On a shelf in my office is an antique 16mm, hand wind, motion picture camera. It was designed as a combat camera during World War II. It has three lenses: a wide angle, a normal and a three-power telephoto.
Alongside that shelf are two filing cabinets full of six drawers of memorabilia of a lifetime spent skiing and filming. On top of the filing cabinets are half a dozen scrapbooks put together by my different secretaries who worked for me during the almost 50 years that I owned my own film company.
There are photographs of my two sisters and me on the beach at Topanga Canyon in 1929, photos of me and my 100-pound surfboard on the beach at San Onofre in 1940, and photos of Ward Baker on Thanksgiving day in 1946 at Alta, Utah, in front of our 8-foot trailer buried in snow in the parking lot. There is also a collection of the 50 different posters advertising the many feature films I was involved with in my five decades of wandering the world with a camera to document the white world above 6,000 feet.
This was during the time when mountains everywhere were awakening to the sound of diesel engines hauling steel cables up the hill with chairs hanging from them, each one holding someone with a long, funny thing attached to each foot. There are early photographs of wet, cold, hemp rope being dragged through the slush, along with pictures of pioneers such as Dave McCoy building their rope tows. Those were the good old days. They were good, old and cold.
Safety bindings were in the distant future and a few hot racers were just starting to file away the sides of their skis so their edges would be offset. My antique camera started running in 1949 when there were only 15 chairlifts in North America. My skis were skinny, long and made of very stiff laminated hickory. They cost $19.95. My job was pretty simple. All I had to do was get in my truck, which had a bed and a stove and was a refrigerator and drive to where there was a chairlift running or a mountain to climb and skiers to make turns for me.
On my many trips to Europe, it would be six long weeks before I got back to my office in Hermosa Beach, Calif., and could see the pictures I had taken. When I saw them, all I had to do was combine the footage into a cohesive sense of the annual visual history of skiing as it was unfolding, knowing all the time that any one of a thousand things could have gone wrong during the accumulation of skiing history that is now contained in those filing cabinet drawers.
I started to slow down 15 years ago when I sold my film company to my son Kurt and turned my creative direction to my newfound medium of expression: learning how to run a computer and of late, use an invention called Dragon Speak 10. I now can dictate the stories and watch my computer print them out as I dictate them. It’s amazing!
Many people and businesses change forever because of a simple event. Mine changed on the beach at Topanga Canyon in 1929. It had snowed about an inch the night before and as I walked barefooted in ankle-deep warm ocean water, I stepped out onto the snow and a kind of visceral feeling happened that to this day is impossible for me to explain.
Why are all my friends leaving the Pacific Northwest for Southern California and Arizona’s warm deserts while I am going to Montana for the winter where today the temperature was 25 below zero?
I often wonder if I had never taken that first ski trip in 1937 with my $2 pine skis with toe straps what I’d be doing instead of spending every winter on the side of a snow-covered hill. This might be a good time to ask yourself, “What would you be doing if skiing had never been invented?”
My fun job now is to condense the six filing cabinet drawers full of memorabilia into my autobiography. The completion date will be when I get it done. In the meantime there is almost 5 feet of snow at nearby Mount Baker, and Snoqualmie Pass has more snow this early in the year than since Webb Moffett bought the resort for $832 in the 1940s.
By the time you read this, Laurie and I will have packed up our trailer for a four-month ski vacation and driven from our sanctuary here on an island to our sanctuary in Montana.
Treasure every moment of your life. Believe me, it goes by way too fast.
Skiing legend Warren Miller died in 2018 at the age of 93. This column originally ran in the Express on Jan. 22, 2010.