Behind the Gold: Finding Freedom
In just over a week the greatest skiers and snowboarders in the world will gather in Pyeongchang for the Olympic Winter Games. There’s a special passion shared by skiers and snowboarders – athletes competing in sports that are based on true lifetime, family activities.
Whether you’re racing down a mountain at 80 mph or soaring 60-70 feet up into the air, athletes share one common bond – the freedom their sport offers.
If you’re a skier or snowboarder, odds are that Warren Miller touched your life. His passing last week will leave a void for many. But for all of us it is a reminder of how much he touched our sport over the past half century. In his 93 year lifetime, he may well have introduced up to a billion skiers and snowboarders to the sport.
Warren Miller made his first film in 1946. He taught us about the freedom of turning a pair of skis. He helped us aspire to greater joy in our love of skiing.
Warren had a particular fondness for athletes. And through the decades, stars of the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team loved to shed their racing boards and find elusive powder in some of the most remote corners of the world.
Maine snowboarder Seth Wescott has two Olympic medals. But he found his freedom swooping down a powder ridge in the Chugach Range of Alaska with Warren Miller cameras capturing the adventure, as did Olympic champion Ted Ligety.
Her Squaw Valley roots gave Olympic champion Julia Mancuso a wanderlust for powder. Iceland is a long way from the nearest World Cup race course, but her Warren Miller adventure opened Mancuso’s eyes to new horizons with backcountry skiers Jess McMillan and Sierra Quitiquit.
At the peak of his career, Warren sent Bode Miller to learn how to handle fat skis with Bella Coola Helis, cruising steep powder lines and teeing off a golf ball on a peak in the Canadian Rockies. “Keep your head down, Bode,” said Miller.
Long before he won his Olympic gold, Warren showcased David Wise rocketing out of the halfpipe in Northstar-at-Tahoe in “Flow State.”
Images of 1994 Olympic downhill champion Tommy Moe hanging out with teammates Daron Rahlves and Marco Sullivan powder skiing in the morning and fishing Alaskan king salmon in the afternoon became part of the culture of the sport. From slow motion footage of slalom legends Phil Mahre and Ingemar Stenmark floating through the gates to modern-day film of Mikaela Shiffrin at Beaver Creek, Warren Miller’s cameras have shown racing in a different light.
Warren’s story emanates from the parking lot at Sun Valley to his Topanga Canyon cabin, his film studio on the ocean in Hermosa Beach and the modern editing suites in Boulder – places where Warren found his own form of freedom. He sent crews and athletes to every continent and unknown worlds, from Antarctica to Kashmir, from Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
Freedom is the independence to cruise anywhere on a mountain, to crest a knoll and take to the air or to point your skis through the Aspen trees through powdery pillows of freshly fallen snow.
“Freedom is located somewhere outside the box,” Warren used to say. “It’s when preparation meets the opportunity you have created.”
Countless Olympians have found their special freedom on the silver screen with Warren Miller. In recent years, Warren’s private desk where he used to personally narrate films has been retired. In his place, Olympic stars like Jeremy Bloom and Jonny Moseley have taken up the gauntlet – their turn to say: “If you don’t ski this year, you’ll be another year older when you do.”
Warren Miller himself was always proud to say: “I’ve changed a lot of lives by showing people there’s another way to live their lives.
“I hope I’ve changed yours.”
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Charlie Sturgis, executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, announces he will step down in June
Charlie Sturgis announced he is stepping down from his role as executive director of the Mountain Trails Foundation, effective in June.