The first 20 years or so of filming all I had to do was look up where they had built a new ski resort, feature it in my latest movie and I automatically had a good sequence with which to try and dazzle my loyal viewers. Nevermind how good the skiers were, it was all about how good these new places were to ski. And in the 50s through the 70s, there was a new super resort built almost every year.
Squaw Valley, Vail, Alpine Meadows, Heavenly Valley, Killington, Stratton, and Whistler. It seemed as though I spent all of those years sleeping in partially finished hotels or condominiums, skiing down and filming partially cleared ski runs.
During my first year, 1949/50, Squaw Valley was the only big ski resort in the Tahoe Basin. Pete Seibert and Earl Eaton were hanging around Aspen and had not even found Vail Pass yet.
In 1947, when Friedel Pfeifer was the ski school director at both Sun Valley and Aspen, he was able to buy 10 pieces of property in Aspen for $10 each. Dick Durance only had enough money to buy seven of these houses. If round-the-world trip tickets were a dollar, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of town.
Later, I bought my first piece of real estate in Ketchum, Idaho, on Trail Creek for $350. A lot of skiers who worked at the resorts all winter wanted to buy property, but it seemed like it was always just out of reach for most of them. Had I not sold a ton of nylon parachute shroud as ski boot laces I would not have made enough money to invest in real estate.
As Mammoth grew and Dave McCoy kept building more chairlifts, as late as 1965 you could still buy a cabin site at Mammoth for as little as $500.
But then numbers are just that, numbers. How can you put a price on waking up in the campgrounds at Mammoth in 1952 after driving almost all night from Los Angeles and seeing a blue bird day with new powder snow?
Those were exciting times for me and my camera as I drove back to Los Angeles every Sunday night because I had film cans full of more footage to edit during the week. But I also had a job as a carpenter from Monday through Friday to earn the money to buy more film.
When Everett Kircher, owner of Boyne Mountain, hired Stein Eriksen for the first time, a new level of compensation was established for ski school directors.
Everett had been smart enough to buy the first chairlift ever built in Sun Valley, Idaho, when they replaced it. And he moved it to Boyne Mountain, Michigan, where he put it up on a mountain that he paid $1 to a farmer for because it was too steep to grow potatoes on.
I managed to spend the first 15 years doing all of the filming for my feature length ski films. I was also able to edit them, write the scripts, choose the music, narrate the shows and then go on the road and host 100 shows each fall.
After nearly 60 years of making ski movies, I have switched careers and am writing almost full time.
I have recently completed a book about aging, almost finished a cartoon book about golf, and I have, along with a co-writer, completed the first 22 years of my autobiography. One of these days these three books will join the other nine that I have published.
Is writing as much fun as filming? Yes, and then some. I don’t have to sit around in a cheap motel somewhere in the world waiting for the sun to shine so we can get the pictures we have traveled thousands of miles to get. And all the while, I had to make every ski slope look different than the ones that were in the last movie. It has been a fantastic trip so far.
Unfortunately, with the bureaucracy, my grandchildren will probably never see another big ski resort built in America. There is still a lot of fabulous ski terrain left in America and no one will ever be able to develop it.
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