Friday, April 2, 2010

Zermatt random


This winter on our annual migration to Montana for a winter of making turns, I brought backup documents of my history of 60 years of making movies. I did that so I could work on my autobiography.

Lined up on a table near my computer are several dozen three-ring binders of Warren's wanderings. Opening those binders is reliving a great life of wandering the world and discovering new places to film, mountains to climb, lifts to ride and local skiers to meet.

My first 10 years of running the camera, anyone who could make half a dozen turns without falling was an extreme skier. They were glad for the opportunity to ski for the camera because somehow I was able to convince them they would become world famous on the silver screen and that people would flock to their resort and take ski lessons from them (these people were usually the ski school directors).

It would be almost a decade before locals began to outshine the ski school directors. The locals had to be a little careful, however, if they became the stars of the Smooching Bridge ski resort sequence instead of the ski school director.

When I showed my movie in the marketing area for Smooching Bridge, whoever starred in it would travel everywhere I showed the film and pass out their brochures and meet the people who took lessons from them. My guerilla marketing, as I called it, worked so well that in some cases the ski resort I featured actually rented an auditorium and sponsored my show in their marketing area.

Of course, this was before man-made snow machines and snow-grooming machines. And this was a time when a new double chairlift was enough news to make headlines in the local newspapers.

It's hard, I know, but keep in perspective that in the early 1950s there were only 15 chairlifts in North America. Remember that a ski lift line of 30 to 45 minutes was not uncommon. Think about the fact that Klaus Obermeyer was teaching skiing in Aspen and his pupils were always cold. So he cut up a down comforter and invented the quilted parka. It's hard to give private lessons to pupils that are freezing cold.

< I was teaching a class in Sun Valley once when the snow turned to freezing rain. I thought that the pupils would all quit and not come back after lunch. Four ladies came back and, soaking wet, I hung in there and taught in the freezing rain for two hours. They were four army nurses from Alaska and this was the best weather they had seen all winter. This was the winter before I started making movies in 1948-49.

Closing that three-ring binder, I pull down and open another one. It's the script for the first movie I made in Europe in 1952. I was completely hypnotized by the Matterhorn and the cable and cog railways that took me to hotels and restaurants in places that instantly changed my mind about what the world had to offer. All you had to do was somehow get to these kinds of places, and my films took you there. These railways had been built prior to World War I and were so well built and maintained that even today they look and perform as though they are brand new.

So absorbed by the beauty of the Matterhorn on that trip to Switzerland, I got home and found out I had the equivalent of 17 minutes of film of one view after the other of the Matterhorn. Any one of those views would change your mind about what the beauty of a mountain can do for you. Getting to ski and film them was inspiring.

On one trip to Zermatt, Herman Geiger was just getting his glacial landing in a fixed-wing airplane to work without scaring you half to death. I was able to get a 20-minute ride for a $10 bill. As I rattled down the bumpy glacier and off the edge of a high cliff with my camera running, the pictures I got scared the heck out of my audiences the following winter. Unfortunately, Herman was killed not long after I flew with him.

After doing all of the photography for the first 15 years, I had gotten so busy that I could have used a 750-day year. That was when I hired Don Brolin to help me with the filming and I was able to spend more time editing, marketing and making the film company grow.

That was five years before Mike Wiegele started up his helicopter operation in Blue River, B.C. In the winter of 1969, I sent Rod Allin out there to document this new way to find powder snow. Mike did not even have two-way radios because he didn't have any employees. That first winter, he booked 12 skiers at $1,300 each for a week of skiing—and an entire new industry was created. It was then, and is today, the ultimate ski experience.

Put it on your wish list because without a goal such as that, you just might spend your entire ski career at your local mountain. But then, at least you are having a ski career.

Who knows, maybe someday a wandering cameraman will film you and like Steven Stunning, ski school director at Illinois' highest ski mountain, you too will be famous and people will ask for your autograph as you glide to a stop at the end of the lift line for your 22-minute wait for a ride to the top, for yet another taste of freedom on a 300-foot-high mountain.

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