Warren Miller: Told I was too old for Vail
Vail, CO, Colorado
In 1995, my wife, Laurie, and I were living at the bottom of the Lionshead gondola at Vail when our phone rang early one evening.
It was the top executive of Vail Associates.
“Hello Warren. We would like to ski with you tomorrow so we can pick your brain about improving the marketing and the skiing here. Can you spend the day with us?”
I thought that a day of skiing without standing in a long lift line and maybe with a free lunch thrown in sounded good. So I said, “How about meeting at the Lionshead gondola at 9?”
It was a bluebird day with good groomed powder almost everywhere. And so we began our tour of Vail with an early run down Game Creek Bowl.
On the ride back up, I mentioned about when I first came to Vail years ago and met George Gillett for the first time. At that time, he owned Vail, and we had taken the same lift ride when I suggested to him, “Why don’t you build a ski lift from the bottom of Game Creek down to Minturn and another one from Minturn up to Beaver Creek? You could then ski from Arrowhead all the way to the China Bowl and back without ever using any fossil fuels for the trip. And there is an unused railroad siding in Minturn where you could probably park at least 1,000 cars.”
By that time, the two executives and I were at the top of the lift, and we cruised all the runs between there and the bottom of the China Bowl. On every lift ride, there were questions of me by the two executives that I just gave “yes” and “no” answers to.
Finally, it was lunch time at Mid-Vail. As we dined elegantly, I thought, “Why not ease up and tell them what I really think about different ways to get more skiers to Vail and make their stay better?”
I then said, “I understand that you have just offered Alberto Tomba a lot of money if he spends two weeks a winter skiing at Vail. I live here all winter and am still actively involved in producing my annual feature-length ski film, narrating it after I write the script for it and am doing 20 to 30 personal appearances across the country every fall. I can include a sequence about Vail in the movie and personally endorse the resort in a film that will be seen by at least 400,000 people when you include the DVD sales. Why don’t you pay me two-thirds of what you have offered Alberto Tomba and take advantage of my marketing offer and the fact that I live here all winter?”
They quickly replied, “Warren, you have been living here for almost eight years and your name has come up in several top-level marketing meetings, and the consensus of opinion among us is that you are too old now, and skiers can no longer relate to you.”
I thanked them for lunch and skied home alone.
Two years later, Laurie and I had dinner with Jack Kemp and a man who had what everyone thought was a wild idea. He had bought 14,000 acres in Montana to build a private ski and golf club. He was going to call it the Yellowstone Club and wanted me to help him create it and be the director of skiing.
Today, the only private ski and golf club in the world is alive and growing with five quad chairlifts, four double chairlifts and more than 300 members who have paid $250,000 to join and bought a vacant lot worth at least $1 million. There are about 250 houses at the club now filled with happy, active skiing families.
The club has become a year-round family gathering place. There are nearly no celebrities as members. No celebrities want to join the club because there is no one at the club to watch them.
Plus, the community that has evolved isn’t impressed with that sort of thing. They are nearly all self-made people who are really interesting. I love to ask people how they came up with their business idea and how did they build it. One question can give us interesting conversation for a whole evening with these people.
I will be 86 years old in October. I am proud of the fact that I seldom get to make a ski run alone, so I’m called a pied piper by some skiers. I am always asked to ski with either grandparents, parents, children or grandchildren. It is a toss-up who is having the most fun on a bluebird day in Montana in powder snow.
Often, when we get back on the lift, I tell them, “Subtract your age from 86 and that is at least how many great years you have ahead of you. I only hope that you enjoy your life as much as I have mine.”
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. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.