The Warren Miller Documentary

“Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story”:

There may not be any skiing this year, they’ve already closed down the ski areas in Austria, France and Italy, as for social distancing, I link you to these pics: Sure, you can stay apart on the slopes, but in line…never mind the village, restaurants, hotels and..? That’s blind optimism for you.

In case you don’t know, ski areas were hotbeds of Covid, one of the biggest hotspots in the nation last March was in Ketchum, Idaho, home of Sun Valley. Yup, you get people from all over the world, never mind the country, and  you’ve got a Covidfest. Hell, I was in Vail the first week of March, I arrived there just after the U.S. Open snowboard competition, and in about two weeks…not only did they shut down the mountain, there were infections all over the world, just not the United States, especially amongst the elite in Mexico, Vail is their favorite skiing spot. We were ignorant, we escaped. But, everybody thinks they’re immune and two weeks later…BOOM! So, I’ve got my passes, but I ain’t going until it’s safe, which may be never this year, assuming the ski areas open and stay open. But although I have skied in October on a number of occasions, and certainly November many times, the fall ritual was always the new Warren Miller movie, when that was the only way to get your desire satisfied, you see most skiers are fickle, they stop going to the mountains in the spring, when conditions are excellent, Mammoth is often open to July, but in the fall they’re jonesing and will endure the white ribbon of death just to scratch their itch.

So, every fall you’d go to an auditorium, not a usual movie theatre, and sit amongst thousands as Warren Miller narrated his annual production, which continues to this day, albeit without Warren himself, however ski porn is available at one’s fingertips, just a click away online, and just like with music the barrier to entry is so low that the morass of product is overwhelming and it’s hard to discern what is good and what is bad, and although all skiing is good, some productions are much better than others, assuming you can find them.

But they’re all standing on the shoulders of Warren Miller. Who stood on the shoulders of John Jay, who created this paradigm, I was even briefly in a John Jay film, skiing at Squaw Valley at summer race camp, and I’ve even been shot for Warren Miller, but never made it into the final cut. And in the sixties Warren had a competitor, Dick Barrymore, who focused more on the narrative, his peak being “The Last of the Ski Bums,” but Barrymore burned out and left the scene, yet Warren soldiered on, but it was a grind.

But this is not really a ski movie. Sure, there’s a lot of skiing, but it’s a deep dive into Warren’s life. And a lot of it is covered in Warren’s book, “Freedom Found,” which is surprisingly readable, writing is a skill and most people don’t have it, irrelevant of how interesting a life they led, but “Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story” has the advantage of an outsider’s viewpoint, an outsider who misses a number of highlights, however it’s hard to fit a lifetime into ninety minutes, but the director does an excellent job of analyzing Miller the man, his life and…

The Boy Scouts kept him sane, because his parents were oblivious. And then his family betrayed him and…I don’t want to give too much away. But, Warren essentially raised himself, and didn’t really know how to raise a family, because he had no role model, his father was an alcoholic.

And sure, to some degree this flick is hagiography, but Warren was far from perfect, not a saint, but he had a vision and he pursued it, and it was DIFFICULT!

It always looks easier from the outside, outsiders only see the peaks, they’re unaware of the struggle to get there. To get there you’ve got to work 24/7, oftentimes alone and without compensation, it’s a grind, and most people give up. And if you do the work and make it, something has to suffer, in this case Warren’s family, there’s just not enough time in a day, a year.

Now it was a different era. Skiing was new, there was a boom in the sixties, and now it’s a mature sport, and despite season passes being rock bottom cheap, cheaper than ever, the overall cost of skiing is not, the equipment, the hotels, and therefore the business is stagnant, even though the equipment is now so advanced that it’s easier than ever to learn. Unlike in the sixties, the middle class has shrunk, few can afford to take their family skiing, and therefore they’re missing out on its essence, FREEDOM!

Yes, it’s a thrill to slide down the hill. But you can go wherever you want, and if you think about anything else you fall, skiing requires total attention, not that you have to tense up and focus, but there is no room for everyday problems. I don’t want to denigrate video games, but there is nothing like a breath of fresh air in the mountains, whether it be blue skies or dumping prodigiously, you feel so ALIVE!

So Warren didn’t want a straight job. He pursued the “other” his entire life, he lived by his own rules, and therefore had to make his own money, and it wasn’t always easy, he got his big break with network TV and desiring to get it so right lost a ton of bread and there was no aftermath, it was one and done, you get your big break and then it…isn’t.

And unlike Bruce Brown, with his “Endless Summer,” Miller could never make it theatrically. Turns out he could only do what he did, which he did better than everybody else.

And then the generations changed. His humor was out of style, it became about marketing…

Yes, there is an arc to this film, like with all lives, but most people don’t focus on one pursuit so long that they become an icon and can profit off their status alone.

Amazon has a unique philosophy. ANYONE can get their project streamed on Amazon, therefore you see endless unknown films that require payment to view and are therefore dead in the water from the get-go, but “Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story” is free with Prime, and if you’re a skier, you must see it, and if you’re not a skier, you’ll still get it, because of the human story, but you’ll also be infected by the scenery, the daredevil antics, the pure joy of those doing it, and…those who chose to take the path less taken, who devoted their lives to skiing. It’s a sickness, you catch the bug and the only way to cure the pain is to keep trekking to the mountains and skiing, to the point where you have to live in the mountains so you can ski every day, that’s why I went to Middlebury  College, it had its own ski area, and was located near Mad River Glen, and Stowe and Sugarbush, even Killington, were not far away. And ultimately I spent two years in Little Cottonwood Canyon, in Utah, but then I realized if I didn’t leave soon, I never would, so I did, and it was so painful I rarely skied thereafter, there’s a fine edge you get skiing every day and when you don’t it hurts, mentally. But the infection is just dormant, and now I’m as into it as I ever was, I cannot read enough about it, I cannot go enough, usually fifty days a year, with a laptop and smartphone you can be anywhere, even overseas.

You just can’t get it unless you do it. But Warren did it, he dedicated his entire life to skiing, one time was enough to turn him into a lifer. And I know people who’ve “thrown away” their entire lives to skiing, they’ve woken up, especially today, and realized they’ve got no 401k, little cash, but they couldn’t help themselves, it’s akin to an opioid addiction. Watch this movie, you’ll understand.

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