Saturday, January 27, 2018

Warren Miller | Lefsetz Letter

It was a simpler time. We lived in tract houses. We knew nobody rich. We were all in it together. And our horizon was limited. To our own neighborhood and California, because all the TV shows and films were shot in California.

And there were seasons. The wait from September to June was interminable, but strangely shorter every year. You learned that spring would come.

But I loved the winter.


Because of the coziness, because of the disconnectedness. You could stay home and read or play board games, wrestle with your Lionel train, or you could go out into the great outdoors and explore, have fun.

Have you ever walked in a snowstorm? It’s one of the greatest feelings extant. It’s so QUIET! Just you and Mother Nature. And Mother Nature is both friend and foe. She can turn on you in an instant. Those have been the scariest moments of my life, when I realized this could be the end.

Obviously it wasn’t.

But how close to the line do you want to get? The thrills are on the edge, but you don’t want to fall over.

Now everything’s completely different. As a result of global warming oftentimes there is no snow, or little of it, like in the west this year, one of the worst three snowpacks of all time. And people think nothing of getting on a plane for a vacation, even for the afternoon, whereas we used to be locked to our landscape and dream about faraway destinations, if only… And skiing was a middle class sport.

It was 1964. I was up at the schoolyard, partaking of the snow. I’m not sure which device I had from the garage, the Flexible Flyer or the dreaded flying saucer or the mini-toboggan, but Bobby Hickey had skis. With bear trap bindings, which means they didn’t release. His dad had bought them for him from the hardware store, for under ten bucks.

He let me try them.


Skiing is all about the sensation, the thrill, the freedom. I don’t know anything else that requires complete concentration other than orgasm. And you can ski for a lot longer.

And then my sixth grade teacher showed us a promotional movie about Mt. Snow and I convinced my parents to go. We all stayed in one room at the Novice Inn. We took lessons at Carinthia. We got hooked.

Three years later we rented a house in East Jamaica with our dentist. People would ask us where we got our tans, JAMAICA! But the truth is it’s barely a waystation before Stratton and Bromley. Where I know every inch of the terrain. Because on a below zero day my dad bought a house in Manchester. For the grand sum of $14,000. In 1968. He loved that house, he could try out all of his experiments, most of which failed, but the house could handle it.

Anyway, my life became about skiing.

That’s why I went to college in Vermont. Sans ski area, I wouldn’t have gone to Middlebury. And for the two years after I graduated I lived in Utah, back before the tech boom, before Park City was a reasonable place. But we pooh-poohed that area, we only skied at Alta and Snowbird, before they were connected. It truly is the Greatest Snow On Earth.

And now.

And now…

If I tell someone I ski they pooh-pooh me. It’s too dangerous, I’m too old, I’ve got to think about my safety. But then is life worth living?

Because I’m never happier than when I’m cruising down a mountain, singing Bad Company’s “Simple Man” at the top of my lungs.

Freedom is the only thing, means a damn to me

You see I’m a square peg in a round hole society. But on the mountain I can be free, I can do what I like.

But what has this got to do with Warren Miller?

You see he was the progenitor. God’s first ski bum.

And he was the cheerleader.

And ultimately he was the through thread.

You see when you ski, all you think about is how you can ski more. I know people who’ve sacrificed their entire lives to the sport. On minimum wage jobs. Chasing the feeling.

Warren got the bug and lived in a trailer in Sun Valley and slowly made a life. Befriended some wealthy people who gave him a camera and he was off to the races.

Well, the truth is back then that was a business, travel movies, he didn’t invent that paradigm, he just peppered it with skiing. And dialogue. That was part of Warren’s routine, the jokes, bad and off color, but of the times.

So you’d go to the theatre in October or November, before the snow started to fly, before the lifts started to turn, and Warren would take you to ski places around the world. And you’d sit there and wonder if you still had it, if you could still turn ’em. That’s a funny thing about the sport, you doubt your ability, you don’t think you can do it, unless you’re on the hill.

And to be on the hill there’s got to be snow and proximity and you can’t do it every day, but every day counts.

Now as time went by I was in the film of a progenitor, John Jay.

And Dick Barrymore made one of the best ski films, “The Last of the Ski Bums.”

But the only man who prevailed, who stuck with it, was Warren Miller.

I was filmed for him too, but I was left on the cutting room floor, after doing a spread eagle into Wipeout at Mammoth. Off the cornice. I didn’t. People were impressed.

I still remember that feeling.

I still remember talking to Warren at the Santa Monica preview back in ’98, they served pizza after the show.

I still have the one piece Helly-Hansen Lewi gifted me from the Warren Miller closet.

Mostly I still have my memories.

But like Warren I still hit it. I just can’t get enough.

I’ve watched his movies far from snow country, once they were available on video, once they started to play them in marathons over Christmas.

I read his autobiography.

I wanted to understand him.

Because deep down inside I know he’s just like me. Money is important, but not as much as the experience, as living a full life, as refusing to sacrifice your dream of the sensation, of sliding down the hill fully alive.

Warren isn’t, alive anymore. He died on Wednesday. At age 93. I like to believe the skiing and outdoor lifestyle kept him young. Who knows. But one thing I do know is he affected people, he made our lives more rich, even if you’ve got no idea who he is, millions do, I’m stunned at the tributes in not only the ski world, but the straight press.

So let Warren be a beacon to you.

There’s more than one way to live your dream, to cobble together a life based on your passion.

And the truth is we all want to live life to the fullest.

Warren Miller did.

May you have as much fun and as much impact as he did. Knowing that you’ve got to seize the moment now, because as Warren always said…

“If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.”


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