Was I nervous? You bet! In the end of 1949, three feet of new powder snow had fallen overnight at a brand new ski resort called Squaw Valley.
Donner Summit was closed, and for the first time in my life I was pointing my brand new 16MM Bell and Howell camera at the ski school director, Emile Allais. Emile was twice a world champion prior to World War II and had a unique ski technique. I had learned about the French technique during the previous winter when I was teaching the Arlberg technique for Otto Lang in Sun Valley.
I had been hired as a ski instructor for this brand new resort with the first double chairlift west of Colorado. The ski patrolmen who were skiing with Emile and another instructor, Stan Tomlinson, handled the powder effortlessly and I used what experience I had shooting 8MM footage for the previous three winters of Ward Baker and other people and interesting things at Sun Valley.
With film costing $11 a roll including processing, I had only saved up enough money to buy five rolls of film. Those five rolls of film were only the equivalent of 12 and a half minutes of ski time. By the time the sun had disappeared behind the ridge, my hands were frozen and I was really nervous the next five or six days until my footage arrived. I was very surprised to discover that most of those first five rolls of film were good enough to include in my first feature-length ski film, “Deep and Light.”
Over the course of the winter on my $31.25 a week payroll, I managed to somehow ferret away enough money to buy 37 more rolls of film and from that I created that first film that I showed in the fall of 1950. I was able to shoot some footage of people trying to get up the rope tows as well as a young girl skiing with soft galoshes that rotated her feet at least 90 degrees without ever actually turning her skis.
In the late spring of 1950, the editor and publisher of Western Skiing, Lester Jay, was at Squaw Valley. I rented a 16MM projector and showed him my footage. Jay liked what he saw and offered to help me get started in the feature film business.
As I sit here in my office in Orcas Island, and reflect back on those exciting first days of photography, I can’t ever recall feeling as though I have worked a day in my professional life. I really liked what I was doing and the sharing with anyone who would pay me a dollar to come see my film. So it never was like going to work.
For the first 14 years that I made the films, I did everything connected with the productions. I selected where I would go; handled the travel complexities; managed to get the best footage I could and then back to the office in the spring and summer to edit, choose the music (from the public domain as I couldn’t afford to pay for music), book the venues and then start the travel all over again to the roughly 110 cities each year that wanted to see the film.
It wasn’t until 1964, when Don Brolin was hired to help me with the filming and post production and Art Lawson came on board to handle sales, that I could get some breathing space. And Don stayed with the company long after I retired from the company.
As the years roll by, I have all those memories of experiences filming, traveling, and meeting exciting people all over the world. It’s time to finish up my autobiography and weed through literally thousands of photographs of those memories. My autobiography might just be one man’s historical chronicle of the growth of winter snow sports from a total of 13 chairlifts in North America to what it is today – sometimes as many as 25,000 skiers on a single day at Mammoth and Vail.
It’s been a fun journey of millions of miles from those first rolls of film taken at Squaw Valley to be chosen to be the honorary director of skiing for the Yellowstone Club, the only private ski/golf resort in the world.
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