Tales from the road on the Warren Miller Tour from one of its masters of ceremony | AspenTimes.com
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Tales from the road on the Warren Miller Tour from one of its masters of ceremony

By Miller Ford for the Aspen Times Weekly

WARREN MILLER GOES VIRTUAL

What: ‘Future Retro’ Virtual Tour

When: Nov. 14 (Mountain Central Virtual Premiere)

Where: warrenmiller.com

How much: $30

More info: Geo-located online premieres will run through November, with a virtual shows for the East Coast on Nov 7-9, Mountain Central 14-16 (with red carpet at 6 p.m. MST and film starting at 7 p.m.); and for the West Coast Nov. 21-23.

I love Warren Miller.

It’s easy to love someone who devoted his life to loving the mountains and encouraging people to love each other. Now, I never had the joy of meeting the man or attending one of his classic premieres when he still narrated his films live, but I feel I’ve have been in his presence many times over. Since 2018 I’ve had the honor to hit the road with Warren Miller Entertainment as one of their masters of ceremony — barn-storming around dozens of cities in ski country and beyond to share some pre-ski season stoke and screen the latest Warren Miller title on the big screen.

Every time I stood in front of a crowd to kick off a night or shook someone’s hand after an epic showing, I knew Warren was right there with me. That may sound crazy, but any person who has traded in the security of a “normal” life for the musings of the mountain share the same spiritual blood as Miller.

Traveling, sharing the passion and excitement of skiing and the coming winter is a ritual he started and one for which I am proud to carry the torch.

A Warren Miller premiere is the only place I have ever been that an 80-year-old and an 8-year-old have the same gleam in their eye.

We’re all preparing for a winter like no other, as skiers and ski areas adjust to safety restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This is also the first time in 71 years that there won’t be an in-person Warren Miller Tour. But there’s still a new movie, a virtual tour (more on that below) and, of course, it’s still stoke season.

ON THE ROAD

Until I went on tour with a Warren Miller premiere, I’d never had a job where the old adage “If you do what you love you never work a day in your life” came into play.

Bouncing breathlessly from city to city, all while sharing the stoke, holds an unparalleled rush and freedom. Honestly, hitting the road for two months with a 39-show, 27-city agenda is not for the faint of heart. It’s not even for a mildly sane individual. Luckily for us road crews, we have a week of prep down in Boulder where we familiarize ourselves with that year’s movie, its funders and – most fun of all – meet the folks who will be our road family for the next two months. Each crew consists of a road manager, sponsor liaison, projectionist and an MC (that’s me). For a week in Boulder we’d run the show over and over so when a problem eventually arises (which it will!), you can tackle it without the audience knowing.

For instance, we were once at a venue which didn’t have the correct tech and my team’s projectionist had to use a piece of cardboard to filter between the film and our sponsor reel. The folks in Boulder set us up for success to run gameday audibles, assuring “the show must go on.”

Prepped up, packed up and we are ready to hit the road, we’d make a trip or two to air cargo, go over our checklist once, twice, three times, and then gather our things and catch a flight to where it all truly begins, the city of our first show, and the beginning of the tour.

Last year for me and my West Coast Tour crew, it was a flight to Portland, Oregon. I couldn’t have been happier. We were about to travel from Vancouver, Washington, to Long Beach, California, in 60 days time. I had never been to most of the places we were headed, and knew very little about most of them. The only thing I knew was that we were going to be greeted by an audience that loves the mountains. It’s funny because I will talk with people about the places we traveled and many will say something like “You had a premiere in Santa Barbara?” or “Why did you have shows in L.A?” The answer is simple: you don’t have to live in the High Country to have an appetite to shred. That’s one of the things Warren did long ago when he was traveling the nation like a one-man band. He let people become a part of a community of shredders, a fellowship sharing a lifestyle no matter where they reside. He started a ritual, one that at times is the only familiar part about being on the road.

When you are clocking hundreds of miles and rarely sleeping in the same place for more than a couple of days, having some form of familiarity can keep one from going completely mad. That’s what the work itself was for me, the act of putting on the show. It didn’t matter where we were. We showed up, unloaded the truck, set up, dialed in the projector, did a sound check, met the theater crew, put on the show, shook hands, packed up and hit the road again. A whirlwind of the familiar and the new all wrapped up together with a community of skiers and boarders waiting to greet you every night.

Every show was a full-on sensory experience. Some venues were new and polished others were worn and vibrant. The sound system might be state-of-the-art surround sound like the one in Walnut Creek or it might be a couple of speakers onstage with me, as they were in Petaluma.

Crowds varied in size from a few hundred to a few thousand. Some were there to party, beer in hand, some were families passing down a tradition from grandfather to grandson. We may be in a high school theater in Pleasanton, California, or at the iconic Castro Theatre in San Francisco. The theater crew might be salty old dogs who have worked for the union since the dawn of time, college students who are just learning the ropes or anything in between. My favorite were the metal heads in Campbell, California, who looked like they were the ones that were going to be putting on the show that night.

On both the 2018 and 2019 tours, there was a moment in the films where I get teary-eyed. Not just one night, but every time we showed the movie. It was incredible. The first tour it was, of course, during the montage celebrating Warren’s life (he had passed away that January). Last year it was during the Jackson Hole sequence — something about the cinematography and the song behind it (when it comes to powder day playlists, of course, these films soundtracks are worth a download). Apparently, having a cry is a residual when gratitude fills me up. And there was no way around that feeling when I would finally take a breath and share in the moment with all the folks that had showed up that night.

And both years I got to meet people who loved Warren Miller and his work, along with people who knew him, worked with him and were even raised by him.

My first year I got to meet one of Warren’s O.G. cameramen, Gary Nate. Warren once called Gary “an eternal teenager,” and he wasn’t wrong. In the five hours we spent with Gary he never stopped telling first-hand stories of the legendary undertakings he and Warren’s crews participated in. It was like having a crystal ball showing me all the untold tales of skiing’s past, totally priceless.

Last year I had the honor of getting to know Chris Miller, Warren’s daughter who hosted an event at our last show of the tour in Hermosa Beach, Warren’s hometown. We spoke at length before the show and she dazzled me with detailed stores about how it all began. So I had the bright idea to have her come share a little story about her dad at intermission and then I cried again (there wasn’t a dry eye in the house). It was a moment captured in time, one that can’t be duplicated, an experience shared by her and Warren that became an experience shared by us all. Man, I love this job.

Fun was always around the corner no matter what, I just had to be willing to look for it. There were always backstage hijinks in the green rooms (or sometimes there wouldn’t be one and I would just change and prep to go onstage behind the red curtain or in a hallway). Other times the green room would be thick with memories of all the people that had shared the stage of that theater in days past. It was a trip to see posters with faces like Dave Chappelle and the Mighty Mighty Boss Tones hanging on the walls. People that have inspired me throughout my life, and now (even if in a small way) I would get to share the same space, with eyes turned the same way.

Warren always made sure to add humor and mischief in his films, which also broke out during what we on tour referred to as “halftime.” This is pretty much the only unscripted part of any evening and when everyone gets to participate, for there’s a chance at any Warren Miller show that one may walk away with some ridiculously cool stuff (new gear, a season pass, etc.). Each night I would bring guests onstage to help with the giveaways and share in the revelry. In Sacramento I was joined by some old-timers, Chappy and Pontiac from the Kandahar Ski Club, and in San Rafael I had a group of 10-year-old shredders toss out some freebies and read the winners’ names.

On select nights like in San Fran at the Palace of Performing Arts, I would have ski royalty and the current narrator of the films Jonny Moseley onstage with me. Other nights I would have athletes from the movie. Marcus Caston, a current staple of Warren Miller Entertainment, joined me for 15 shows in 2018. So we started to have a little rapport and some jokes. My personal favorite: I’d ask Marcus “How was the skiing in Switzerland?” and he’d respond, “It was good but I can definitely say the flag was a big plus.” Without fail, it got a resounding laugh/groan from our audience.

‘FUTURE RETRO’

I will be forever grateful I got picked to help crowds have the Warren Miller experience. A Warren Miller premier is the only place I have ever been that an 80-year-old and an 8-year-old have the same gleam in there eye. Somewhere between that big mountain footage and the crash reels, age tends to just wash away.

This year will be different. But the folks at Warren Miller Entertainment were not going to let the filming they did before the world and lifts came to a screeching halt go to waste. The 71st film, “Future Retro,” is on its way and you can watch it at home. But that’s kind of where the difference ends. Each premier will be just as interactive as the ones we have grown accustomed to, only you get to do everything from your couch. With purchase of the film you will have a chance at all the giveaways, local partnerships are still on board handing discounts and the like, and instead of a guy like me MC-ing the evening, the one and only Jonny Moseley will be taking care of that role.

The movie is epic (per usual) and Aspen’s own Baker Boyd makes an appearance in the Iceland segment.

Snow is right around the corner and the mountains are soon to be calling. Even in these crazy times, let’s not forget to live like Warren, where any day with boots on our feet is a good one. And always remember what the legend himself would say: “The best place in the world to ski is wherever you are skiing that day.”

Miller Ford is an Aspen-based writer and comedian. He is a member of Consensual Improv, based out of Thunder River Theatre Co. and a master of ceremonies for the Warren Miller Film Tour.


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