Warren Miller: Stuck on the lift | VailDaily.com

Warren Miller: Stuck on the lift

Warren Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado

A strange thing happened on the chairlift at the Yellowstone Club this afternoon. It stopped for an hour while my wife and I were about 43 feet above 9 feet of snow.

Usually when a lift stops, you are stuck in a wind-blown part of the hill. In our case, it didn’t matter too much because we were alone on a detachable quad chair, snug in a giant plastic bubble.

No wind and no cause for alarm because within 15 minutes of when the lift stopped, Jon Reveal, the mountain manager of this new private ski resort, came roaring up the hill in his snowmobile. He stopped underneath us and said, “Not to worry. There is a power outage in the entire southwestern corner of Montana. Besides that, we have a separate auxiliary power for each one of our nine chairlifts.”

Since my wife and I were the only people on the lift at the time, and since this is the first time they have had to use auxiliary power in an emergency, it took longer than the normal five or 10 minutes to make everything work just right.

While we were sitting under the bubble gently blowing in the wind, Laurie said, “Warren, tell me a story.”

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.

When you have been married for as long as we have been, it is hard to pick a story out of the air that your wife hasn’t heard so many times she is bored with it. So I told her a few stories of being stuck on lifts at other resorts, and how I escaped from death by freezing.

One day at Mammoth many years ago I was filming Stein Eriksen when the lift stopped. Twenty years ago, when a lift stopped it usually stayed stopped for at least two hours.

Since I had talent like Stein for my movie camera for such a short time I decided to take off my skis drop them tail first into the snow and then hang down from the footrest and jump. The snow was so soft that I sunk in almost to my armpits. Then I staggered over to my skis and rucksack and pointed my camera at Stein as he was hanging down and jumping. It made for a nice laugh in that year’s film, with people asking me how I talked Stein into doing such a dumb thing.

He became a hero by jumping the 40 feet to the snow below. Thirty years ago, this was a new record for extreme airtime with or without your skis.

In 1949, I was riding on a rope tow when the flailing ends of a splice came undone just ahead of me. It was Sunday afternoon, and the rope tow owner was trying to get the last hour out of the of the day’s operation of a poorly spliced rope without shutting down.

The hill and the rope tow ruts were icy and I was on the steep part of the hill when the splice let go. In the blink of an eye I was sliding down backwards in a reverse snowplow with my ski tips apart and my heels together, trying desperately to get away from the flailing soggy manila rope. By the time I finally crashed 200 feet down the hill I was wrapped up in 200 feet of soggy manila rope.

The owner of the rope tow hill gave me a free cup of tea and a complimentary $2 rope tow ticket for the following Saturday.

The worst I have ever been stuck on a lift was on the Aiguilles De Midi telepherique in Chamonix, France. The Valle Blanche was all fogged in that day and so my skiers and I decided to ride back down. I had always wanted a picture of what this terminal looked like as the gondola began its descent to where it is over a thousand feet in the air.

I found a chair to stand on with my head arms and shoulders out of the small hatch in the roof so I could get an unobstructed movie shot. When I said, “OK, you can start the lift” my skiers grabbed my legs, threw me up on the roof, and locked the hatch. I got to ride down on the greasy roof of this gondola a thousand feet above the cliffs.

Recently, a friend told me that my fingerprints were still in the aluminum roof of the gondola.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net. And for information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.

Support Local Journalism