To thousands of skiers across the country, his voice means winter’s coming.
Warren Miller has produced a major ski film every year for nearly 50 years, just in time to set snowflakes dancing in skiers’ eyes as the autumn weather turns cool.
Now 71, the sharp-witted, fun-loving Miller sold his film company to his son Kurt six years ago. But he still writes the script each year and serves as the movie’s narrator.
The movies have changed since his role in them diminished. They’re flashier and more expensively made and perhaps less irreverent than the old Miller way.
“I think now they have the budgets to go to the places I wished I could have gone,” he said in a phone interview earlier this fall from Vancouver, British Columbia, where he’d traveled to introduce the latest movie, “Endless Winter,” at the annual showing there.
“I used to take my camera gear and myself and go to a resort and beg, borrow and steal skiers.” Now, the company recruits top skiers and flies them to exotic locations for filming.
On the down side, Miller isn’t as free as he once was to tell things like he sees them.
“I’ve always been a renegade and I know what I like,” he said. “I recognize that in certain respects I’ve been a controversial figure in the whole thing. I always called a spade a spade. I couldn’t be bought.”
Now, when he writes a script, he said, “They say, ‘Well, you can’t say that because it would offend this group of people or that group of people.’ I say, Jesus, I built the business calling the shots the way I saw them.
“Now they’re not doing that. They’re so afraid of commercial fallout.”
As an example, he said, “If I came to Mount Spokane and it was black ice, I would film it, then I would show it, and then I would never be invited back to Mount Spokane as long as I lived.” But he would have told the truth, he said. “That was the way it was that day.”
“I was more of a reporter and a documentarian than they allow me to be today.”
Despite that frustration, he said, “It’s a job, the pay is good and the hours are short.”
Over the years, his films have put ski resorts on the map, from Courchevel in Europe to Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain in California.
In recent years, little-known Inland Northwest ski areas including Fernie Snow Valley and Whitewater in British Columbia have gotten nationwide publicity by appearing in Miller films.
When he was in charge, he mainly picked resorts by whether they were on his travel route, he said. He also would pick by whimsy, by a friend there inviting him, or by looking for either top-name resorts or “real far out of the way” areas. Those out-of-the-way resorts are where most people ski, Miller said.
That quest brought him to Mount Spokane about 15 years ago, he said. “I think it’s great. I think anything that is that close to the city and is that good - people in a city should consider themselves very lucky.”
Though skiing is a far more expensive sport than it was when he started, Miller isn’t worried that it’ll run out of appeal. “The cost of a lift ticket at 40 bucks is about $5 an hour to ski. I don’t know another sport that you can enjoy for $5 an hour.”
Skiing’s attraction for Miller is the overwhelming sense of freedom he feels as he glides down a slope.
“In the San Juan Islands now (where he spends his summers), it’s getting that time of year where the days are getting shorter, you have to get in the car to go anywhere, and I start thinking how good it is to ski.
“I’ve been doing it for 55, 58 years, and it’s still just as much fun as it used to be.”
, DataTimes MEMO: “Endless Winter will be shown at the Spokane Opera House on Saturday at 6 and 9 p.m. and at Timbers Cantina in Kellogg next Wednesday at 7 p.m. Tickets are $11.50 for the Spokane showing, available at G&B $7 adults, $5 children for the Kellogg showing, available only at the door.
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