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Warren Miller: Ski World Records

Filmmaker Warren MillerFor some reason everyone wants to own a world’s record of some kind. This is especially evident among skiers. 

The all time record for winning ski races might belong to Jean-Claude Killy when he won 17 World Cup races, including three Olympic gold medals. Or maybe he’s been surpassed. Whomever it is, he/she is an amazing athlete.

In the 1940s at Yosemite you could win a gold, silver or bronze ski pin by how long it took you to ski from the top of the hill to the bottom. All I got the day I tried to win a $2 ski pin was a $20 x-ray of my right knee.

The first winter I was in Sun Valley I discovered they had weekly time trials from the top of Baldy to the bottom of River Run. If you did it in less than I think three minutes, you won a Diamond Sun. Or you could do the shorter race from the Round House to the bottom for a Silver Sun or from the top of River Run to the bottom for a Bronze Sun.

Many other ski resorts have the same types of time trials and skiers make up other marks to try for.

Recently we had a houseguest named Bill Baxter and he wanted to know what the record was for the most vertical feet anyone ever skied in one day at the Yellowstone Club in Montana. I had no idea whatsoever, so I just pulled a number out of my imagination and told him it was 70,000 feet.

The next morning Bill was waiting in the lift line 30 minutes before they dropped the rope and he could ride up. At the end of the day he was almost 2,000 feet shy of breaking the record.  Ever resourceful, he had Jeff Jobe drive him up to the Rainbow Lodge so he could get that extra 2,060. He now feels as though he owns the record and bragging rights. I wonder if you have to be a resident member in good standing at the Yellowstone Club for your world’s record to be valid? 

There is a very famous mountain in Switzerland called the Eiger. The north face of this beautiful mountain is a 10,000-foot vertical wall of granite. Many men have died trying to climb it and it was not until sometime in the 1930s that someone made it to the top. It took them over two weeks to make it. Recently someone climbed it solo in one hour and 42 minutes. Now that is a real record. 

The same thing happened on El Capitan in Yosemite. It took over two weeks the first time 50 years ago. A few years ago someone stashed his mountain bike at the summit and hiked back down to the valley floor. The next day he solo climbed El Capitan, rode his mountain bike back down to the valley floor and over to Half Dome where he soloed the face of Half Dome that afternoon.

The Yellowstone Club is approximately 50 miles from the Bozeman airport and our mountain restaurant and golf club restaurant manager has made the drive every day for the last 14 years. Now that is a real record to shoot at.

A few years ago, Greg Le Monde made the trip from the mountain to the airport in 42 minutes, probably because there weren’t any state troopers around. And he made his flight.

There is a ski instructor here who had a contract to teach English in China when the ski season was finished. He has been saving his money to buy a piece of Montana ranch land. He had a rucksack, a sleeping bag, a backpack and a skateboard so he rode that skateboard all the way to San Francisco from the club in Montana.

When I interviewed him he said, “Big Sky is 9,000 feet higher than San Francisco so it was downhill most of the way.”

Ward Baker and I set a record after we spent two winters living virtually free in the Sun Valley parking lot in a trailer that was only four feet wide and eight feet long. It was the same temperature inside the trailer as outside.

One night in the winter of 1948 the temperature dipped to 32 degrees below zero. I think that was the night a mouse gave birth to eight babies in one of my flight boots. I think I still own the record for having the most mice born in a flight boot.

No one ever told us we should be cold so we never were.

Hugo Slow, the former ski school director at Mt. Perfect, has ridden the chairlift every day it has been in operation since it was built in 1954. I wonder if he gets much work done.      

Brian MacDonald set a world’s record in 2009 for checking the most snow tires on a charter flight from New York to Bozeman, Montana and in the process set a record for his luggage being overweight 60 pounds, but he did get a break at a New York Costco. He also set a record for the largest saltwater aquarium in the state of Montana. It boiled over once and killed all of the fish. Another time, all the fish froze to death before they got the thermostat clued into the 7,000 foot high lack of oxygen altitude.

Vail set a record when 26,342 people skied on its hills in a single day. That breaks records in every category imaginable including nearly 75,000 toilet flushes for each of those record breaking days and other records ranging from places to park your car or buy a hamburger at a mountaintop restaurant. 

Record snowfalls are part fact and part fiction. I left Mt. Waterman when it turned from a bright sunny day into a snowstorm. In the next 24 hours it snowed 24 feet.

About a decade ago at Mt. Baker it snowed 99 feet in one winter. Now that is a lot of snow. They had to close the area because they didn’t have any place to put the snow.

In the Sierra at Lake Tahoe in 1953 or 1954, it snowed almost ten feet and then rained eight inches; over 100 homes and cabins had their roofs collapse. Dozens of cars had all four tires burst under the weight of the wet snow and many had their roofs collapse onto the seats. 

When you are talking about record snowfall, just ask someone who has been around a long time and seen a lot of records set. They will have lots of great stories.

Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller (Warren Miller Foundation)


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