Warren A. Miller, the most prolific and famous ski filmmaker of all time, died peacefully early Thursday morning at his home in Orcas Island, Washington. He was 93.
Though Miller wasn’t the first person to make a film about skiing, he was the first to make a living at it professionally. He practically invented the genre, and for six decades made ski movies that toured the country, enthralling millions of skiers about places and people in far flung mountains.
His legacy stretches far and wide. Today, every kid who shoots a video of their friend and posts it online is proof of Miller’s profound reach. He was a trailblazer. His films influenced millions of people, and helped spawn an entire genre of media–that of action sports–which is now a multi-million-dollar industry. Miller’s influence led to Greg Stump’s films in the ’80s and ’90s, which led to Teton Gravity Research and Matchstick Productions, which led to Chris Ostness and Eric Iberg and Johnny DeCesare, which led to Josh Berman and Level 1 Productions, to Stept Productions, Unicorn Picnic, and Sweetgrass Productions, to every kid today with an iPhone, GoPro, and Vimeo account.
The production, tools, and timeliness may look different today, but the intent has always been the same: Shoot something cool and share it with other people. That was Miller’s goal, and he made it work because he knew how to connect with people’s aspirations, as well as deliver on his deep belief that skiing provides the greatest freedom anyone could ever obtain.
Born in Hollywood, California, Miller grew up during the Great Depression and taught himself how to surf and ski, buying his first pair of skis and poles for $2. He became an early devotee to film, using a camera to take photographs of his fellow Boy Scouts, and then selling them the prints.
He made his first ski film in 1946 while living out of a teardrop trailer they used as a basecamp at resorts across the West. He was among the first to document the growing ski bum culture, where young men and women moved to ski towns to take menial jobs just so they could ski. His films fueled that fire and helped it spread across the nation.
Miller eventually produced more than 500 films and wrote hundreds of columns about skiing in various magazines. In 1989, he sold his company to his son, and stepped away from the business. In 2009, Level 1 featured him prominently in its film Refresh, with Miller narrating in his classic, dry wit. Warren Miller Entertainment, the company that owns the name and brand, issued a cease and desist order to halt the film’s Denver premiere, an act that seemed to accentuate how far–and how serious–the business of ski media had come since Miller’s day.
It was perhaps ironic that Miller, a longtime champion of ski bums and freedom, became the director of skiing at the posh private resort The Yellowstone Club, Montana, where he owned a home and has a lodge named after him. But he continued to give back to the area, founding the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation to help local children learn entrepreneurial skills. The local theater, the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, in neighboring Big Sky, chose to name the facility after him due to his legacy of connecting skiing with the arts.
In later years, Miller also hosted fireside chats at his home at the club, where he used his famous voice to regal guests with tales of his grand life of adventure.
Miller will be missed. His legacy and influence will endure.