Warren Miller’s autobiography provides glimpse of old Aspen
Famed ski filmmaker Warren Miller’s new autobiography is a fascinating read, period, but Aspen residents and visitors might particularly appreciate some of his observations about the resort’s early days.
Miller’s book, “Freedom Found: My Life Story,” was released Thursday. It was written with Andy Bigford, editor of the Aspen Daily News in the late 1980s and later the editor-in-chief and then publisher of SKI magazine.
Promotional material for the book says, “Warren bares his soul.” A quick skim also shows it’s got the same flowing feel that made his ski films so popular. It’s the kind of book a reader can open to any chapter, start reading from that point and find interesting anecdotes.
It’s a treasure trove of information on the early days of resorts such as Sun Valley, where Miller and friends defined early ski bumming, and Squaw Valley, where he witnessed the birth and maturation of the ski area.
Miller also had close connections to Aspen and its ski pioneers, as he explained while writing about the 1947-48 ski season. Miller and buddy Ward Baker spent a good part of the season in Ketchum, Idaho, but decided once April arrived they better hit the road and check out some other resorts. First, they hosted a blowout party in the Sun Valley resort parking lot where they treated their friends to a feast of rabbit.
The next day, they headed out of town pulling the trailer that was home for the winter.
“We fired up the Buick and headed for Jackson Hole on four bald tires with two waitresses and three leftover friend rabbits,” Miller wrote.
After visiting Jackson, Wyoming, and the Pikes Peak ski area in Colorado Springs, they crossed the Continental Divide for Aspen after a brief stop at Berthoud Pass. They weren’t exactly bowled over when they arrived in the old mining town.
“The mountain was spectacular, the town not quite as appealing,” Miller wrote. “There were blocks of empty, run-down, 1890s Victorian houses left over from the silver boomtown days, and not all that many decent places to stay. However, we had our trailer, so it was OK with us.”
They introduced themselves to Friedl Pfeifer, who owned the ski school and was the general manager of the ski corporation, prior to Dick Durrance taking the post, the book said. Pfeifer agreed to get a cup of coffee with them at the Hotel Jerome but advised them to hide their “derelict car and trailer” so the sheriff wouldn’t cart them to jail.
Pfeifer advised them to buy houses or vacant lots for $10 each.
“I should have listened,” Miller wrote.
The aspiring filmmaker and his traveling companion were so broke they couldn’t afford the $4 lift ticket at Aspen Mountain in April 1948. They climbed up the ski area instead, starting a tradition that is still surging in popularity.
“We had one great top-to-bottom run, the one shining ski memory of our Rocky Mountain spring skiing tour,” Miller wrote.
A couple of vignettes later in the book provide unique perspective on a couple of events — one big and one small.
In February 1950, Miller was temporarily put in charge of the ski school in Squaw Valley so the director could come to the 1950 FIS World Championships in Aspen. Miller describes the event in a way that puts the importance in a different light.
“It was a milestone month in the history of American skiing. For the first time, the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships were held in North America, in Aspen,” Miller wrote.
“These were the first World Championships to be held outside of Europe, and the first official world championships held since 1939, when the war had suspended international ski racing,” Miller continued. “Most European nations except for Switzerland were still too strapped for cash to host the event after the devastation of the war, even five years after it had ended.”
Much later, in the 1960s, Miller explains how the Kennedy family started skiing in Aspen rather than Sun Valley. The bus drivers in Sun Valley went on strike, he explained, and the Kennedys didn’t dare cross the picket lines.
“So they all got on their private plane and flew to Aspen, where management somehow found beds two days after Christmas,” Miller wrote.
As with Warren Miller films, the images in the book are entertaining. There are 110 photos and images. Copies are available at http://www.warrenmiller.net and in bookstores.
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