Warren’s World: The Meaning of Skiing

By Beacon Staff

There are some men and women in the world who spend their entire life looking for the meaning of life.

I’ve spent my entire life looking for the free lift ticket.

After five decades of making ski movies I have to tell you that I have just been selling freedom all of those years. That’s because streets are straight and our bodies are round and we don’t belong in square houses or offices on those straight streets.

I have traveled everywhere and a lot of people I have talked to who live in cities only want to quit their job and move to a ski resort and get a high-paying job with short hours and get powder snow days off.

A lot has changed since Averill Harriman, the president of the Union Pacific Railroad, came back from learning to ski in St. Anton, Austria, in 1933. He saw that Hitler would be closing down European ski resorts and decided to build the first destination ski resort in America.

In 1934 Harriman hired Count Von Gotschalk to search for the perfect spot for this far out experiment. The Count decided on building it in a remote Idaho mining and sheep town called Ketchum. He decided to build it there because he knew from his experience:

1. A ski resort should be below 6,000 feet because of potential respiratory and cardiovascular complications for the visitors.

2. A ski resort has to have abundant snow, but not too much, lots of sunshine and existing public transportation to get there.

3. A ski resort can not be close to a major city because of potentially large weekend crowds (This was in 1934).

I think there are many lessons to be learned from the history of skiing in Sun Valley.

When Averill Harriman paid Mr. Brass, who sold him the 4,000-acre ranch for $4 an acre, he asked him, “Where do you winter your cattle in the valley?” Mr. Brass showed him where the warmest winter spot was and this is where the Sun Valley Lodge was built. Right in the middle of the valley on top of the largest pile of cow manure in the Wood River Valley.

Sun Valley was conceived and built when there was no such thing as a chair lift, fiberglass skis, safety bindings, metal edges, snow-making machines, snow-grooming machines, double, triple or quad chairlifts, high-speed detachable chairlifts, plastic ski boots, shaped skis, fat skis, snowboards, helicopter skiing, condominiums or ski resorts with more lift ticket prices than the Molly Brown airline company.

There were no such places to ski in the 1930s such as Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, Snowmass, Telluride, Alpental, Alpine Meadows, Whistler Blackcomb, Heavenly Valley, Park City, Snowbird, Squaw Valley, Big Sky, much less the thought of a private, members-only ski resort called the Yellowstone Club in Montana.

When Sun Valley was built there was no such thing as professional ski racing, Olympic amateur competitors, mogul contests, mountain bikes, aerial contests, X Games, global warming, $92-a-day lift tickets or $720-a-day private lesson ski instructors.

Environmentalists say, “There is no need for any new ski resorts in America today.” Yet one day this winter, Keystone had 21,800 people on their hill in one day while Vail had 26,000, Aspen had 20,000 and their permits are for the same amount of acreage they had the day they opened many years ago. Much of the U.S. Forest Service operating budget comes from taxes on lift tickets.

I believe that with the current environmentalist attitude, no one will ever see another major ski resort opened in America during our lifetime.

I also believe Hannes Schneider had it right when many years ago he said, “If everyone skied, there would be no wars.”

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