Friday, January 9, 2009

Get up early, or else


I was recently invited to Squaw Valley, Calif., to give a speech to the American Association of Professional Ski Patrollers. These are the men and women who keep ski resorts running.

I thought it might be a good idea to pass on some of the things that I had learned since that winter working for Emile Allais at Squaw Valley during the winter of 1948-49. That was when it first opened with one chairlift and two rope tows.

1—I learned that the world wants to laugh and not enough people let them. During the 55 years that I made movies, I tried to put as many laughs in them as I could.

2—I learned that if you aren't the first person in the liftline in the morning, someone else will be, and they will track up the powder snow before you and your camera can get up there.

3—I learned that at the top of a mountain all people are equal. While eating a lunch of oyster crackers and ketchup in the Roundhouse at Sun Valley in 1947, I sat and watched while Gary Cooper and his wife and a group from Hollywood drank their expensive wine and ate gourmet lunches. After lunch, when we all rode to the top of Baldy, it made no difference how famous anyone was, we were all the same. Gravity was the great equalizer when we started down the mountain.

4—I learned in 1950 when I was showing my first ski film and only 13 people showed up in a 350-seat theatre to always entertain the people who show up and feel sorry for the people who miss your show. I also learned that you will work all of your life to be a success overnight. And I haven't worked all of my life yet.

5—I learned not to ever ruin a good story with the absolute truth. Often there were only two people there at the time and the chance of the other person's ever hearing you tell the story are very remote. In many cases the other person in the story has been dead for years anyway. (This drives my wife crazy because she thinks it erodes my credibility.)

6—I learned from my grandfather in 1933 to never steal anything because two policemen are smarter than one crook. Even more importantly, he taught me to never tell a lie because you do not have a good enough memory.

7—I learned to always trust your guide. I was filming deep down in a crevasse in Switzerland one winter. With a great rumble some ice shifted somewhere else in the glacier and scared me half to death. I asked the guide, "What makes you think this crevasse won't cave in on us while we are down here?"

He replied, "What makes you think it will?"

8—I learned that pioneers usually die with their fanny full of arrows.

9—I learned there is a big difference between being cheap and being frugal. With every 10 dollars I saved on room and board by sleeping on a friend's couch I could buy another roll of film.

10—I learned that if I lived in my panel delivery truck and cooked my meals in the back of it I could travel and show or film my new movie for just the cost of gasoline at 27 cents a gallon plus groceries. The 40 percent of the $1 tickets would somehow earn enough money to finance my next ski movie. One night I received 40 percent of $13 worth of one-dollar tickets. I showed each new annual film of mine in the same theatre each year for the next 54 years.

11—I learned in 1949 that if I included some surfing in my ski movies I would open the doors to a great way to spend the summer in the ocean to the people who showed me a great way to spend the winter in the mountains.

12—I learned that anything anyone does in a city they can do in a ski resort. So if you don't like what you are doing in the city, quit your job, rent a U-Haul trailer, pack it up and move to a ski resort and change your life. No one else is going to change it for you.

Warren Miller is an internationally-known ski film maker who began his career in Sun Valley.

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