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Warren Miller: The good ol’ days were exactly that

Warren Miller
Vail, CO Colorado

Today, you just wander down to the ski shop with a sliver of plastic and in a short time are able to take advantage of several million dollars’ worth of research and development so you can continue to make turns on a snow-covered slope, no matter how many winters you have skied.

Turn back the calendar to when rope-tow tickets had already gone up to $2 a day and chairlift tickets were $4 a day, but there were only two chairlifts in Colorado and they were at Aspen. There were two in Cali-fornia. One was at the Sugar Bowl on Donner Summit, and the other one on Mount Water-man in Southern California. All told, there were only 15 chairlifts in America.

When you listened to the radio near the end of October and they were talking about the end of daylight-saving time, plus the second hour for “war time,” it was time to go out to the garage and get your skis out.



If you were a careful person, you would have clamped them to a piece of 2-by-4 with a block under the center of each of them to keep them from twisting and warping. With some tender loving care, you would put a couple of more coats of varnish on them and argue with your friends about what kind of lacquer to paint on the bottoms.

In Southern California, there were only two places to buy skis. One was a shoe store in downtown Los Angeles called Van De Grifts, and the other was Hollywood Tennis and Golf.

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The second pair of skis I bought was from the Hollywood store, and they came com-plete with micromatic bindings. These toe irons had adjustable screws on the side so you could easily adjust them to fit someone else’s boots if you wanted to take a rest while they climbed up to ski down a couple of times.

You were able to buy skis and bindings for $19.95. If you bugged them long enough, they might throw in a pair of $2 genuine bamboo poles. Boots, of course, were extra, and they cost between $15 and $20.

When the prices were this low, so were wages. Minimum wage was 25 cents an hour, but a riveter at Lockheed Aircraft Co. could make as much as 50 cents an hour.



War was raging in Europe, Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and I was waiting to be called up for active duty in the Navy.

The closest chairlift to where I lived in Hollywood was only 47 miles away on Mount Waterman. I guess it would haul about 300 people an hour. The only place to park your car was alongside the two-lane road, so if you arrived late to ski, you might have to walk a mile or more to get from your car to the chairlift.

I have forgotten a lot of things that hap-pened in the ’40s, but I haven’t forgotten anything that happened on every day I managed to scrounge up enough gas to get to the chairlift or to a rope tow.

The runs were often quite icy, and no one knew that you should file your edges. The skis were whatever they were. Looking at the garage full of skis I have collected over the years, I know that I couldn’t turn any of them right or left anymore, even on a beginner’s hill that was groomed. They had no side cut, no torsional rigidity, no flexa-tion pattern that you could get used to.

Did anyone care? Not in the least. Skiing was wonderful but much harder work back then. After some storms, the bumps were as big as Volkswagens before VWs were even invented, and the north side of the bumps were icy with the tops of them spring snow. Food and beverage service was whatever you brought with you. On the way home, your feet and clothes were wet, your face was sunburned and your body sometimes ached from hanging onto a rope tow all day. One of my friends showed up one day with a rope-tow gripper, and the world was changed forever for all of us.

Imagine a giant walnut shell cracker on the end of a short rope that was attached to a canvas belt that hung low around your waist. It worked well but did nothing for making a fashion statement.

The two ski shops in Los Angeles could not keep them in stock once the word got out. There were a few macho guys who scorned the use of them, but their right arms are still longer than their left.

I paint a somewhat grim picture of skiing in the early 1940s, but it was anything but grim. It was great because none of us knew any-thing different. We would drive home jammed eight or nine in a sedan, wringing wet with melted snow, smelling of wet wool and sweat and planning the next weekend: Who would pay for the gas if I supplied my sis-ter’s car, and who would provide the rationed gas coupons so we could buy enough gas?

The people who ski the backcountry today talk about enjoying every turn a lot more when they have climbed to the sum-mit. It was a gigantic climb to the summit of logistics just to get to the bottom of the hill in the great old days.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 pub-lications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff, log on to WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Free-dom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.

War was raging in Europe, Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and I was waiting to be called up for active duty in the Navy.

The closest chairlift to where I lived in Hollywood was only 47 miles away on Mount Waterman. I guess it would haul about 300 people an hour. The only place to park your car was alongside the two-lane road, so if you arrived late to ski, you might have to walk a mile or more to get from your car to the chairlift.

I have forgotten a lot of things that hap-pened in the ’40s, but I haven’t forgotten anything that happened on every day I managed to scrounge up enough gas to get to the chairlift or to a rope tow.

The runs were often quite icy, and no one knew that you should file your edges. The


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