The First Turns of the Year

By Warren Miller

Warren MillerI always look forward to my first ski run of the year with the two companions that govern most of my life, fear and trepidation. This year, when I added to those companions the fact that I had spent the last eight months living at sea level, I knew I would only be good for maybe one long run from top to bottom.

When you get off of a ski lift above 10,000 feet at The Yellowstone Club in Montana, lack of oxygen is one factor that you need to figure into your physical fitness equation. With trial and error, I learned years ago that if I take a couple of aspirin my first night above 5,000 feet, I sleep a lot better. Aspirin has something to do with thinning my blood just enough so that my brain gets enough oxygen and doesn’t think I’m suffocating. I even cheat a little bit and add half of an Excedrin PM to my sleep equation, so I never miss a minute’s sleep.

Yellowstone Club is a 13,600 acre private residential community where I and the Director of Skiing and get to ski with another companion, Scot Schmidt. Scot’s less than half my age so his first turns of the year are a departure from mine.

After a good night’s sleep in the valley below The Yellowstone Club, and an all-morning-long meeting with the department heads to make sure my job had the same description as last winter, I finally headed off for my first day on the slopes. I wrestled into my long underwear, assorted shirts, sweaters, and powder-snow suit, and then tried to buckle up my boots and lurch off in the general direction of one of four quad chairlifts.

I have always insisted on skiing alone the first day, because I want to ski at my own speed, which is very slow this time of year. I think I also like to spend the day alone, appreciating every moment.

I’m happy to report that by the time I got off of the lift, the sky was blue, there was no wind and there was plenty of great snow for early-season skiing. It was as if every run on the mountain had been groomed just for me.

I take the attitude about skiing that it is just like riding a bicycle, once you have learned how, you never forget; however, as you get older it takes about 10 minutes longer for the message to get from your brain to your muscles. Slow and cautious those first 10 or 15 runs of the year is the only way I know how to do it.

If you’ll excuse the expression, I still stem my skis a lot and execute about a hundred or so snowplow turns while getting back into the rhythm of making parallel turns. Halfway down the mountain, after frequent stops to rest my tired body, I once again reassured myself that I am probably the luckiest guy in the world to have been able to enjoy the last 64 winters of skiing or filming somewhere in the world. (Except for the winter of 98/99, which I missed when I broke my leg stepping off of a fishing boat.)

On my first run of this season, my fourth year as the Director of Skiing at The Yellowstone Club, I stopped to rest for the nineteenth time while skiing part of the 3,000 vertical feet of terrain. I felt like I had that good old feeling back. It was that gut feeling of making turns down the side of a hill when you feel as if everything is working exactly right for you. There is nothing else in the world you need when the snow is good, the lift is running, and you have your health. Of course, to top it off, I have a great job without a boss or a job description. All I have to do is ski as many runs as I want to every day.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day alone on skis. I stood beside the trail and watched three of the nine guests ski down the hill. I watched two snowboarders who went to great lengths to get jobs here at the club. They spent all of their time trying to get as far away from the snow as they possibly could. “I got more air than you did,” they shouted at each other.

I had a lot of time to think as I skied in solitude. I thought about the millions of dollars that have been spent on research and development by the ski, snowboard, binding, clothing, and boot companies. I thought about the millions of dollars that go into the snow-making machines at all of the other resorts so that they can try to have snow as good as ours. I thanked everyone who wasn’t there for buying tickets to my movies and copies of my books all of these years to support the lifestyle that Laurie and I have grown to enjoy.

Where else but in America can a pair of skis, some oyster crackers, ketchup, and a camera to document the growth of skiing have changed a person’s life as much as mine has been changed? That feeling of turning those skis last weekend at The Yellowstone Club was the same feeling that it has been ever since the first time I tried skiing on the side of Mt. Waterman near Los Angeles in 1936. When I’m skiing, I’m as close to having total freedom as anyone can get.

How do you feel about your first day of the season? Comment below to tell us!