By Warren Miller
After my first filming trip to Europe that Merrill Hastings publisher of Skiing News Magazine promoted for me in 1953, the only way to convince the airline to send me the second time was to promote a ski tour to the Alps via Scandinavian Airlines. At every one of the shows that fall and winter the audiences were all told of the opportunity to be in my next movie by going to Europe and skiing with me for three weeks.
After promoting the tour in about seventy-five cities that year, fourteen people signed up and I met them all in New York City for a fun filled, powder snow, three-week trip. And this only four and a half months after my young wife had died of malignant cancer of the spine. I was ill equipped mentally to handle the trip but the people had all paid in advance so there was no turning back.
The flight was a slow two stopper in a propeller driven plane. We had to stop in Gander, Newfoundland, to refuel and then again somewhere in Ireland. I assumed the plane had four engines because at least one of them would stop somewhere over the Atlantic and one did.
We finally arrived in Munich and grabbed the afternoon train to Kitzbuhel where a real surprise awaited us. The person arranging the ground portion of the tour for Scandinavian airlines assumed no one would book the tour so he or she had made no reservations. My fourteen guests slept in eleven different inns, hotels and chalet. As soon as I got everyone settled, SAS in Los Angeles was called and notified of the nearly catastrophic start of my first annual ski tour and could well be my last at that time.
Arrangements were made so we could all eat together at least. The tour started off so badly for me there was no time to even think about taking movies. A perky little blonde lady was the first casualty of the tour with a broken ankle on the second day. While visiting her in the hospital she was already taking German lessons from her roommate who was reported to be an Austrian countess of some kind. The countess was almost out of money and sold me an antique pocket watch that was dated in 1898 and almost four inches in diameter. I endorsed a twenty dollar traveler’s check to her and at dinner that night I was offered as much as $200 for the watch and silver chain. It is an antique in our home in Washington to this day.
By the time the group arrived in Zurs, Herbert Jochum had already heard of our plight and this time I spent the next five day sleeping on a sheet of plywood atop a bathtub in a pension. I could not go to bed until everyone had taken their bath. Officials from SAS in Los Angeles had flown to Europe to try and straighten things out. The only thing I could accept was that every member of the tour would be getting their share of room and board refunded. I tried to get their airfare back but since they had arrived sort of on time (on time meant they arrived on the designated day). I did save a lot of money on my travel expenses but the footage of skiing that was taken suffered a lot. As I had in the past, I covered up the missing footage with a lot more words than I did in subsequent years.
The following summer I was scheduled to lead a tour to South America aboard Panagra airlines but I ran out of time to do it and cancelled sixty days before the tour was scheduled to leave.
My second annual ski tour to Europe had adequate reservations and I mentally eased up on my responsibilities and took time off from the tour to spend a few days filming but I never ever had enough time to get the job done that I had set out to do. On the second tour we were skiing in Badgastein and decided to ski down to the next town and take the train back. This seems like a good time for one of the members on the tour to fall and break his leg. There were very few ski patrolmen in those days so I had another member of the tour haul his equipment down the hill and I skied down with him on my back. We caught the 5:53 train back to Badgastein with me carrying the 180 pound body with the broken leg on and off of the train and the two blocks to his hotel. Our concierge located a doctor for me and the message we got was just bring him in and I can take care of him. The doctor was four blocks from the hotel and so it was another backbreaking slog through the narrow streets of Badgastein with my tour customer on my back. He caught up with us ten days later in Davos, Switzerland.
In Badgastein one of my tour members was suffering through the pain of a badly broken leg without any medication while I found a doctor to take care of him. Our concierge located a doctor for me and the message we got was, “Just bring him in and I can take care of him.” The doctor was four blocks from the hotel and so it was another back breaking slog through the narrow streets of Badgastein with my tour customer on my back. The tour was scheduled to leave after skiing the next day so the injured skier caught up with us ten days later in Davos, Switzerland. When the tour was finally over I spent the next two weeks just filming whatever I wanted for my next feature film.
While leading the third annual tour I showed up with my brand new wife and combined a honeymoon with seventeen other people. In St. Anton I left the tour for a night and caught the night train to Mittendorf for the ski flying tournament. I knew that the ski flyers had already broken the four hundred foot mark and wanted some of that kind of exciting footage for my next feature film. I arrived in Kufstein after sitting up all night on the train. The weather was perfect for the event where some of the ski flyers were already holding their arms and hands at their sides with their hands controlling their flight like the ailerons of an airplane. It would be the last time any ski flyers would hold their arms out in front because the new technique was so much better. However it would be a lot of years before the jumpers held their ski tips apart as they do today.
I was back in St. Anton in the same evening in time to have dessert with the group. I outlined what they had to do the next day in order to enjoy some untracked powder snow in Zurs. Our charter bus would be on a flat car on a siding in St. Anton, waiting to be hauled through the Arlberg tunnel to Langen. Everyone had to be ready to get on the train as a passenger at 8:30 the next morning. In Langen everyone would transfer to the bus and ride up to Zurs for a day of powder snow skiing. When the lifts closed that day, we would travel by the same bus to Davos, Switzerland for the final five days of the tour. One of the men on the tour almost missed the bus because he had left his teeth in a glass beside his bed and had to go back and get them. One of the ladies on the tour had a budding romance with her private ski instructor and barely located the train through sleep deprived eyes. In Zurs, those who wanted to, rode up the Zurserzee T bar and climbed the rest of the way to the pass to ski down to Lech and have lunch with Martin Strolz. (Martin along with Haderer, produced the most famous, popular boots of that era. Strolz still makes a highly respected boot, though not as many as all the more common brands.)
Those who stayed in the lobby of Herbert Joachim’s Hotel Lorunser, had a long leisurely lunch and an ample digestion of French 75. For those of you who don’t know what a French 75 drink is, it is 5 parts of champagne and 2 of vodka with some lemon juice and sugar. Apparently this is a slow acting drink so someone can put away half a dozen of them before the first one starts to hit. When they start to hit make sure you are near a place to sleep.
The skiers all had a good time as did the drinkers. When the bus stopped in Langen so people could get a snack before the long drive to Davos one of the French 75’ers started to cross the road and was hit by a 70mph VW bug. A friend yanked him almost out of the way before he was hit. He flew up in the air far enough to land on top of the bus and then fall the eight or ten feet to the ground.
When he got to the hospital the doctors could only find a broken thumb and a broken leg. Apparently he was so relaxed with his stomach full of French 75 that his injuries were minimal. In other words he was almost dead drunk.
When we got him into the ambulance I slumped into my seat on the bus and quickly made up my mind that this would be the last tour I ever led and I’ve stuck with that vow.
I finally added up the numbers and my customers were paying about nine hundred dollars for everything including air fare from New York to Munich and return, ground transportation and room and board for 21 days. I calculated I was saving $43 a day. A short day would be twelve hours and a long day might be eighteen hours.
Thus ended that small part of my overall business plan as if in fact I ever had a business plan of any kind. I did learn a valuable lesson from all of this chaos. I never learned from my successes because something would work out as planned, but I really learned from my mistakes when it wasted time or money or both in most cases.