Originally published December, 2001 issue of SKI Magazine
I was standing on a catwalk one day when someone skied to a stop alongside of me and said, "You're Warren Miller, aren't you?'
"I just had to tell you that my father hates you."
This seemed to be a different way to start a conversation with a stranger.
He said, "Let me ride up on the lift with you, and I'll tell you the whole story."
This guy had all the right moves, the right equipment, the right amount of duct tape on his faded gloves, and the elbows of his parka were a little worn. I could tell right away he was between 25 and 35 years old because he had the signature mustache of that age group that's looking for identity and isn't sure how to get it.
On the lift he told me his story.
"When I was a little kid, my dad used to take me to watch you make your personal appearances with your ski films in the Ford Auditorium in Detroit. You always showed up with a new film the night before Thanksgiving, and the first two or three times I went, I'd sit in my dad's lap and scream and shout like everyone else did. I didn't know why I screamed, but it seemed the thing to do.
"I remember when you showed Vail on the screen the first year it was open and you said, 'Get out there and discover it before everyone else does.' My dad made Christmas reservations for us the next morning.
"My two brothers, my mom and I complained all 1,200 miles from Detroit to Colorado, but dad drove nonstop in our station wagon. We had to stay clear down in Glenwood Springs and drive back and forth every day to ski, because there was only one hotel in Vail and it was sold out. Dad didn't tell us this until we drove right by Vail that first night.
"But when my dad skied down the catwalks from Mid-Vail with me between his legs, I became completely hooked on skiing. From then on it was an annual family trip for the Christmas holidays and, after three years, we added Easter week. But it was tough for my dad to budget the money and the time to drive. We couldn't afford to fly, because he was putting all his money back into the manufacturing plant where he was making automobile radiators. One Easter week, he didn't even get to go with the family because he was having union problems and had to stay home to resolve them. By that time, we were all hooked on skiing. Mom did almost all of the driving except when she got sleepy. I did some of it across Iowa and eastern Colorado when we thought the police weren't around.
"That Easter I was 14 years old, and I got to be pals with the ski patrol. When we got home I studied for my first-aid certificate. The next year I started helping out by volunteering to work part-time as a ski patrolman during Christmas and Easter week. By the time I was in college, I was spending more time skiing in Colorado than I was with my college studies.
"I managed to study enough between ski trips, and I got my engineering degree three years ago. Then I started to work full-time for my dad. My dad always told me that someday I would own and run the radiator manufacturing business that his father had started 60 years ago.
"Then it happened.
"I came back into the plant after a Christmas holiday of powder-snow skiing, full-moon nights, meeting and skiing with wonderful people, and enjoying great dinner parties. And as I wandered around the radiator shop and heard the noisy din of manufacturing, I thought, 'Is this where I want to spend the rest of my life?'
"That same day I took my dad to lunch and said, 'Pop, I can't do it. I'm going out to Colorado, and I'll be a ski patrolman for a year or two. I can work construction during the summer, because I just don't want to spend my life running a factory in Detroit. I'm sorry.'
"He knew arguing was useless, and with a tear in his eye, my dad said, 'If only I hadn't taken you to so many Warren Miller films, then maybe I could be moving out to Colorado instead of you. I really hate that Warren Miller.'"
The lift ride was almost over when the Vail patroller asked, "D'ya mind if I ski down behind you?" As we pushed off into perfect powder snow, with the blue sky overhead and the Gore Range shimmering in the distance, he added: "By the way, Warren, thanks a lot for messing up my life."