Warren Miller died yesterday at the age of 93. To any alpine skier, his name brings to mind images of gorgeous alpine vistas, with good looking skiers performing extreme feats of derring do – or neophyte skiers battling their equipment as they crash getting off the chairlift.
I was still fairly new to skiing in 1985 when my dad took me to my first Warren Miller movie, Steep and Deep. Back then, Miller still did his movies as a roadshow, taking them from town to town and narrating them live at the theatre. His delivery was warm and funny, with a slightly deadpan approach to the zinger lines.
I left the movie completely sold on becoming a better skier. The movie featured a mix of big mountain skiing, local mountain humor, and some awesome ski racing footage. With immersive visuals and Miller’s narration and humor, I thought to myself, “this is a sport I really want to do – and do well!” By this point in my youth, I was considering entering the world of alpine ski racing, and seeing some of the best skiers of the day (especially the U.S. hero of the Sarajevo Olympics, Phil Mahre) racing gates on a gigantic screen at Highland High School in Salt Lake City sealed the deal.
Sure, there were some things I wasn’t going to try – like telemark mogul competitions:
And while I really loved seeing the powder skiing at Snowbird, I wasn’t about to do a full gainer into the bottomless snow:
I’ve enjoyed Warren Miller films ever since. His older films still resonate today with the sheer beauty of the cinematography and the elegance of the retro fashions. Sure, the skiing may look different, but when the skier is the late, great Stein Eriksen, it’s never out of style:
Fortunately, one of Miller’s 1990s films, Black Diamond Rush, can be streamed for free as of this writing. Sure, ski films aren’t everyone’s cuppa, but this is a good example of the Miller formula: mix great skiers with great venues and see where the chips fall. Mix in humor, some occasional sidetracking, and some memorable quotes, and presto: your classic ski movie is made!
As Miller got older, he gradually handed over the film business to his sons, who in turn sold Warren Miller Entertainment to Time Inc., who in turn sold it to other investment groups. Miller’s narration slowly disappeared from the films, as well, replaced by the more au courant likes of Johnny Moseley. It’s not quite the same, yet it’s still the Miller formula at work.
2016’s Miller film, Here, There, and Everywhere, celebrated Miller’s 90th birthday by interviewing the man, himself, while asking current ski heroes what the Warren Miller films meant to them. It was, and is, a fitting tribute – and it’s available to stream from all the usual sources.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t share some of my favorite “Millerisms” that will always make me smile.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If it still doesn’t work out, failure may be your thing.”
“If you don’t have any idea where you’re going, you’ll probably end up there.”
“Adventure is the invitation to common people to become uncommon.”
“Gravity is love and every turn is a leap of faith.”
“You can’t get hurt skiing unless you fall.”
“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll just be one year older when you do.”
“Don’t take life seriously, because you won’t come out of it alive.”
And then there’s this passage (from Miller’s autobiography, Freedom Found: My Life Story), which hits home with me because I can still clearly remember the first time I skied in 1981, age 7, at Parley’s Summit Ski Area:
If I ask anybody who learned to ski after the age of five, they can remember their first day of skiing – what the weather was like, who they went with, what they had for lunch. I believe that’s because that first day on skis was the first day of total freedom in their life.
So thank you, Warren Miller, for lighting a fire in this Utah boy. It’s taken me on some incredible journeys, and continues to do so.