Vail Daily column: A life outside of square rooms

Warren Miller
Valley Voices

Nearly 30 years ago, Laurie and I were spending the summer in Vail while I recovered from torn rotator cuff surgery. I couldn’t windsurf with my shoulder so we didn’t go to Maui as we usually did so we had to find other things to do and I could still walk. While hiking one day, I ran into the editor of the Vail Daily and in the course of our conversation he suggested that I write a weekly column for his paper.

That’s over 1,300 individual stories that I’ve written for him so far. In my spare time, for the last several years I have been editing these stories into my autobiography. The working title is “Freedom Found” because as you probably know by now, it took a while but I finally realized that my adventures all came about because of my search for freedom. My goals were to get away from classrooms and in general, square rooms and schedules.

During the summer of 1968, I was skiing and working on the Tasman Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand as Don Brolin and I filmed triple Olympic gold medal winner Jean-Claude Killy and Leo LaCroix. Another column was about taking my soon to be wife, Laurie, on a horseback trip crossing the Continental Divide in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. That was a 120-mile ride in six days. I shouldn’t have been wearing jockey shorts because I ended up with blisters on my bum from the seams of my shorts rubbing while in the saddle. That was still early in my relationship with Laurie but she came to my rescue by putting ointment on my backside each evening!

I’ve written lots of stories about summers spent windsurfing on the North Shore of Maui and getting pounded by waves that were taller than my 16-foot mast. There is even one about windsurfing from the island of Maui to the island the Molokai. The only way I was allowed to make that trip was because I promised Laurie that there would be a boat following us. Well, it sounded good at the time but she caught me.

A lot of the stories are about my experiences on the road narrating my feature-length ski film life from the stage every night.

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There are other stories about building a home in Vail and being married in the living room and for many years skiing seven days a week from fall to spring. Of course, this was after I sold my film company. All I had to do in those days was to write the script; I no longer had to travel the world and run my camera.

During the summers, I wrote many of those columns and scripts from the salon of our powerboat while cruising in British Columbia and southeast Alaska. Many writers have said the same thing about one of the most enjoyable things to do in your spare time is to mess around in boats.

The first two or three years I wrote for the Vail Daily, the editor paid me an awesome $10 per week. Then another mountain town’s local newspaper offered me $25 for the same thing and I’ve been charging that ever since.

Sharing travel experiences is one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling, and I have virtually endless stories about broken windows on trains, missing connections, losing passports in Italy visiting ski resorts all over the world with my camera, many of them brand-new catastrophes on the ski scene.

In the late 1940s, television was rare as a form of entertainment but there was a couple of dozen people who traveled the world making documentary movies of a different country every summer and then offering this form of entertainment by showing them on tour to live audiences and narrating from the stage. It seemed like a great way to make a living. I was later able to do that my whole professional career. The main difference in my show was I filmed only in the winter and showed my movies to a very special audience called skiers.

Many of my newspaper columns came directly from the narration of my experiences of my ski films. Many things that happen while traveling are better told verbally than visually. This is why I’ve coined the phrase, “Never ruin a good story with the absolute truth.” Statistics are a lot easier to state verbally than visually, and why not? No one can call you on it easily if it isn’t written down!

I guess I became a storyteller at a very young age. I think it was about the time I became a Boy Scout at the age of 12. When all of my school friends were playing baseball or football on weekends, I was backpacking somewhere with my Boy Scout troop. I remember making a pack board with good, strong, very comfortably measured shoulder straps. Some of my Scouting friends are still doing a lot of backpacking and so the other night in a conversation with one of them I asked them if they ever used a trump line. I was most surprised when they said they had never heard of one. It is simply a line that goes from the bottom of your pack, up and across your forehead and down to the other side so that you can lean forward take the weight of the pack off of your shoulders onto your neck and you can continue to walk and rest at the same time.

Why not?

I have included in the autobiography dozens of stories related to the learning curve of growing up. When we went backpacking in the Cesspee River in Southern California and discovered that we could catch awesome trout simply with a line and a safety pin. The local Smokey the Bear spoke to us very seriously because we were fishing one week before the season opened. When we showed up the following weekend, there where so many fishermen, there was hardly a place to pitch a tent.

I have a lot of stories about being the only one riding a surfboard at Surfrider Beach at Malibu in the early 1940s. In those days you had to take wire cutters with you, cut a hole in the fence, then move your car down the highway 100 yards and come back, sneak through the hole and put the wires back together. Then we’d surf as long as our bodies could stand the cold water. This of course was many years before the invention of the wetsuit or light surfboard.

I have already self-published three different books of these columns and each book only takes about 50 columns. This winter, if I get pinned down by a month or so of blizzards, I’ll pick out another 50 or 60 columns and publish another book. In the meantime, my autobiography is moving ahead very quickly — out of my hands now as the graphics and pagination, etc., are all being performed by people who know what they’re doing — as opposed to how I used to do things!

Obviously, I don’t earn a lot of money writing newspaper columns, but I certainly enjoy doing it. I do earn enough money to buy the occasional pineapple milkshake and a pair of tickets to the local movie theater. Unfortunately, the local movie theater subdivided the seats with a paper-thin wall so that you can watch one movie and at the same time listen to the soundtrack in the adjoining theater. You have to be very careful which two films they are showing and which one to buy a ticket to see.

I will be the first person to know when they’ve finished preparing and printing my autobiography. I’m excited and you will be the second one when you read it in my column someday soon.

Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications.

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