During our Western Hemisphere Tour 2017-18, we had a brief stop going through Seattle. When we go to a new place Sean always knows what’s going on because he habitually collects the local paper. It was in this way that we learned of the legendary Warren Miller, film maker and ski outlaw.
Warren Miller is well known for being the first to make high-adrenaline skiing movies, starting with his initial compilation in the ’50s. There are stories of how he lived in his his van, stealing packets of ketchup from fast food restaurants and mixing them with water to make tomato soup – partly because he was broke and partly because he was a total bandit. Miller didn’t pay for lift passes, but instead would snag a ride up a chairlift only to outrace the ski patrol chasing after them all the way down the mountain. And repeat. All day long.
For obvious reasons, Miller captivates both of us. While we like to think of ourselves as Lifestyle Bandits, but Miller took it a few big steps further. He started filming his ski bum friends doing wild things, compiled the footage into movies, and took it on the road, traveling around North America to ski-bum cults hungry for adrenaline-fuelled ski debauchery that Miller effortlessly provided.
Taking a page from Warren’s book, Sean and I figured we should find a way to simplify going to the snow. It’s a 5 hour trip from our place in Sydney and accommodation is both highly in demand and very pricey. Besides, it’s always more fun to be outside anyways. Taking this into account, Sean took the seats out of the back of our Rav 4, padded the floor with a foam mat and we threw our ski gear, sleeping bags, food and kitchen camping supplies into the back.
Before leaving town Sean stopped by Kmart and bought an electric kettle. I thought this was going a bit far, but I’ve become a tea drinker since coming to Australia and agreed it would be nice to steal some electricity for hot water if we could find it.
In our first debut as Millerites, we had the best weekend. Arriving at the snow on Saturday midday, we enjoyed the runs until lift close at 4:30pm. From there we stopped by the car, dropped our gear off and picked up our gym gear and the kettle before heading to the leisure centre. We did another work out, had a swim, a shower, brushed our teeth and boiled the kettle in a corner before meeting some friends for dinner at their fancy lodge. After a wonderful dinner, we arrived back at the car around dusk and drove to the campground down the road.
The campground is well used in the winter (I’m very impressed by the other Aussie Millerite’s tenacity when it comes to the snow), and since we arrived after dark our choices for a park were limited. We pulled off the road and put the skis on the roof, clearing space to sleep, and even though it was still quite early, I promptly fell asleep and didn’t wake until 6am the following morning.
Straight away we went to the gym again and boiled the kettle. There’s something about fellow ski bums that makes them agree with our thinking that there’s something a bit awesome about bypassing the usual resort system. People who saw us with our little kettle and the packed Rav 4 would alway smile and say ‘Good on ya’, or tell us some story about their youth when they’d done the same. Then they’d frown and say ‘I’m not too old for that. Maybe next winter…’
The following night we had no dinner dates, and instead were back at the campground before dark. We lit a fire, heated up some supper and enjoyed watching night fall. The stars were incredible and the critters scurrying around at sunset – wallabies, kangaroos, ducks – were fun to watch. The moment was just as good or even better than being on the hill.
Sadly, being latecomers to downhill skiers, we only learned of Warren Miller by way his passing when we saw an article in the Seattle Times. His obit reads like an adventure novel and is thoroughly inspiring. It gives me feeling of a kid who’s gotten away with something and makes me want to earn the same kind of biography at the end of my life.
A midday break for lunch…