It’s New Year’s Day, five-below-zero outside and so clear you can see from the top of Pioneer Peak next to Big Sky Montana all the way to the Grand that rises above Jackson Hole Wyo., a four-hour drive away.
Because of the cold, they’ve postponed the opening of the chairlift until 10 a.m. because of so many frost- bitten cheeks yesterday.
I sit here reminiscing about all the fantastic New Year’s Day turns I’ve had the privilege of making on almost deserted mountains. In fact, New Year’s Day in Sun Valley 45 years ago was almost exactly like this one.
It had been snowing for three days. Early in the morning, the storm moved on and left a star-studded sky and almost two feet of new snow. I woke up my 12-year-old son Scott and we met Bob Casey—a friend who was working the sports desk at the Challenger Inn. We rode to Baldy in his milk truck through the completely deserted streets of Ketchum.
The River Run parking lot was completely empty. I stepped into my skis and eased into the single chair for the ride over the Big Wood River. I knew it was below zero because the river was really steaming. They were always a strong adrenaline rush for me—those few moments when I was suspended from a cable in a comfortable chair, hanging from a strong steel cable headed for yet another day of filming and excitement.
Three chairs to the top of Baldy and I saw almost no tracks. I knew it would be a wonderful day for my camera and Bob Casey could turn his skis both ways in the deep powder. Scott did kick turns with me as I navigated the sides of the runs. That was so all of my photography would be done in untracked powder.
It was after lunch before very many people were on the hill. They always skied where we had already left our tracks. Remember, these were the days when skis were long and stiff with no side camber and very few people made powder snow turns.
We didn’t stop for lunch. I kept filming and changing 100-foot rolls of film. Finally about 1:30 p.m. Casey ran out of gas and had to take a break for some food and water. While he and Scott ate, I ran into a friend of many years, Irving Goodman. He started making turns for me on the South slopes down into the bottom of the Lookout Bowls. Before I knew it they were beginning to shut down the lifts and I had almost run out of film.
I usually carried 20 of the 100-foot rolls of Kodachrome in my rucksack. Each roll was worth two-and-a-quarter minutes of screen time. This was the first time in the first 14 years of filming that I had ever shot that much film in one day. I was really jazzed on adrenaline, thinking about what I was going to share with my audiences the next fall and winter. I remember by the end of the day, Scott was making good powder snow turns, well launched on his skiing career.
Like today, New Year’s football was on television 45 years ago. When I returned to the Lodge there was a Rose Bowl football game on every TV set in the building. I kept my mouth shut about what an epic day it had been. Most guests wouldn’t have cared. They were on their second football game of the day, gearing up for another long television day Jan. 2.
I believe in enjoying the snow to the fullest when you can. You don’t want to regret missing an epic day of powder snow when you’re sitting in front of a computer at Old Amalgamated Stockbrokers the next week.
Think about your best day of skiing and try to put a price tag on it. A million dollars? Ten billion dollars? I’m saying it’s not for sale at any price. The only way to own one of those special days is to be the first one in the chairlift line on a powder snow morning after a good night’s sleep. Memories are priceless. Keep on doing spectacular things so that you can keep depositing new things in your memory bank every day.
This column was originally published in the Jan. 7, 2011 edition of the Idaho Mountain Express. Skiing legend Warren Miller died in 2018.