Vail Daily column: The low cost of a chairlift ticket |

Vail Daily column: The low cost of a chairlift ticket

Warren Miller
Valley Voices

Anyone who has ever spent more than $2.50 to buy a rope tow ticket should be very delighted at the weather report on the news Friday morning. It was 9 degrees in Billings, Montana, and expected to drop to zero today and 2 feet of snow is expected in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That means that all of the chairlifts on Boyne Mountain in Michigan should be operating this coming weekend. At least I hope so for all those hardy skiers who are willing to take their rock skis out at the beginning of the season.

I write a lot about the price of chairlift tickets, I know. Taken alone, they seem high, but when one realizes that the chairlift ticket is the magic carpet to an amazing world of freedom, they are quite reasonable.

I hope you’ve been saving money all summer to buy those daily, weekly, monthly or season passes/lift tickets because the prices for them are all over the map. They range from $150 in Vail and Aspen per day to the inexpensive eight or 10 resorts in Montana that only charge $25 a day on Thursdays and Fridays, and on Saturdays and Sundays it cranks all the way up to $35 a day. These are great ski areas for a growing family who chooses to bring sack lunches and eat in the car. Such incredible value that they are worth traveling from other states just to get lots of skiing in. And enjoy skiing as it was in the 1950s and 1960s when we all had our comradeship in the search for freedom.

Many of these Montana resorts aren’t even open on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays because there aren’t enough people in the state to make it worthwhile. One of them comes to mind and it is Maverick Mountain with a double chairlift with 2,000 vertical feet of untracked powder snow on Thursday mornings after being closed for three days of snowfall. They advertise skiing the way it used to be and it absolutely is, but I think they should advertise it as skiing the way it should be! I have a lot of memories in the folds of my brain when there was only two chairlifts in the state of Colorado in Aspen and we could still buy a Victorian house for under $500 — that’s right, $500 for a Victorian house.

My wife, Laurie, chastises me quite often for talking about the prices for stuff. But the price is something that dictates how many minutes of your life you have to devote to earn the money to buy the product that you want. But on the other end of the spectrum, for example, if you want a private ski lesson at Vail, one day will cost you $825. That seems like a lot of money to reduce the number of inches that your skis are apart in the middle of a turn.

But back to Montana for a moment. In the small towns with small ski resorts, the resorts are within a one- or two-hour drive of a jet airport. So check it out, because I don’t think I ever gave you a bad idea with the many ski films I produced, so once again I am Mr. Lucky because I discovered Montana in 1997. I’ve been called the Pied Piper of Skiing, so you might look into what I’ve found as the Best Last Place!

We have 15 chairlifts at the Yellowstone Club, where I live, right next door to Big Sky with its gondola and many chairlifts. On the other side of Big Sky is Moonlight Basin with 10 or 12 chairlifts, and when you visit there, I know you won’t be disappointed.


Now let’s get to reality. By this time in November you should’ve already been attending workout sessions three days a week, minimum, for the past six weeks at least. That’s easy for me to say as I sit here at the keyboard of the computer trying to get downstairs and walk at least 1 mile occasionally.

Up here in the Pacific Northwest where we live, it rains on occasion and anyone who watched the Seattle Seahawks-New York Giants football game on Sunday saw how hard it can rain in Seattle. However, we live 90 miles north of Seattle, and at the same time, it was bright sunshine and I had to turn down three offers to go play golf.

In the old days, this was the time of the year when you went down in the basement and put one more coat of lacquer on the bottom of your skis because they had not yet invented plastic (p-tex) bases for them. You also checked all the screws that were holding on your metal edges on and if you were lucky enough, you would have bought a pair of skis that had Phillips screws in them instead of regular screws so they stayed on longer.

No such thing as sharpening your edges because those edges were not offset. Offset edges did not appear until 1949 in Sun Valley with the French Ski Team when they showed up to race in the Harriman Cup. They brought their offset-edged skis to the race and changed our ability to hang on the ice as soon as we could file away some of the wood that was hanging over the edges of our skis.

I’m sure that many of you readers of this column own skis and are anxious to once again experience that ultimate freedom on the side of a hill. That urge to go after freedom increases at the same rate that the temperature drops and the snow begins to appear within the transportation budget distance you declare as acceptable of where you live.


Let’s go back to the weather forecasting for a moment. My wife’s computer delivers supposedly accurate forecasts that are broken down into ZIP codes. Instead of overcast with light showers it tells you that at 11:27 it’s going to rain for 17 1/2 minutes, and then 14 minutes later, the sun will appear. If you’re going to be wrong 75 percent of the time, you might as well be wrong accurately. Everyone would like to have a job like the weatherman has because if they are right one-third of the time, they get to keep their job. I think that it’s almost the same as a job in Washington, D.C. The only obligation is to keep your desk clean and your chair warm and you get paid every month no matter what.


I like the excitement in my heart when I am looking forward to riding on yet another chairlift ticket as I have done every winter since the early 1940s at Mount Waterman in Southern California. Until four years ago, when I broke my back and figured that at my age, I was lucky to be in one piece and maybe I’d better stay that way.

I can hardly wait to pack up the trailer here on Orcas Island and drive to the freezing cold weather of Montana for yet another winter. None of our friends can understand why we go to Montana instead of Palm Springs. That’s because they don’t understand what real freedom is — whether the weatherman is right or wrong, freedom on the snow is yours for the taking.

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 For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to

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