The legend goes that Warren Miller taught himself to ski back in 1937, when he was on a trip to the San Gabriel Mountains with his Boy Scout troop. He spent all of $2 on a pair of beat-up wooden skis and a set of bamboo poles, then looked out on “the most beautiful sight I had ever seen: my first view of an untracked snowfield.” Miller was just 15 then, and he went on to become the most revered snow sports filmmaker of all time, producing hundreds of movies and pioneering outdoor filmmaking over a five-decade career. Miller died last night in his home in the San Juan Islands. He was 93 years old.
After leaving the Navy at the end of World War II, Miller spent winters in Ketchum, Idaho and lived as a proto-ski bum. “I had perfected doing only what I wanted to do,” he said, “We ate a lot of rabbits and ducks that we shot down near Shoshone. Plus making tomato soup out of ketchup and hot water, filling it out with lots of free, oyster crackers in the Roundhouse of Sun Valley.” He took a road trip around the West’s most iconic ski resorts one winter with a friend, and they filmed each other with an 8-mm camera. Miller would later add a goofy voiceover track over the film, creating his signature lighthearted touch.
Miller made at least one movie per year starting in 1950, and he would tour ski towns, showing the movie in the evenings and charging admission. He was raising a son whose mother had died of cancer, but his movies quickly became popular and he was able to raise three kids. He essentially invented an entire genre of outdoor filmmaking, and he produced over 750 movies, the majority of which were about skiing, before leaving Warren Miller Entertainment in 2004. There’s a sense of joy that pervades every Miller film, and the viewer can feel the reverence he has for the freedom and beauty of the outdoors. Not only are they thrilling sports films, they’re funny and they never take themselves too seriously. As his son Kurt put it,“People have always gone to my dad’s movies because they know they’re going to see great skiers in different parts of the world going down hills.” This blooper reel is a wonderful way to check out the sillier parts of Miller’s style.
Miller wasn’t just a humor filmmaker; he pioneered the use of helicopter shots and pounding soundtracks. He once compared the raucous atmosphere in theaters to “showing a porno film on an aircraft carrier six days out of port.” Miller’s 1985 Steep And Deep was a pivotal film in the genre. As Outside wrote, it “heralded the dawn of extreme skiing.”
He spoke to Powder Magazine in 2012, and said he considered his legacy to be one of connection.
What an amazing life it has been, probably the most exciting thing if you put it all together are the amazing, wonderful, interesting and brilliant people I’ve been able to meet and become friends with.
So many people have picked me up when I was low and I hope I did the same for them.