Iconic filmmmaker Warren Miller, the ‘original ski bum,’ takes his last run at 93
Miller couldn’t afford Aspen’s $4 lift ticket or $10 houses
Ski film legend Warren Miller had close connections to Aspen ski pioneers.
In his 2016 autobiography, “Freedom Found: My Life Story” he talked about visiting Aspen Mountain for the 1947-48 ski season. He and ski bum buddy Ward Baker spent a good part of the season in Ketchum, Idaho, but decided to go on a road trip to other resorts that April.
They had a mixed reaction to Aspen.
“The mountain was spectacular, the town not quite as appealing,” Miller wrote. “There were blocks of empty, run-down, 1890s Victorian houses left over from the silver boomtown days, and not all that many decent places to stay. However, we had our trailer, so it was OK with us.”
Miller and Baker couldn’t afford the $4 lift ticket so they skinned up.
“We had one great top-to-bottom run, the one shining ski memory of our Rocky Mountain spring skiing tour,” Miller wrote.
They introduced themselves to Friedl Pfeifer, who owned the ski school. He advised them to hide their “derelict car and trailer” so the sheriff wouldn’t cart them off to jail.
He also advised them to buy houses or vacant lots in Aspen for $10 each.
“I should have listened,” Miller wrote.
— Aspen Times staff report
VAIL — You bought your ski pass, hit a ski swap and went with your friends to that year’s Warren Miller film — those were the rites of winter.
Warren A. Miller, icon and filmmaker, introduced generations to the freedom of skiing and outdoor adventures. Miller passed away peacefully Wednesday, Jan. 24, at his home on Orcas Island, Washington. He was 93.
Miller was known as the original ski bum, but his talents went well beyond ski films. He produced more than 500 films, primarily covering outdoor pursuits, including surfing, sailing and other watersports. As an artist, cartoonist and author, he wrote some 1,200 columns and 11 books.
He also was a World War II veteran, a ski instructor and ski racer, an accomplished surfer and a champion sailor. He took up windsurfing in his 60s and then turned to destination motor boating in his 70s and 80s, exploring the Northwest and Alaska from his home on Orcas Island.
Miller succinctly explained how he packed so much into one lifetime:
“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”
One of Warren’s boys
The family asked for privacy and encouraged those who are able to ski a favorite run or enjoy another activity they love in Warren’s memory.
Chris Anthony, who has been skiing in Warren Miller films for 28 years, was doing exactly that in Vail on Thursday morning, Jan. 25.
Anthony just returned from Kitzbuhel, Austria, where he did a presentation about Miller’s life. This week, Anthony was in front of an Ivy League group visiting Beaver Creek to give that same presentation.
After that Kitzbuhel event, several ski racing legends came up to Anthony afterward to tell him, “I grew up watching the films and you in them.”
“He has been part of my entire life. My parents took me to City Park when I was 3 years old to watch a Warren Miller film,” Anthony said.
Years later, Anthony took the direct route — the cinematic fall line, if you will — to a gig with Miller.
“I knocked on his door in Vail to ask if I could be in his films,” Anthony said.
Miller said yes, but not right away. It took a few years for Miller to send Anthony on his first ski film adventure.
“His impact on my life personally has defined every single thing. Everything I have been able to do with kids is because of him,” Anthony said. “His influence has reached millions and millions of people.”
Changing movie making
Miller changed the way you present a movie, creating interactive media. He went out on a ski hill, filmed a bunch of people, went back inside and narrated what he had just shot. Then he passed the hat.
So, when Warren Miller says, “interactive media,” he means he was using film to interact with people.
“He did it all for the next lift ticket or the next run. He did it for the love of it,” Anthony said. “He’s bigger than is even measurable, or even his brand. I don’t think you can build a brand that way. He built it one person at a time.”
Anthony said he has had four different people propose marriage at events he has hosted.
In almost three decades, never once did Anthony think schlepping all over the globe was a bad idea. He’d do it for free. In fact, he did.
“As an athlete, you’re not paid to do those films,” Anthony said. “From the very first moment that I got in the film, I did everything from working in the warehouse to the mailroom to sweeping the floors. It’s purely a passion project. You do it because you’re proud to be part of something so special. I did that for 28 years.”
Warren Miller was a presence, wherever he was.
“He’d strut onto a stage in front of a bland background, with a stool in the middle of the stage. He’d grab the audience and bring them along. You never knew what you were going to get, but it was always amazing,” Anthony said.
Warren was one of Walt’s boys
Miller grew up in California and was Walt Disney’s paper boy. He based his signature “W” after Walt’s. His first camera traced back to Walt Disney.
He leaves a legacy of humor, adventure and freedom, said Laurie Miller, his wife for the past 30 years.
“Warren loved nothing more than sharing his life’s adventures and hearing literally every day from friends old and new about how his stories inspired others to enrich and enjoy their own lives. All of us are better for knowing and loving Warren,” she said.
Andy Clurman, CEO of Active Interest Media, the parent company of Warren Miller Entertainment, called Miller a “globally loved ambassador for skiing and adventure sports, pioneering an entire genre of filmmaking.
“We join generations of Warren’s fans in both mourning his loss and celebrating a life well lived,” Clurman said. “As Warren might say: ‘I’ll see you same time, same place next year, only I’ll be watching from a different mountaintop.’”
Warren is survived by his wife of 30 years, Laurie; by his sons Scott (Melissa) and Kurt (Ali); by his daughter, Chris (David Lucero); his stepson, Colin Kaufmann; three granddaughters (Valeska, Kasimira, and Jenna) and two grandsons (Alexander and Ryan). Plus, thousands of wonderful friends and countless loyal fans, as well as his three black dogs. He was extremely grateful for his tireless caregiver, Ginger Moore.
In lieu of memorial gifts, the family also invites those inclined to benefit the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center in Big Sky, Montana.