1966 was a great year for skiing in Southern California. I was filming in the San Bernardino Mountains at Snow Valley where the mountain had gotten over four feet of snow in the previous 10 days. I wanted to show my audiences what Southern California skiing could really be like and this was the perfect day to do it. It was on a weekday and there were very few people on the hill, so I was able to have my choice of any or all of the ski instructors in Snow Valley. We were high above the ugly smog of Los Angeles, which crowded up against the San Bernardino Mountains.
The weather was sunny, the snow was packed powder and beautiful images were getting onto my film as fast as I could work. We skied and filmed right through the lunch hour. My skiers ate lunch on the chair. I filmed them eating hamburgers and sipping local vintage wine out of a cardboard carton.
I had timed my departure from Snow Valley at 3 p.m., so that barring a traffic jam, I could get to the Los Angeles airport by 6:30 and jump on a flight to Boise, Idaho, rent a car and drive to Sun Valley. This was before security checks and I had planned on changing my clothes any time I was in a traffic jam or at a red light on the over 100-mile drive.
After 14 trips on the chairlift, I had planned my last shot. It would be of the entire ski school heading down the big bowl making tight turns toward the camera. I had them all squeezed close together and through my telephoto lens they all looked great through the viewfinder.
The job was finished, I hollered goodbye to everyone, put my camera in my rucksack, I skated off down the hill looking back over my shoulder and hollered one final goodbye to everyone. I turned my head around just as I was skiing under the chairlift line. I had forgotten that there was a little over four feet of snow and I hit the leading edge of a chair going up the hill with my bald head going down the hill.
The impact sounded like a watermelon being hit with a baseball bat. My knees buckled, and my right hand went up to my bald forehead in an attempt to hold my wounded brain inside my skull and staunch the flow of blood. I was near the bottom of the hill, so I coasted down across the flat and into the first aid room at the lodge. With blood everywhere, I stepped out of my bindings, flopped on an examination table and asked them, “Can you sew up my head because I have an airplane to catch in a couple of hours?”
I was told, “We can put some butterfly, adhesive tape stitches over the wound but you have to have a regular doctor sew you up.”
By the time I fought the freeway traffic from Snow Valley to Los Angeles International Airport, parked my car and took the bus to United Airlines ticket counter, I missed my 6 p.m. flight to Boise. By then, I had a lump on the top of my head that was about the size of half a golf ball. I scrambled and got an 8:30 p.m. ticket to Salt Lake City, arrived about 10:30 p.m., rented a car and drove most of the rest of the night to Sun Valley.
It would have been impossible for me to sleep anyway with my headache. I did an early morning check into the Challenger Inn, ate breakfast, got on the bus to Baldy and met my skiers at the bottom of the River Run lift. I rode the lift that morning with the biggest headache in my lifelong history of bald-headed-bumping-into-things headaches.
But the sun was out, the sky was cobalt blue and it was a fantastic winter day. Back in 1966 you could still find stashes of untracked powder for three or four days after a big storm. The skiers were really up for a day of carving high speed right and left turns. When the lifts closed down that afternoon, I had another sequence in the can.
Later I stopped by the hospital, where doctors replaced my adhesive tape stitches from my Southern California chairlift crash with regular-doctor-sewed-up stitches. It only took four and they gave them to me at a reduced price because they didn’t have to shave my bald head.
The following winter my feature film audiences, after watching back-to-back powder snow sequences of skiing in Southern California and Sun Valley, Idaho, could only say, “Wow, Warren lucked out again with powder snow everywhere he goes.”
I lucked out sometimes with a very bad headache and a tired body.
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