Warren’s Dream Lives On in Freedom Seekers Everywhere

He was one of the world’s greatest proponents of freedom: that sort of freedom that releases butterflies in your belly, like the feeling of gliding down a fresh field of powder snow. Yesterday Warren Miller rode his last lift. In his 93 years he carved deep arcs onto a blank canvas that has influenced many of us fellow freedom chasers.

He was one of the first, and certainly the most prolific, filmmaker to point his lens toward people who brought truly different talents to mountain sports. While his early films may have ruffled feminist feathers, his later fare did a much better job (better than the industry as a whole) at highlighting brilliant female skiers. He crossed hundreds of cultural borders— skis strapped to camels or yaks or sputtering Kazakh mopeds— quipping “if everyone skied there would be no wars.”

I’m certain no other filmmaker has devoted more footage to people with disabilities finding freedom through sports. There is a long way to go in making sports more accessible, and films more representative, but Warren elevated the art of ski films well beyond entertainment only for “Nearly Normal Norman.” As one example, when narrating The Movement, Warren went off script and told us about the best skier he ever met:

When I tell this story in front of people I start crying— you know, which is kind of silly for an 80-year-old guy. They ask me who was the best skier I ever filmed and I’ve told them the Traci Taylor story.

The admiration is mutual for this little girl who found in Warren a kindred spirit unwilling to be held back. She received the most dire of prognoses, born three months premature with a rare disease and missing the lower part of her spine. Traci writes me tonight about how Warren scooped her up so she could experience skiing, eventually starring in one of his films:

He truly gave me the gift of freedom when he provided me with the knowledge and the opportunity to “hit the slopes” for the first time (and every time after). His kind heart allowed mine to grow with the wonderment of being able to do a sport that I thought was not an option for me. I am humbled by his kind demeanor and his witty humor. He was a giant among men on many levels. He is deeply missed. I see him in the snowflakes and hear his voice in the whistling wind. Ski on!

For all his championing of freedom, Warren had one hell of a work ethic. I once asked him: “Warren Miller, the original ski bum, says: Get a job?!” and he replied: “You only get out of life whatever it is you go after.” His instinct for chasing ambitious dreams is truly the stuff of legend— and laughter, for it was rarely an easy path. He calls it “lurching from one near disaster to another.” In reading his new biography, I sensed the roots of my own yearnings. Like Warren I’ve eschewed corporate jobs. I’ve taken his advice and moved to a ski town. I make films. I work my butt off to fill movie theaters. In his life story I found a cryptic treasure map, perhaps one that can never be followed again in exactly the same way, toward a life well lived.

Below I’ll share a few favorite Warrenisms (please add yours in the comments below) and leave you with the wish that, like Warren, you’ll point your lens at joy, live your life with gusto, and chase freedom till the day you die.

“Roller skiing was invented by the guy that changes the water in the think tank.” [Click for video proof] – Ski Country (1984)

“The thing with skiing is you can’t think negative thoughts while you’re making turns on snow. Every time you get to the bottom of a hill, you experience what I call—and you probably can’t print this—a wonderful psychological enema.” – Warren’s Wisdom (2008)
Q&A with Warren Miller from 2008

“Movements are more than good ideas, a movement needs people. It’s an uprising, a rebellion against the status quo, a groundswell of momentum. It must mean something and it must be worth fighting for.” The Movement (2011)

Warren, rest in peace knowing that legions of freedom chasers carry your torch forward. Speaking only for my own work, the lurching shall continue from one near disaster to another. Thank you for a lifetime of inspiration.


4 thoughts on “Warren’s Dream Lives On in Freedom Seekers Everywhere”

    1. Thanks mom! I still recall heading out for my job interview at Warren Miller when you said “make sure to get health and dental” and dad said “just make sure they pay you.” Good advice on both counts 😉

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