HomeBlogEssaysThank You for the Memories: A Tribute to Warren Miller

tribute to warren miller
Taking a run for Warren at the top of Aspen Mountain.

Thank You for the Memories: A Tribute to Warren Miller

As a girl, I admired and aspired to be one of the “pretty girls who could ski” in the Warren Miller movies.

Warren Miller didn’t teach me to love skiing; my parents did that when they put me on skis at an age before I can remember. But my parents also taught me to love Warren Miller. And what Warren Miller taught me, sitting in the cafeteria at Boyne Mountain cold and wet and happy, with a hot chocolate in my small hands, neck craned, eyes glued to the big screen, was how far my skis could take me.

mom and jenn in bandit ski gear crop
With my mom and (likely) my first pair of ski goggles.

Watching Warren Miller ski moves began as part of our annual holiday tradition. The week between Christmas and New Years, we all hauled up to our cottage on Lake Charlevoix in Northern Michigan. Parents, brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends. It was a full house, and the only thing on the agenda was fun.

The day started at dawn. We tore out of bed and pulled on our snow pants. We were down the stairs in no time lacing up our ice skates for a morning session on the rink my dad had shoveled for us on the frozen lake. After skating came breakfast, and after breakfast we all piled into the van to head over to Boyne Mountain. We trooped through the Alpine village with our skis and boots while my dad parked the van. We loaded the Hemlock Lift, an old double chair that rose from the foothills over the dreaded black diamond. At the top, we headed for Cold Springs, meandering through the forest to our favorite run, Top Notch. At lunchtime, we ate hamburgers or chili at the Eagle’s Nest, which features a hand-drawn mural by Warren Miller. And at the end of the day, all the kids were rounded up in the cafeteria for après-ski, where we sat in wonder watching helicopters fly over jagged mountain peaks, Minis with skis strapped to the roof navigate narrow Swiss roads, and skiers like Scot Schmidt and Doug Coombs, our first ski heroes, launch cliffs in locales we’d only begun to dream about.

The Remarkables, Chamonix, Portillo, everything in British Columbia, Mammoth Mountain and Lake Tahoe, Japan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and China. Many of these we’ve checked off the To Ski list; some are still on there. Warren Miller made the world seem a little smaller. People of all colors and creeds brought together by a love of the freedom that can only be attained on a pair of skis.

jenn joe jason New Zealand Harris Mountain Heliski
The “childhood dream” trip to New Zealand with Harris Mountain Heliski.

We knew who Ingemar Stenmark, Jean-Claude Killy, and the Mahre brothers were not because we followed ski racing, but because they were in a Warren Miller ski movie. My first introduction to Klaus Obermeyer and Billy Kidd, both of whom I’ve met as an adult, no doubt came via a Warren Miller movie. We laughed at the silly scenes, the piles of people falling all over themselves trying to get off the chairlift. “You want your ski? Go get it.” And as a girl, I admired and aspired to be one of the “pretty girls who could ski” in the Warren Miller movies.

When my brothers and I went to New Zealand, we called it the “childhood dream” trip. We were going heli-skiing with Harris Mountain Heliski because we’d heard about it in a Warren Miller movie.

Every Warren Miller fan has their favorite film. Our favorite is Ski Time. It’s the one we emulate when we make our own movies on ski trips inspired by Warren Miller (click on the video below). Warrenisms are deeply ingrained in our ski psyche, and Ski Time is the one we quote the most—on the ski slope, at family get-togethers, to impress friends.

“Time, there’s all kinds of it. Time’s the only thing in life we own. No one can give you any, but people can take it away. You can waste it, or you can invest it, in Ski Time.”

As a teenager, I started ski racing. I went to college at the University of Colorado and then took a couple of semesters off to ski. “When you weigh work time against ski time, work time loses every time.”

Warren Miller said the best way to thank the person who taught you how to ski is to teach someone else. So I became an Aspen ski instructor and moved to Lithuania and started the first ski team for kids. Two of my kids raced in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi and I was there to support them. One of them will race in 2018 in PyeongChang, and I’m going there, too. Some of my skiers are now ski instructors themselves. Warren Miller’s influence has transcended generations, and will transcend generations to come.

In one of the closing scenes of Ski Time, Warren Miller says (talking about skiing but a little bit about life), “This is your ski time. Enjoy it to the fullest. It’s the signature you leave on the side of any hill as your own reward for time traded somewhere else. So you can sign your name, you can say, ‘That’s mine. I wrote that.’”

And I wrote his for you Warren, to say thank you, for the dreams, and for the memories. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten.

warren miller
Warren Miller, gone but never forgotten. Photo: Sun Valley.

This past Christmas, we went back to Boyne Mountain. We rode the Hemlock Lift, we cruised Cold Springs, and had a hamburger at the Eagle’s Nest. At the end of the day, we headed down to the cafeteria, following the sound of that familiar voice. Yes, more decades later than we would care to admit, Warren Miller movies are still on the big screen in the Boyne Mountain cafeteria at après-ski.

“The tracks you leave are the result of every turn you’ve ever made in your life. Chances are, that some time on the way down you let out a long, loud cry, which is essentially a cry of love and life, and at the same time, a bit religious. It’s a wild cry of ultimate, animal pleasure. A cry that says, ‘This is my ski time.’” — Warren Miller

Celebrated inventor of the ski film, Warren Miller passed away peacefully at his home on Orcas Island on January 24, 2018, at the age of 93.

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