Untracked Powder Ahead

By Warren Miller

Warren MillerThese are wandering narratives of disconnected thoughts that were triggered by the scenery alongside of I-90, a four-lane freeway that I recently drove from Seattle to Bozeman, Montana without a single stoplight. I had 14 hours behind the steering wheel to reminisce about yesterday, live today, and plan tomorrow while trying to stay awake.

Before I reached I-90, I had to ride a ferryboat for an hour and a half and then drive south for 60 miles on I-5 to get to Seattle. When I pulled into the southbound rest stop on I-5, there were three deluxe pickup trucks, each with 40-foot-long, fifth-wheel trailers strung out behind them. The trucks were owned by three, gray-haired, Snowbird couples heading south for the warmth of the Arizona sunshine. They’ll have four months of singing songs around the old campfire and telling each other stories of what might have been, if they had done just a couple of things a little differently during their life.

There will be no warm winter sun for me. Instead, I turned left when I got to I-90, heading for a winter of fun and games in the freezing snow of another Montana winter. Strung out behind my car was a 12-foot trailer holding more stuff for our new house at the Yellowstone Club. This will be approximately 9,214 times that I have moved boxes full of stuff from one location to another. With so much moving practice, I’ve noticed that every time I move a bunch of boxes full of stuff to live somewhere else, there are always some boxes full of contents that have not even been used while I lived in that last location. I have told myself many times, “This will be the last time I ever move anything that I own. If I ever move again, I will hire a moving van and sit back and watch them lift, grunt, lug, sweat and swear.” It still hasn’t happened that way.

I arrived at my 9,214 moves as a result of my lifelong habit of always looking over the horizon and wondering what might be there. I wasn’t really looking for a lifestyle change or a better business deal, but instead was following my own philosophy that I created for a Mike Wiegele helicopter film in 1974: “If you don’t do it this year, you will be one year older when you do.” This winter trip to Montana is not a rehearsal. I know that I have to take time to ski in untracked powder snow again this winter because I never know when it will be the last winter that I get to make those delightful and satisfying first tracks. I do have a few good skiers and boarders to contend with however there always is powder snow.

Mark Carter, Travis Rice, Warren Miller, Justin Timberlake and Scott Schmidt.

In my interviews for the book I am currently writing about aging, I find that the overwhelming complaint of the people I interview is, “Why didn’t I do it differently while I was younger?” Most people have a thousand excuses revolving around the supposition, “I can’t move to a new part of the world because ___________.” If you fill in your own reason, you will never venture into new, exciting areas of the world.

After I turned left on I-90 and began to leave the congestion of Seattle behind, I started up over Snoqualmie Pass, which is only about 3,000 feet high. It’s just barely high enough for a ski resort and sometimes not quite high enough. I remember when gas rationing hit in 1942 because of World War II. At that time, a young engineer named Web Moffett bought the rope tows on Snoqualmie, as well as those at Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainer, for $853 because the owner thought that gas rationing combined with the war would mean no more skiing in the Northwest. Web proved them wrong because no one had yet realized that our basic instinct is our constant search for freedom and skiing completely satisfies that search.

As I hauled my heavy trailer up over the pass in a rainstorm, the snow level was about halfway up the Thunderbird chairlift where the chairs hung silent and ugly against the white of the snow, but blended in with the raw dirt at the bottom of the hill. A trio of sopping wet teen-agers clutching snowboards under their arms were slogging through the almost ankle-deep mud to get up to the new snow.

How many times did I do that same thing with my skis during the first 30 years I made ski movies? I long ago lost count as I traveled from one ski resort to the next. I was always looking for the first snowfall of the season, wherever it might have fallen.

It’s a long drive from our island home in the Northwest to our Montana home. I had plenty of time to sit and reflect on what might have been. But as I ponder what might have been, there is very little in my life of skiing so far that I would have done differently. I might have bought more ski resort real estate when a ski-in, ski-out lot at Vail was only $10,000, but then I might not have been able to buy so much film for the ravenous appetite of my 16mm cameras that have documented the last 55 years of ski resort development all over the world.

Fifty-five years of making ski films has been a long, exciting, and rewarding trip. As I headed east on I-90, I wondered what the winter has in store for me, my wife Laurie, and our skis. Stay tuned…