Being a skier on Cape Breton in the 1980’s meant being creative with how we learned about skiing outside of our little island in the North Atlantic. There were basically two options, ski magazines or ski movies.
When I think of ski movies, the iconic voiceovers of Warren Miller are the first things that come to mind. That voice, and the images on the big screen, filled auditoriums since he started making movies in 1950. In those early days, Warren would load up his projector and film canisters for some epic road trips. He’d do his narration live, to packed houses of ski crazy fans all over the U.S. Later, that same voice would be recorded in a studio, as Warren narrated the films he shot each winter at exotic locations around the world.
His films became a rite of passage for skiers everywhere.They also stoked the fire for generations of skiers to go out and explore new places. To say that Warren was one of the most influential people in our sport wouldn’t be hyperbole, it’s a fact.
When Warren passed away in January 2018, the ski world lost one of its greatest ambassadors. Luckily, his legacy lives on in his body of work. The 69th film bearing his name, Warren Miller’s Face of Winter, was a fitting tribute to his life’s work. In reality, Warren directed his last ski film in 1987, after that he sold the company to his son Kurt Miller. His primary role became that of narrator. The company has since changed hands a couple more times but the Warren Miller name is still one of the most recognized in skiing.
When Warren celebrated his 50th year of filmmaking in 2000, he threw an epic anniversary party in Blue River, at Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing. The guest list was a who’s who of the ski world, including many of the athletes who had appeared in his movies. I was lucky enough to be one of the guides during that special week of skiing. The thrill of hearing him speak to a small group of people, and the opportunity to sit and chat with him, are two of the fondest memories in my career.
Warren and Mike Wiegele had a relationship that went back to the early 60s, when they first met in Sugar Bowl, Calif. Warren filmed his first segments in Blue River in 1973 and returned many times in the following years to film in the legendary deep, dry snow there.
It’s no wonder, after his death in 2018, his family choose to honour that special relationship by scattering some of his ashes in Blue River. The site chosen was on Saddle Mountain, just east of the townsite, on a newly developed ski run named Warren’s Way.
A small group of people, including Warren’s son Kurt, Mike and some other long-time friends and guides who have appeared in his films, gathered on the mountainside to remember Warren.
I spoke with Mike many times over the years about his memories of Warren, but the one quote he was quick to offer when contacted about this piece was the one that became iconic as the final scene in many Warren Miller films.
“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”
The next time you’re skiing or riding on a perfect day, take a minute to honour the memory of a true pioneer of winter, and think of his connection to a part of the world we get to call home.