Starting a Ski Film Company

Anyone who owns a pair of skis can remember their first ride on a rope tow or a chairlift and the enjoyment it brought to their lives

By Warren Miller

I have been asked many times if I could start a film company today and make it grow like it did when I started in 1950, with a borrowed 16mm camera and $100 from each of four friends to start the company.

When people talk about the many ski movies I’ve produced they invariably talk about the comedy portions of the films. I always operated under a court ruling that said: “Anything that you do in public is being done with or without the public’s permission and therefore can be photographed and reproduced.” What about all of the spectators at a professional football game who don’t sign releases?

People remember the rope tow sequences, people falling off of chairlifts and who can forget the woman in the yellow stretch pants bending over to tie her ski boots when I made the comment “She looks like a yellow cab with both doors open.” I wasn’t very nice back then.

Don Brolin’s chairlift sequence at Snow Valley, I think, was the classic one for what was an obvious reason to me. When beginners rented skis they could buy a chairlift ticket or a lesson in ski school. Most of them bought chairlift tickets and when they got to the top of the chairlift, it was the first time in their life that they had ever seen an unloading ramp. Naturally, they didn’t get off of the chair in time and often went around the bull wheel and started back down the mountain still in the chair. Other people would simply step out of a poorly adjusted safety binding. Don had to get these photographs early in the morning because on the second or third trip up that chairlift, every uncoordinated skier would’ve been down that ramp once or twice already and could then handle it without falling.

After spending all summer supervising the editors I would start crafting the script with as many jokes that I could insert in the movie. Once we had a finished film I would have numerous previews in our small theater and at intermission I would ask for audience criticism.

For about the first 50 years or so of producing my ski films, I narrated the show live in as many as 110 different theaters during October, November, December and January. Something I never did understand was that an offhand remark to an audience in the West could bring down the house and when I said the same thing in the East that same loud laughter would not happen.

It is interesting to me that when I started making ski movies there were fewer than 15 chairlifts in North America, but luckily for me, there were enough skiers sprinkled across America who brought a friend to my early films to let me grow the business. In about 1955, or five years after I started, I couldn’t get to all of the cities that wanted me to narrate my film just for them. So I learned how to put my voice right on the film along with a musical score and I could then show them in many of the smaller cities.

Another of the biggest laughs we ever got was when we filmed the National Inner-tube Downhill Championships. The crashes were so awesome that when I said, “The inner-tube is 36 inches in diameter which exactly matches the IQ of the people riding with them,” the laughter from that one line became a loud roar.

Anyone who owns a pair of skis can remember their first ride on a rope tow or a chairlift and the enjoyment it brought to their lives. I tried to bring that same enjoyment to my audiences with my humorous sequences

Do I miss producing action sports movies? Of course I do. However, in today’s world of government overreach I think all of the rules and regulations probably would shut me down if I produced the movies that I enjoyed doing for 55 years.

I hope you miss them, too.