For instance, when Brian Sissle-man first came to work for me, his first photo job was to film a chimpanzee that could ski. He was gone for two weeks and came back with only one roll of film. “Why so few feet of film?” I asked. He replied, ” The chimpanzee was a lousy skier.”

The last note I looked over said: Dec. 27, 1984. That day, in the restau-rant at the top of Baldy in Sun Valley, Idaho, I said to a pretty lady, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I had breakfast with you and I hope your ex-husband seven or eight years ago in the Edgewater Inn in Seattle. After breakfast, you gave me a business card with blue ink on it. Is that true?” She said, ” Yes.” We have been together ever since because I married her two years later.

All of this reminiscing is great fun for me. I’m writing my autobiography and I get to relive my entire life, day by day. Of course, some things will have to be left out of it, or it will be a gazillion pages long and people will fall asleep reading it!

Interested? Why not send me a note and your e-mail address so I can let you know when it is finished? E-mail info@warrenmiller.net.

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, visit WarrenMiller.net.


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