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Vail Daily column: Comfort zone

Warren Miller
Valley Voices

Everyone has a comfort zone of some size and in some places. Wherever yours is, it gets more comfortable with each visit. My first comfort zone on skis was established on the Big Hill at Badger Pass in Yosemite after I had made turns on it the 207th time I skied down it. The Big Hill is in reality not very big but in name only.

I was very uncomfortable eight years later when I made my first run down from the summit of the Parsennbahn cable railroad in Davos, Switzerland, because I was blindly following the crowd of skiers to somewhere that I had not even seen before.

Anytime you expand your horizon there is always a moment of being uncomfortable and then it gets better the second time.

There are hundreds of small mountains, as their owners call them, that are less than 500 vertical feet above the never-large-enough parking lot at the bottom. The number of comfort zones is in the thousands at these hundreds of ski resorts.

First Lift

When the first chairlift was invented in Nebraska and then installed on Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho, it became a very uncomfortable zone for people just learning how to turn long stiff skis with low soft boots.

It would be five years before ski lifts were built on nearby Baldy because it was perceived as too difficult for most people to turn skis on.

I know that if you list the comfort zones at your favorite ski resort, it will include that secret parking place behind the Snow-Cat garage; your favorite edge sharpener for those hard packed granular snow days; and we cannot forget your favorite maitre d’ at the darling restaurant nine miles down the road from the chairlift.

Most of the people who develop a comfort level of any kind at one of the small resorts will likely never ski anywhere else. Why should they? As long as they get comfortable, why go anywhere else?

I was filming at one of these small resorts one day when a ski patrolman proudly told me that he had skied there every day it had been opened and logged 67,819 lift rides since he started and it became easier to track with his GPS on his phone. He’d never skied anywhere else. Why should he?

Good Skiers

Can these small resorts produce good skiers? Of course they can! The best female ski racer America has ever had is Lindsey Vonn. She learned her skills on a very small, rope tow hill just outside of Minneapolis.

The list of small hills stretch all across North America from Maine to Seattle. Names such as Twin Bridges, Ligonier, Nubs Knob, Green Valley Lake, Snoqualmie Summit, Boyne Mountain, to mention just a few of them. There are other people who are comfortable skiing anywhere and have laid down tracks wherever there is a ski lift and many places where there is not a ski lift but a helicopter.

I would hesitate to put a number on how many ski resorts or places I have skied and/or filmed that later became ski resorts.

After my first venturing into the mountains as a Boy Scout, I do know that I have never been uncomfortable anywhere in the world. When I made my first ski movie in 1949-50, there were, to the best of my knowledge, only 13 chairlifts in North America. Today, the Kircher family, who own Boyne Mountain in Michigan, also own and operate a total of 160 different chairlifts across America and Canada. Wouldn’t you like to be able to say, “I have a comfort zone on that many ski lifts?”

Paying For Comfort

Today a comfort zone can be expanded depending on the thickness of your wallet. Rumor has it that condominium parking places have sold for a lot of money to eliminate a walk of as little as 300 yards from the public parking lot have sold for as much as a quarter of a million dollars. I guess a comfort zone can be bought for a price.

I have always been most comfortable wondering what is over the horizon. If you own a pair of skis and use them, then you have to get to the top of the mountain to see what is over the horizon. Years ago when someone opened a ski shop next to my studio in Hermosa Beach, he got permission from the city to grind up big blocks of ice and spread it on the small hill, under the street light in a nearby public park. It quickly became a target for my camera and there I watched and then filmed a young man dressed in a budget busting outfit of Bogner’s most expensive stuff. He could do a couple of Art Furrer’s freestyle ballet moves as well as an eye popping variation of a tip roll. He was very comfortable being filmed under the lights in the park in Hermosa Beach. He was obviously an excellent skier, or so I thought.

However, when it came time to interview him for my narration copy points, I needed to know where he had skied and gotten so good at the stuff I had filmed him doing. He had never skied anywhere except under the street light in the park in Hermosa Beach, two blocks from his parents’ house on the Strand two blocks away.

Why Not Me?

I have always taken the position that if some of the people I see standing around and then doing something athletic that involves freedom, then I should be able to do it too. Maybe it is just because I overestimate my ability or underestimate their ability. At any rate, I am still curious about what is over the horizon so I can expand my comfort zone into new territories and other things that I know nothing about today.

When you are within your comfort zone you have a sense of freedom within that zone. And I firmly believe that freedom is man’s most basic need, so go for it with everything within you and do it 24 hours of every day.

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 WarrenMiller.net. For information about his foundation, The Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to http://www.warrenmiller.org.


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