Warren Miller autobiography details adventurous life of famed ski filmmaker | SteamboatToday.com

Warren Miller autobiography details adventurous life of famed ski filmmaker

Warren MIller's new autobiography is entitled "Freedom Found - My Life Story."

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The official beginning of the 2017-18 ski season was just 63 days away this week when the first legitimate snowfall of the season put a little frosting on Steamboat's cake.

The trail to Crystal Peak, at the head of Strawberry Park, was coated in white, and there was more snow on Sand Mountain, reflected on the surface of Steamboat Lake.

That means it's officially acceptable to begin getting excited for the coming ski season ahead. And "Freedom Found, My Life Story," the new autobiography by Warren Miller, the grandfather of ski films, is the perfect way to get back in touch with the powder.

During my college years, it was a Warren Miller film that inspired me to sign up with the university outing club for a 1972 ski trip to Aspen Highlands that changed the trajectory of my life.

I spent $220 for a flight to Denver from Madison, Wisconsin, a stormy bus ride over Loveland Pass, six nights in the Heatherbed Lodge across the road from the parking lot at Aspen Highlands, and five days of lift tickets. It took me another three years to move to Steamboat to ski bum for a season, and I owe Miller a debt of gratitude.

So, it was with great anticipation that I opened  a cardboard box containing a review copy of Miller's new book. In my modest judgement, no one person has done as much as Miller, with his blend of mind-blowing powder footage and zany humor,  to cause Americans to become hooked on skiing.

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"Freedom Found," edited by former Warren Miller Entertainment Vice President Andy Bigford, opens with a nerve-wracking account of a Warren Miller film shoot in 1968 featuring triple gold-medal Olympic champion Jean-Claude Killy and teammate Leo Lacroix skiing the Narahoe Volcano in New Zealand minutes before it erupted.

"If skiing is dancing, this is dancing with death," Miller recalls in the book.

Although Miller and his film crews had many big-mountain adventures over the decades, those tales aren't the heart of "Freedom Found." Rather, it's the story of how a little boy, born into the Great Depression in 1924, survived a dysfunctional family to carve his own path through life and over the slopes.

Miller's early years were spent living in a shack at the mouth of Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles. The Miller home's one redeeming quality was its proximity to the ocean, and little Warren tested his meddle while body surfing.

He eventually learned to make his own (heavy) surfboards and then made the transition to Alpine skiing with a Boy Scout troop, teaching himself snowplow turns on Mt. Waterman just outside L.A.

Often forced to fend for himself, Miller learned entrepreneurship the hard way – delivering newspapers for pennies, and as a young adult, peddling brightly dyed ski bootlaces made from military surplus parachute cord to ski shops all over the West.

Miller's adventures were numerous. During a stint in the Navy during World War II, he survived abandoning ship in the Pacific. He and buddy Ward Baker were the ultimate ski bums, spending entire winters in the parking lot at Sun Valley, living in a cramped teardrop trailer attached to a 1936 Buck Phaeton. Miller hired on as a ski instructor, but to make ends meet, the young men hunted for rabbits and ducks.

Miller had the drive to teach himself how to shoot and edit  movie film, but after a childhood where his grandparents were his only role models and benefactors, it took him many years to acquire relationship- and child-rearing skills. And the book also acknowledges that aspect of his life on the road, screening his films for live audiences.

Warren Miller's success story is like no other played out on a pair of skis.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

 

Newest Warren Miller film

The newest Warren Miller film is  “Line of Descent,” which will have a three-day run at the Chief Theater in Steamboat Springs Nov. 16-18, with the opening of the Steamboat Ski Area to follow Nov. 22.

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