Catch you at the top 

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The question I'd put out there on Twitter and Facebook was simple: "Favourite Warren Miller film ever? Go."

Answers were as varied as the humanity using those mediums — Have Skis, Will Travel (1956), Skiing's Great (1973; by longtime WM cinematographer Tom Day), Ski People (1980), Snowonder (1982), Ski Time (1983), Ski Country (1984), Steep and Deep (1985 and most popular by far), Beyond the Edge (1986), White Winter Heat (1987), Escape to Ski (1988), Extreme Winter (1990), Black Diamond Rush (1993), Snowriders (1996), Freeriders (1998), and Impact (2004).

It's perhaps no surprise that the 1980s films immediately preceding the Greg Stump era resonate most — clear stepping stones to the ski video explosion of the 1990s. A California friend who lives in Europe offered: "I don't remember its name, but the film that introduced Dimitrije Milovich and his Winterstick. Me and my bro were right in our crux of getting good at surfing. We see the Dimitrije segment and it's life-changing. The way it's edited, too — Volkswagen Beetle, snowboard rack, Dimitrije and friend, surf-style, loose and free, practically Noboarding. We're blown away! Sometime later we see Tom Sims at Mt. High outside L.A. and he's masterful... I bought a Winterstick at Val Surf in 1978."

Of Cold Fusion (2001), someone offers: "The Bill Heath (Nelson-based cine) sequences are tops, and the intro couldn't have been better: 'I'm dreaming of a world of endless winter. I'm dreaming of cold fusion.'"

Montana ski mountaineer Tom Jungst echoed a sentiment shared by many ex-pros who responded: "(My favourite films were) the ones I was in... because I got to hear Warren narrate them live."

Yes, Warren often narrated his films live. And athletes also benefitted greatly from exposure in his films, few turning down the opportunity.

Others couldn't remember film names but recalled key narrative points: "The one where the lift-op throws the ski and Warren narrates 'You want your ski? Go get it!'"

Like everyone else in the ski world, I was touched by Warren's passing at age 93 last week, and believe any hagiography well deserved. Strictly on the back of enthusiasm and folksiness, he built a franchise never to be equalled. For 68 years, both individual and entire families of snowsport enthusiasts cheered the official kickoff to winter with the ski film company that started it all, with 2017 no different, and Line of Descent dropping last fall. Warren produced, directed and narrated 38 films (1950 to1987), was involved directly in 17 more (1988 to 2004), and indirectly from 2005 onward, through occasional use of old narration (I'll spare you the sordid corporate details).

Though I liked and admired him, I was never comfortable with the "Nissan" and airline product placements, nor the cheesy, formulaic shots that came to represent the franchise. So I was happy to see at least one refreshingly honest respondent likewise giving Warren his due. "In retrospect, (all his films) suck equally — but at the time we didn't know better... his voice and infectious stoke inspired a generation. A legacy on par with Bruce Brown (Endless Summer)."

And while it's true that just going to see a Warren Miller film — whichever, whenever — was great, this experience was best elaborated by friend and fellow scribe Susan Reifer, a transplanted Californian living in Pemberton: "(My favourites were) every single one I saw at the ol' Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (as a kid with my family, and as a teenager and college graduate with friends). Warren Miller's movies of that era not only fired us all up for the winter to come, made us laugh and say "wow" — but (also) managed to feel inclusive rather than exclusive, democratic rather than elitist, and made skiing seem attainable and friendly rather than all bro-brah, in-crowd... virgin pow only. Most of all... those movies collectively instilled in me the radical idea of an entirely non-mainstream life path." 

As a young man Warren Miller was into skiing, surfing, and photography. In 1946, he bought his first movie camera and moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, where he and a friend camped in a teardrop trailer and earned money as ski instructors. In their free time, they filmed each other skiing, shifting to the coast in summer to film each other surfing. Warren would show his ski and surf films to friends, joking throughout, and when he began to receive invitations to show and narrate at parties, thought to turn his hobby into a business. In 1949, he founded Warren Miller Entertainment and began the longstanding tradition of producing a feature-length ski film each year. He rented out halls and theaters with borrowed money and charged admission, booking near ski resorts so he could film the next year's footage during the day. Soon he was showing in 130 cities a year.

A consummate ski bum celebrating ski-bum life, he did it right, and we all benefitted in some way from his passion. So, as Warren Miller boards that last long lift into the sky, I say so long and, as he might intone, I'll catch you at the top.

Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.



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