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Warren Miller: A Season Of Bright Sunny Days
On our south-facing waterfront home on the island, the sun is slanting in low and brilliant, but it’s still freezing cold.
On the north side of the island we can see Mt. Garibaldi in the park north of Vancouver, snow white and shining and, to the right, or south of it, is Mt. Baker with its many ski lifts ready to haul skiers and snowboarders skyward as soon as the nine o’clock bell clangs.
Since the fall of 1946, I have been lucky enough to be on the ski hill somewhere in the world from the first day of the season until the white disappeared in the spring and I returned to chasing the surf in Southern California.
In the ski resorts across America, the many people who want to take a winter off and make turns all day are arriving in their SUVs full of stuff with just enough cash left for their first and last month’s rent. They are all looking for that perfect job working when the ski lifts are closed and a job that comes with a season pass.
Unfortunately, most of those jobs have already been taken by the same people that had them last winter. And occasionally, by a person who has had that ideal job for the last 19 winters and lives with his wife and children down-valley somewhere within a 45-minute drive of the lifts in an area that has houses they can afford to rent.
The sun has moved to the west, as I write this, and now shines so brilliantly in my office window across my keyboard that it is hard to hit the right keys and translate my thoughts to paper for a newspaper a thousand miles away.
An article by David Rose in a London newspaper said, “This year there is an extra 553,000 square miles of ice and snow covering the earth.” Maybe an inconvenient truth for Al Gore.
I was lucky to be born in Hollywood, California, a short drive of less than 50 miles to Mt. Waterman where the second chairlift in California was built in the late 1930s.
In my early ski days of the forties, wartime gas rationing was on and we were only allowed four gallons of gas a week. So for a ski trip you had to round up some skiers who also had gas rationing coupons, but you also had to coast almost all of the way home after a day on the hill to preserve as much gas as you could.
The days are getting longer and longer as the wonderful corn snow appears on the south facing slopes. You will have “freedom on your shoulder” whenever you purchase a ski lift ticket. I had that freedom and luck in my pocket for all of those years I chose to make movies of that freedom and share it with my friends all over the world.
In the early years, I was what was then called a transportation skier. I got to climb in a long traverse, way over to another ridge with all of my camera gear to get the just right angle of that powder snow slope with the sun shining behind the skiers on their way down the hill.
That low angle of the winter sun made the white snow and deep blue shadows get people in Buffalo, N.Y., or the hundreds of other cities who got to see that ski action, excited enough to come West instead of spending their entire life skiing on their local rope tow hill.
It was as though I was dispensing an intoxicating white powder drug on a large silver theatrical screen. In the process, I was the luckiest guy in the world because I got to go there first and bring it back to the believers, people who had made turns on skis and the friends they brought to the theatres who had not yet gotten infected with the ski bug.
I have been lucky to see a lot of early morning, brilliant sunrises from a seat on a chairlift before it opened in the morning for the public. I rode up with the ski patrol and the men and women who would be skiing for my cameras and I got to film that untracked powder snow that few people ever even see except in one of my movies.
Those transportation turns of mine were a small price to pay for getting the just right movie shot after I got through traversing way over there, then looking into the sun without dark glasses so I would know the right exposure for the backlit shot.
When it was raining, I filmed it as it fell because everyone has skied on a rainy day and could appreciate the I.Q. it takes for that 500-mile drive to ski in the rain.
Sometimes my brain is on fast forward and I pound out a lot of short ideas about a lot of different things that are only glued together by the fact that we all own a pair of skis or a snowboard and enough extra cash to buy all of those lift tickets this winter.
Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller (Warren Miller Freedom Foundation)