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Warren Miller: Low Cost Of A Lift Ticket

Filmmaker Warren MillerI write a lot about the price of chairlift tickets, I know. Taken alone, they seem high but when one realizes the chairlift ticket is the magic carpet to an amazing world of freedom, they are quite reasonable.

I hope you’ll be saving money all summer to buy those daily, weekly, monthly or season passes/lift tickets because the prices for them are all over the map. They can range from $105 per day to the inexpensive eight or ten resorts in Montana that only charge $25 a day Thursday and Friday; on Saturday and Sunday it cranks all the way up to $35 a day. 

These are great ski areas for a growing family who chooses to bring sack lunches and eat in the car. Such incredible value that they are worth traveling from other states just to get lots of skiing in. And enjoy skiing as it was in the 1950s and 1960s when we all had our comradeship in the search for freedom.

Many of these Montana resorts aren’t even open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because there aren’t enough people in the state to make it worthwhile. Maverick Mountain comes to mind with its double chairlift with 2,000 vertical feet of untracked powder snow on Thursday morning after being closed for three days of snowfall. They advertise skiing the way it used to be and it absolutely is. But I think they should advertise it as skiing the way it should be. 

I have a lot of memories in the folds of my brain when there was only two chairlifts in the state of Colorado in Aspen and you could still buy a Victorian house for under $500 - that’s right, $500 for a Victorian house.

My wife Laurie chastises me quite often for talking about the prices for stuff. But the price is something that dictates how many minutes of your life you have to devote to earn the money to buy the product you want. But on the other end of the spectrum, for example, if you want a private ski lesson at Vail, Colorado, one day could cost you $825. That seems like a lot of money to reduce the number of inches your skis are apart in the middle of a turn.

But back to Montana for a moment. In the small towns with small ski resorts, the resorts are within a one- or two-hour drive of a jet airport. So check it out because I don’t think I ever gave you a bad idea with the many ski films I produced. So once again I am Mr. Lucky because I discovered Montana in 1997. I’ve been called the Pied Piper of Skiing so you might look into what I’ve found as the Best Last Place.

We have 15 chairlifts at the Yellowstone Club where I live right next door to Big Sky with its gondola and many chairlifts. On the other side of Big Sky Is Moonlight Basin with 10 or 12 chairlifts and when you visit there, I know you won’t be disappointed.

Up here in the Pacific Northwest where we live it rains on occasion and anyone who watched a recent Seattle Seahawks/New York Giants football game saw how hard it can rain in Seattle. However we live 90 miles north of Seattle and at the same time it was bright sunshine and I had to turn down three offers to go play golf.

In the old days, this was the time of the year when you went down in the basement and put one more coat of lacquer on the bottom of your skis because they had not yet invented plastic (p-tex) bases for them. You also checked all the screws that were holding on your metal edges on. If you were lucky enough you would have bought a pair of skis that had Phillips screws in them instead of regular screws so they stayed on longer.

No such thing as sharpening your edges because those edges were not offset. Offset edges did not appear until 1949 in Sun Valley with the French ski team when they showed up to race in the Harriman cup. Their offset-edged skis changed our ability to hang on the ice as soon as we could file away some of the wood that was hanging over the edges of our skis.

I’m sure many of you readers of this column own skis that allow you to experience that ultimate freedom on the side of a hill. That urge to go after freedom increases at the same rate that the temperature drops and the snow begins to appear within the transportation budget distance you declare as acceptable of where you live.

Let’s go back to the weather forecasting for a moment. My wife’s computer delivers supposedly accurate forecasts broken down into ZIP Codes. Instead of overcast with light showers, it tells you that at 11:27 it’s going to rain for 17 minutes and then 14 minutes later the sun will appear. If you’re going to be wrong 75 percent of the time, you might as well be wrong accurately. 

Everyone would like to have a job like weathermen have because if they are right one third of the time they get to keep their job. I think it’s almost the same as a job in Washington, D.C. The only obligation is to keep your desk clean and your chair warm and you get paid every month no matter what.

I like the excitement in my heart when I am looking forward to riding on yet another chairlift as I have done every winter since the early 1940s at Mount Waterman in Southern California. Until four years ago when I broke my back and figured that at my age, I was lucky to be in one piece and maybe I’d better stay that way.

None of our friends can understand why we go to Montana instead of Palm Springs. That’s because they don’t understand what real freedom is whether the weatherman is right or wrong. 

Freedom on the snow is yours for the taking.  

Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller (Warren Miller Freedom Foundation)

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