Mike Walsh | Powder Report: Warren Miller an inspiration to all of us on the mountain
"He said he never wanted a real job," Pam Macy-Williamson told me about Warren Miller, who passed away earlier this week.
The legendary outdoorsman filmmaker, known especially for his work producing hundreds of skiing films, died at age 93. We ran his obituary on the front page of this sports section because I had heard tangentially about how he had spent some time locally and I know I've seen his films showing at various venues around the Berkshires in recent years.
I wanted more information about this man, whom Macy-Williamson said "was like the original ski bum."
Obviously, as you can tell by the mere existence of this column, I'm fascinated by and immersed in ski culture. It's something I've been thinking a lot about lately. My brothers and I are very different people. Both of them live in Boston and I don't see them as often as I'd like. One is an accountant and the other works in criminal intelligence. Me, I'm a sportswriter with a ski column living out in the Berkshires. However, as different as our lives are, one thing we've always had in common is skiing and snowboarding. My older brother and I learned to ski at a tiny spot called Jericho Hill that doesn't exist anymore. Through five years of high school, every winter Thursday night was spent at Wachusett for Ski Club and every Martin Luther King Weekend was spent at Waterville Valley. We owe our parents, neither of whom ski but spent countless hours in lodges waiting with hot cocoa, a debt of gratitude. It bonded us in a way I'm not sure anything else ever really did or could.
However, Ryan, while getting married and buying property and working nonstop in the city, hadn't dusted off his skis in years. Tim gets out maybe once or twice a year when tax season gives him a breather. So, with my own upcoming nuptials, I needed both out here in Pittsfield for a suit fitting at Steven Valenti's, and thought it would be a great opportunity to get them back on the hill and give them a piece of this lifestyle I've been enjoying. We hit Jiminy Peak Saturday after my buddy Evan Valenti sized us up downtown, and it was like we were kids again, using walkie-talkies to communicate from trail to trail and lift to lift. It was a kind of magic I don't think you can find anywhere else. It was a kind of magic that must have seemingly emanated from every moment of Warren Miller's life.
Miller is a pioneer of sorts to the lifestyle I've long been envious of. Living in the Berkshires, I do get a taste of it. With several mountains within a short drive from downtown Pittsfield, one can at least somewhat embrace the lifestyle, at least until it comes time to punch the clock and pay the Eversource bills.
Miller actually shot at Bousquet, with the local slope being featured in his 1961 film "Many Moods of Skiing". It was filmed back in the day when Bousquet had an original T-bar.
"He used to live-narrate his own movies with a microphone," remembers Macy-Williamson from her perch at Bousquet, where Miller would screen films in the late 1960s and early 70s. Many locals may remember the old Bousquet layout, with two large circular fireplaces and a wall where they would project a Miller film. Then, the charismatic ski bum would literally enrapture a room of people with a microphone. He would simply narrate the humorous wipe-outs, adorably flailing beginners and outright beautiful skiing portrayed in his films. Among those in the crowd were Terry Hallock, the architect who redesigned Bousquet's current twin peaks layout.
"We used to sit on the stairs and watch," said Macy-Williamson. "He was really just a wonderful man, and clearly had this joy for skiing. Skiing was everything to him.
"Everybody who grew up here definitely would have seen him. He was very much like a pied piper when he was here."
The pied piper of skiing. Now that is a legacy to leave. Miller's films are still used locally to signal the start of ski season, typically at the Colonial Theatre in November.
"Everybody goes every year," said Macy-Williamson. "There is always one in Pittsfield right before the ski season starts and you always see the same people. All the die-hard skiers go, and it's kind of one of the things that opens the season for us.
"It just gets you totally stoked to start the season,"
Macy-Williamson promises me that snowboarders were incorporated to Miller's films in recent years, so my fellow urchins, don't feel excluded.
Ski Butternut will be hosting a viewing of Miller's film "Line of Descent" at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington on Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
If there was ever a guy who could keep living spoice in the afterlife, it was Miller.
But, enough with the sap. The snow at Jiminy and surrounding slopes has held up really well. Macy-Williamson tells me that despite the heavy rainstorm this week, things are booming at Bousquet and the Saturday morning 4-5 year olds program has seen near record attendance. So, what are you waiting for? Grab a board or a pair of skis and get out there. Honor the OG of this beautiful lifestyle we all experience a part of in this region, even by proxy. Create memories or relive old ones. Let it bond you and us. No matter how dark the world gets at times, it's tough not to bomb a choice run with a big grin on your face.
Until next time, keep your tips up and stay spoice!
P.S. - The next Powder Report will be looking at another aspect of this lifestyle: the Apres. So, shoot me a message with your favorite Apres-ski spots around and why you love and recommend them. I'll see you in the lift line.
Mike Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CLNS_Walsh on Twitter and 413-496-6240.
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