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NPR Arts & Life

How Filmmaker Warren Miller Impacted The Extreme Skiing Film Industry

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we remember a man who spent a lifetime bringing the ski slopes to the big screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "SKI COUNTRY")

WARREN MILLER: We're going on a six-month round-the-world ski trip, and I'm going to be your guide. I'm Warren Miller, and you better hang on tight 'cause here we go.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Warren Miller, a pioneer of outdoor adventure films, died last week at 93. He released his first film in 1950 and kept making them every year. Now, decades later, people watch his films at ski resorts around the country.

KURT MILLER: Think about it - an annual feature film every year for 65 years. He built something that could not be replicated today.

SHAPIRO: That's Miller's son, Kurt, who worked with his father for years. When Miller began filming in the late-1940s, he lived with a friend in a trailer in the parking lot of Idaho's Sun Valley ski resort. They bribed chairlift operators with beer and made tomato soup from hot water and ketchup. They shot rabbits for dinner.

K. MILLER: Not only did he do that in Sun Valley. He traveled throughout the West in a very small trailer towed by a very old car.

MCEVERS: A 1937 Buick, to be precise. Miller's early films were similarly makeshift productions. He couldn't record sound onto the film, so he would rent an auditorium, play the movie and narrate the entire thing live.

K. MILLER: He had his book of a hundred pages of narration that he would do every night with a little light off to the side of the stage.

SHAPIRO: Miller's films became more popular as the ski industry itself kept growing bigger. He featured extreme and dangerous stunts and also showed a whimsical and goofy side of ski culture. One recurring crowd favorite showed people awkwardly falling off chairlifts and rope tows.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

W. MILLER: A rope tow's most important feature is to make you look like a fool. The chairlift is an improvement to make you look like an absolute fool.

MCEVERS: Kurt says after decades on the slopes, his father's philosophy was simple.

K. MILLER: Spend more time with your family and friends doing something fun outdoors. That's the key to what my dad stood for and everything he did in his life.

SHAPIRO: That's Kurt Miller, son of Warren Miller. The outdoor adventure filmmaker died last week at the age of 93. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.