In the fall of 1948, I had all of my building supplies stored in a $5-a-month garage in Ketchum, Idaho. I was going to start building my first house when the snow melted in the spring. I was imagining what my house would look like when I finished it.
I was setting up my business of manufacturing nylon parachute shroud ski bootlaces. The business cost $14 to start when I bought a roll parachute shroud that was several thousand feet long. I had parlayed my investment in September into over $8,000 in the bank by April. It was a good business, but when I heard that there were going to be tryouts for ski instructor jobs on Dollar Mountain, I was there the first day climbing up the hill before the chairlift even started.
I got the job when Otto Lang said, “OK, I will give you a job but first you will have to get a haircut, (I had hair back in 1948) take a shower and I will pay you the apprentice rate of $125 a month and room and board.” I was really excited because before the winter was over, everyone in the ski school got a free pair of ski pants and matching windbreaker.
Beginning instructors teach beginning skiers, so I was exiled to the flat by the Dollar Cabin to teach kick turns and walking in the flat to people who had never had skis on in their lives. Was I bored doing this? Not at all. I found each class exciting because I was meeting eight or 10 new people every Monday morning and had the power to change their lives forever in five days.
During Christmas week, the ski school needed someone to do a Tyrolean dance in the lodge. The Austrian dance was supposed to be a Schuhplattler and performed in a funny, satirical manner with another guy who was dressed up as a girl in a full-length dirndl dress and wearing a bandana with his lips painted red. Wendy Cram got the job as the female stand-in because he was the shortest guy in the ski school and I was chosen when I was happy with the $5 that was offered to do it. Little did I know that the first dance performance would become a Thursday night event for the rest of the winter. The grand finale was in the lodge dining room the night of the Harriman Cup banquet.
I was given a pair of lederhosen, leather short pants with leather suspenders and a Tyrolean hat. I supplied the logging boots and the long wool socks. I was being paid top dollar for a few minutes of work.
I’m not sure why I did it. I most certainly was not in a competition of dancing with the stars. If I had been, I would not have chosen Wendy Cram dressed as Gretchen as my partner. This dance happened sixty-five years ago and I did not have the slightest idea at the time that I would wind up in show business, walking out on the stage night after night in auditoriums to introduce my latest ski movie. I did that night after night for over 50 years. Who cares why I did it. I know I enjoyed every single moment of it and, as I often say, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.”
I was having a great time, even though I was scared to death. I think I might have been afraid that if I didn’t dance, I might have lost my job. I danced and kept my job the rest of the winter. Those nights dancing I was imagining I was in a small Tyrolean village an hour walk up the mountain from the local railroad, and my partner was the local heroine. I don’t know where I read the word “Imagineering,” but I read it somewhere and I think that is what I have been doing for most of my life. Maybe it started that night in the lodge so long ago. It is something you cannot learn in school. Maybe it was a Walt Disney word. I don’t know and I don’t care. I just like the word. That’s what the audience was doing that night when they were watching us dancing. Imagineering.
For more of Warren’s wanderings go to www.warrenmiller.net or visit him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/warrenmiller. For information on his Foundation, please visit the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, at www.warrenmiller.org.
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