It was March, 1969, when I flew from Zurich, Switzerland, to my film studio in Hermosa Beach, Calif. It had been a very long winter that had started the previous July when I boarded a big jet with a crew of 11 people; the destination was Auckland, New Zealand. There, we would start producing the first of 13 TV shows on Jean Claude Killy, who had just won three gold medals in the 1968 Winter Olympics.
It would be a long trip, with stops at Mount Ruapehu on the North Island and Mount Cook on the South Island, then a week in Australia to film Killy and Leo Lacroix, his teammate during the Olympics. The journey would continue in America, with shows filmed at Mammoth Mountain, Aspen and Vail. Then off to Europe to film more shows in Grindelwald, St. Moritz, Zermatt, Chamonix, Val d’Isère, and Courchevel.
It was the most exhausting and frustrating time of my 50-year film-producing career. Not only because of all of the hard work, but also for the fact that no one ever watched the shows because they aired on Sunday afternoon TV, against football games.
When the European tour was all over, I had to let 43 employees go, as well as sell most of my camera equipment to cover the expenses. Then I went back to business – producing, filming and directing my annual 90-minute theatrical ski film, for which I would spend four months of every fall and winter traveling to cities all over America and Canada to narrate live.
Don Brolin, who worked for me for 35 years, had been a one-man band most of the winter, going to resorts to get part of the feature film captured on 16mm film. As soon as another one of my cameramen, Rod Allin, got back from the KillyTV shoot in Europe, I had him on an airplane to film ski resorts Don hadn’t been to yet. I did two weeks of office work, wrapping up the Killy TV series and licking my financial wounds, then I set out with another set of camera gear to help out Don and Rod.
There was a new place to ski on the horizon. A man named Mike Wiegele was just starting a helicopter operation in Blue River, British Columbia, and he had invited me to send a camera crew up there and show the world what helicopter skiing was all about. In March of 1969, Mike had hired a small, three-place, two-passenger Bell helicopter. He had a lot of ambition and smarts, but he didn’t even have two-way radios because he didn’t have any employees. One of the skiers was a young man from British Columbia named Wayne Wong, who would later become a permanent fixture in America’s freestyle ski scene.
A week of helicopter skiing and sleeping in the Blue River Motel and eating in the only restaurant that was open at that time of the year, the Bus Stop Restaurant, cost an awesome $1,300 a week, or almost $200 a day. The crew was socked-in for three days of fog until finally, Mike decided he would gamble a tank of helicopter fuel and try to fly up above the clouds. It was a great success. We filmed some of the most beautiful, never-before-skied-terrain ever documented. Wayne Wong and the other skiers performed freestyle tricks on the glaciers and among the crevasse. I still remember listening to the fantastic audience reaction the next winter as I showed thousands of people Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing for the first time. Today, his helicopter skiing is still the ultimate freedom trip on skis or on a snowboard.
While Rod Allin was documenting helicopter skiing, Don Brolin and I flew to Anchorage, Alaska, to film the National Junior Ski Championships. The weather held for us and, as I rounded the bend and looked down the Turnagin Arm towards Alyeska, I noticed there had been a lot of changes since my first trip there. Ten years earlier I had to put one foot in front of the other while climbing the mountain in order to get every single shot for the film that year. The only thing at Alyeska at that time was a trapper’s cabin at the end of a dirt road, off of the gravel road from Anchorage.
In the Junior National Alpine Championships, there was a spectacular bump in the downhill where Don Brolin got some unbelievable, super slow-motion shots of the kids hurtling through the air, upside down with their skis cartwheeling along behind them. We used such high-speed cameras that at 1,000 pictures per second, it took more than 40 seconds to view just one second of action.
Rod Allin spent 15 years filming for me, while Don Brolin spent 35 years taking many of the pictures that people always give me credit for. The thing that stood out the most about the long winter and the around-the-world adventure was that Alyeska, Alaska is the only ski resort I ever filmed where you can sometimes go night skiing all day long.
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