Warren Miller: Southern skiing
July 28, 2011
My wife gave me a great item that we used to call a radio, and I don’t know what you call it today, except that it comes over the air, has what seems like thousands of stations and has a great station that plays what is called pop concert music. As I sit here at the computer, they seem to be playing a lot of the music that I used as background for the early days of when I was filming ski movies in Europe.
This was in the early 1950s, before the resort owners in Switzerland and Austria came to the conclusion that the North Slope across from their village offered the best snow to ski on. The south slope around which they built their pre-World War II business was full of tuberculosis sanitariums. Visitors would come up from the coal smoke-choked cities to breath clean pure mountain air and as they used to say “Take the cure.” The south slopes of St. Moritz, Davos, and St. Anton had walking trails winding up those south slopes with benches to rest on every quarter of a mile or so. I used to ski by these people out walking their dogs in the afternoon sun and having a grand old time.
Don’t forget, when I started making my first feature-length ski movies, there were only 15 chairlifts in North America. There are that many chairlifts at the Yellowstone Club alone. The big deal in Europe in those days was that you could ski down the back side of a ski resort mountain to a village miles away, have lunch and some schnapps, and catch a train back to where you were staying.
It was with a bit of a surprise that I read about a ski resort at the tip of Tierra del Fuego where the southern tip of South America falls off into the Southern Ocean and does not reappear again for 750 miles of the most treacherous ocean in the world, Drake’s Passage, deep inside the Antarctic ice shelf.
Tierra del Fuego is 2,000 miles or three-and-a-half hours in a commercial jet south of Buenos Aires and not a place where you would expect to find a ski resort. Yet at the south end of Beaver Mountain there are nine ski lifts and 26 runs that are going full blast in their ski season.
So far the developers have invested $29 million in the resort. If you want bragging rights at next winter’s cocktail party, this is the place to go. You will be skiing farther south than anyone else in the world if you coast out into the flat at the bottom of the hill. (The person I would like to meet is the promoter who sold the investors on building a ski resort this far away from people.) It is the last spot where people who are going to the Antarctic pick up their long list of forgotten survival supplies. It might be the same kind of location as if someone decided to build a ski resort two thousand miles north of Chicago. Just wait a few more years and someone will promote that one, too.
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Beaver Mountain, by the way, was named for an entrepreneurial effort that introduced almost 50 pair of beavers to that part of the world 70 years ago. The hope was that it would be enough to start a beaver fur industry. Instead they had no predators and now they number in the millions and have chewed the bark off of and thus killed, tens of thousands of trees in that part of the world. Couple that with all of the beaver dams they have built that have flooded the countryside and you have ecology at its worst.
With its nine ski lifts and 26 ski runs, they are gearing up for 2015 when they will play host to Interski, the world’s largest symposium of ski instructors, with representatives from 36 nations participating on its slopes.
I was a little scared to do the research on what an airplane ticket would cost round trip from Mt. Perfect in Montana and without some sort of subsidy from the resort that the ski instructor works at. I don’t know any instructors who can afford that long of a trip away from their summer landscaping business or whatever they have chosen for their summer profession.
If this resort had appeared when I was making ski movies years ago, I could have probably drummed up the resources and crew to expose the world’s farthest southern resort to the thousands of people who used to support my lifestyle by attending my annual movies, but after 55 years of chasing the unique, the improbable and the impossible, I find that I really enjoy writing about the faraway places rather than wearing my body out traveling to and from them.
As I sit here at the computer, sometimes I think about the six or seven suitcases full of camera gear and one of ski clothes that I used to have to haul around the world. I used to complain sometimes when I was dead tired and still had 300 miles to drive to get to the next resort before the lifts started the next morning and it was already after midnight. Looking back, however, which I sometimes do, I don’t think I would trade a single day of making movies because every single day was a little better than the day before it.
I was always wondering, and still do wonder, what is just over the horizon. How long a trip will it be to get me to the Antarctic continent from Tierra del Fuego ski resort? Might as well go all the way to the South Pole while I am that close? Why not? I haven’t been there – yet.