I met Warren Miller several times, and when I say that I "met" him several times, that's exactly what I mean and exactly what happened. Our conversations always went like this:
"Hello, Mr. Miller."
"Hello, nice to meet you…"
"…Andrew, Andrew Pridgen. We met a few years ago at the premier of (name of movie) when I was working for (name of publication)."
"Oh, yes. I remember you.”
(He didn't remember.)
“Do you have any questions?" he asked me.
"Sure… can you tell me about (blank segment) and who came up with the idea for (blank)?"
And away he went.
The most compelling quote I ever got from Mr. Miller was one I didn't use. It was a decade or so ago, back when Squaw Valley belonged to the Cushings and Alex was still alive, still rocking the red sash that was emblazoned across every employee’s jacket. Nancy was still hosting gala fashion shows in the fall to get her peer group ready for whatever winter-infused cocktail and wine pairing circuit was to come; Squaw was still very much her party house, damn the proles, the angry lifties, and the High Camp hot tub poachers, it was her table and she set it beautifully.
Miller, often the keynote at such events, talking over the clinking of glasses and the hustle of stoned bro-busser slayers, offered up the same candied version of his early days. Or maybe that's how it actually was. It's hard to view anything through today's lens that the good times were anything but made up. But maybe it actually was that good. It probably was.
Read More: The Profound Legacy of Warren Miller
You know the story: one man, one film camera, lots of false starts and malfunctions, then 60 years of pan-seared ski films kicking off the season for three generations of mostly white folks with white teeth and white Bogner onesies with white fur collars. Miller's got more credits than a porn star—500-plus films at last count—and along with the laconic surf auteur Bruce Brown, made the dream of the West both magnificent and attainable.
That night a decade or so ago, I wrote in my reporters' notebook when Miller spoke:
• Seems cheerless, colorless.
• Going through the motions.
• Something missing. Still wants in the game. Still pretending to be (?)
Looking back, it's more likely all that was was what I was thinking. At the moment, I was angry about being there, didn't want my rubber chicken plate; a relationship was on my mind, mountain town money problems were manifest; I was suing my former landlord for my deposit back, which I needed to afford my next, first, and last; my father lecturing me via Post-It about the state of my Subaru after he'd borrowed it to move some boxes filled with legal paper from his office in Dollar Point to his garage in Incline. He left a sticky on the gearshift with the following: "You need gas. You need an oil change. You need a car wash & you need to get your shit together." Lots of “needs,” with a pair of 20s stuck beneath. I drove on empty and donated the 20s to the Biltmore casino.
So there I was this particular night, underpaid, overstuffed, and ski-town jaded. I didn't like the narrative of the Warren Miller films at all, and hadn't since high school when everyone else paid for everything. Where were the anonymous duct-tape backcountry artisans I knew? Where were the toothless grins of the shralpers who worked at Spitsen lumber yard? The Girdwood locals in their Carhartts? All that didn't get so much as lip service in these glossy treatments of a time-more-sepia. It was a good commercial for Helly Hansen and Rossignol and Jeep and The North Face, but that was about it. I was scooping rich people's dog's poop at the local $90+/night dog kennel in Truckee and writing on the side. Even in the heart of my prime earning years, I had, by choice or sheer lack of wit, summarily exited out of Miller's target demo.
At the moment, Miller had long since sold his company (1998) and was starting litigation against the buyer. By 2010, Level 1 and Miller were in a breach of contract claim against the company Miller started, one that would later be denied. That Miller won the fight in 2010 also meant he lost the war. More control of his name ultimately erased the person from the industry—he wasn't, in other words, in the business of making friends late in life.
Knowing this was going on, that night I pressed him on the legal matter of who owned the Warren Miller brand and what he planned to do about it as Warren Miller. This was a man in his 80s who just wanted to get polite applause and recede into a room of his friends and talk about grandkids. He didn't answer my question. Instead, he said, "I didn't ever make anyone ski better. I made them want to ski more. That's enough."
Warren Miller (October 15, 1924 – January 24, 2018)