7 minutes reading time (1400 words)

Warren Miller: This Thing Called Writer’s Block

Filmmaker Warren Miller

“Writers block.” I have read about it over the years, but so far I have evaded its grip. I think I have not suffered from it because there is just so much to write about. (My wife would say that is a hanging preposition but I don’t know about those things.)  

I have finally written my way through 87 years of an up and down life, and I have written way too many words. Now I have to go back and throw out stuff that might not be of any interest to anyone else, someone who might swipe their credit card in a bookstore or online. I’m hoping they become involved in it and it will become a page-turner for them.

“Will Warren survive yet another financial disaster? Or will the helicopter crash?” As it did one day when I could not join the end-of-season ski trip in Elko, Nevada, when we lost my good friend, Frank Wells. 

I have to sort out what I have written in the bio and over a thousand weekly columns during the last many years, and make sure this week’s story is different than last week’s. 

This is one of the best times of the year when you look to the east every morning and hope the sun will rise under the low scudding clouds and the old sailors’ adage of, ‘Red sky in the morning is a sailor’s warning’, hopefully meaning a storm is on the way bringing snow. I know it was true the day we got sunk in a hurricane in the South Pacific a few days before Japan surrendered. 

This is the time of the year that anyone who owns any sliding-on-snow equipment can hardly wait to strap that equipment to their feet and spend the day risking their lives when they almost catch an edge and barely miss a tree at any speed in excess of three miles an hour.

Those trees are all very solid and all of those insurance companies that you see advertised on TV don’t help you when you hit one with any party of your body.

Why not write about one of the early freestyle contests when a competitor had to do an aerial of some kind, then continue down through the bumps and do some ballet maneuvers at the bottom, and do it non-stop. 

There were a couple of contests where a contestant was a little too juiced up and did his entire run naked.  He lost because the judges were not paying attention to his maneuvers; instead they were focusing on flying body parts. These were the old days for a lot of people and cold days for those guys.

What about the day they started up the first chairlift in the world at Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1936? The P.R. department had invited a lot of Hollywood and New York celebrities to come and ride this new fangled gadget and enjoy Christmas in the snow. They all arrived a week before Christmas and there was not a single snowflake until the first week of February. 

Sun Valley survived for a lot of reasons. One of them is that the freight car load of coal they burned every day to heat the place came in on the Pacific Railroad that happened to own Sun Valley. It would be almost five years before they built ski lifts on Baldy because the skiers and the equipment they used were not good enough to handle its steep and unforgiving trails. There were only two runs down from the Roundhouse: Canyon and Exhibition. Both difficult and steep even by today’s standards. 

As the sun gets lower in the southern sky every day and daylight savings time is now gone, stuff begins to appear in my mailbox offering vacation discounts if I rent the holiday condo early. What if I make my decision when I see enough snow on the ground to be sure that all of the millions of dollars the ski resorts have spent this summer will whisk me to the top of their various mountains/hills five or ten percent faster. What do you do with that ten percent faster lift ride time you have saved?  

I really used to like the fixed grip double chairlift because I could ride with someone and get into a nice discussion with him or her. Today when I get on a detachable quad chairlift with three other people, one of which I might know, chances are the others will be on a cell phone texting someone for bragging rights. 

A couple of years ago I skied with a couple of guys who had their own GPS gizmos with them and after each run, they would send a text message to someone in New Jersey or Alabama to make sure they really had serious bragging rights when they got home. One of them even downloaded his GPS path for the day into his computer and then printed it out for his vacation diary or log book.  

I wish I could write about the abundant snow in the ski resorts all over the world, but unfortunately the snow has been falling in places such as New York City where there are not a lot of chairlifts. I have been wondering for many, many years, why so many people who really loved to ski, still live in a big city somewhere and don’t just hang it up in the city and move to a ski resort and do the same thing they do in a city. 

Almost every job that is done in a city today is also done in a ski resort. If you do any amount of time in front of your computer at home working instead of going into the office, why not do it on a table in your kitchen where you live within walking distance of a chairlift instead of a subway.

It probably sounds as though I am an evangelist trying to get people into the mountains instead of living the city life. Maybe I am. All I know is I spent most of my life traveling the world with my skis and my camera and found work wherever I went. I also found help wanted signs in a lot of the ski towns I visited.

The winter snow at the ski resorts will come and go in what will be the blink of an eye and how many days will you be making turns? That number is entirely up to you and how much you really want to enjoy the freedom that you get on the side of a hill. 

I am one of the luckiest guys in the world to have found Laurie 28 years ago and married her because she also loves to ski. Unfortunately for me, I always have to play catch up to her, but she waits for me at the bottom of the lift. We have lived at a ski resort ever since we met and shared countless runs together. Only you can evaluate how much time you can set aside to go skiing. Why not move to where it is and go to the city occasionally? I think that is called role reversal.

Today on our island would have been a wonderful day to play golf. The sun is out, it has not rained in two days, the election is settled and the only thing that I have any control over is what I do today and plan on doing tomorrow. 

Averell Harriman led the way when he had the foresight in the thirties to start the building of Sun Valley. Dave McCoy financed Mammoth with plowed back earnings from his first rope tow. Alex Cushing, an attorney from Boston, put up the money to build Squaw Valley. Walter Papke from Chicago put up the money to build the first two chairlifts in Aspen. 

Vail was financed by a large group of skiers, businessmen mostly from Denver, some of whom bought a $10,000 vacant lot and got a pair of lifetime lift tickets in the deal. Those financiers are manufacturing freedom time for anyone who buys a lift ticket. Get going because you only have until next April to carve turns on your skis or snowboard.

I’m Warren Miller and I approve this message.


(Learn about Warren Miller's Freedom Foundation.)


Photo: Filmmaker Warren Miller



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