It was January 2016 when Warren Miller finally agreed to tell his life’s story on camera. Josh Haskins and Chris Patterson, men who had admired Miller’s films since they were boys, met him at his home at the time in Montana. And Miller talked, but even as the subject of the interview, he couldn’t keep himself from simultaneously directing.
Patterson, Warren Miller Entertainment’s director and cameraman for more than two decades, said that throughout the interview, Miller would remark, “Why are you doing that? What lens is that? Is the wind going to be a problem? And we were like, Warren will you just let us do it? It was just his nature.”
On Wednesday, Miller, one of the original patriarchs of snowsports, known for fiercely advocating for outdoor pursuits and his globally-acclaimed ski filmmaking, died at 93 years old at his home on Orcas Island.
Warren Miller Entertainment, based in Boulder, confirmed its founder’s death Thursday morning — the first day of Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show — in a statement that said, "The insurmountable loss of the pioneer of the Warren Miller brand, father of ski filmmaking, and one of skiing’s greatest ambassadors is a loss to the industry.”
Manning one of the front booths on the main floor of the trade show, Klaus Obermeyer clutched his heart when asked about Miller. The two were close friends, as skiers and as leaders in the industry, and Obermeyer was the beaming face in some of Millers films, such as Fifty and Higher Ground.
The pair spent a lot of time together. In the late 1940s, Obermeyer said, he and Miller built houses in Ketchum, Idaho. In Sun Valley, before Obermeyer founded Sport Obermeyer, he sold Bavarian Neckties and shoe laces made from parachute strings alongside Miller. Warren Miller Entertainment was established that decade, in 1949.
“We just had a great time together because he was so funny,” Obermeyer, 98, said. “He got more people into skiing than any person ever did and he loved to make people smile and laugh, so his films had some very funny moments in them. He was a special human being.”
Before founding Teton Gravity Research, the Jackson Hole extreme sports media company, brothers Todd and Steve Jones appeared in Miller's 1995 film Endless Gravity, after Miller had left the company.
"Warren was an absolute legend and a true ski bum at heart," Todd Jones said. "He never veered from what he believed in and thought was right. He was also one of the best storytellers in the world.”
From Hollywood, his is first time on skis was at age 13. He was with his Boy Scout troop leader at Mount Waterman, outside of Los Angeles, in 1937. He purchased his first pair of skis and bamboo poles for $2, earned on his paper routes, according to Warren Miller Entertainment information.
“It was the passion for skiing that led to the passion for filmmaking,” Haskins said. “Not the other way around.”
Witty, adventure-seeking, well-liked and confident, Miller went on to produce more than 500 films centered on winter and water sports, and wrote around 1,200 columns and 11 books. His first film in 1950 was Deep and Light. The last he directed in 1987 was White Winter Heat.
Miller was inducted into the Colorado Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 1995. He was awarded Lifetime Achievement Awards from the International Skiing History Association in 2004 and from the California Ski Industry Association in 2008. He also was a World War II veteran, a ski instructor and racer, and an accomplished surfer and waterman.
Growing up, Patterson and Haskins only dreamed of working for the man famous for capturing talented skiers descending snow-frosted peaks in stunning locales across the world. Now, the two men are in their 26th and 18th years with Warren Miller Entertainment, respectively.
The company was sold to Miller’s son, Kurt Miller, in 1988. He sold the company to Time Warner in 2000. After seven years, Time sold to Bonnier Corporation, which was acquired in 2013 by Active Interest Media. Warren Miller’s involvement ended in 2004, but he returned in 2016 to appear in Here, There and Everywhere.
“The first time that I met Warren was filming him snowcat skiing with Dan Egan,” Patterson said. “I felt like he was narrating the whole day because it was just the voice that I had always heard. He would just be remarking about the weather and it sounded like it was a line from a movie.”
Miller’s dedication to filmmaking was evident in the annual trips he’d take to personally share his films with the skiing community and beyond, from California to Pennsylvania. Families made a tradition out of gathering annually in their respective hometowns to see what stunning shots Miller had captured in the past year — shots that would make even fair-weather skiers want to strap on their boots and hit the slopes as soon as the lights came back on in the theaters.
This past week, Patterson said he was sifting through boxes and boxes of mementos from Miller. Seemingly insignificant notes from Miller, such as letters asking Patterson to give him a call, now carry more weight because he’s gone.
The Warren Miller Entertainment team has just begun to realize the weight of his loss, along with their responsibility to stay true to Miller’s ethics and commitment to his work.
“The most important reason, for me, to continue the legacy is the fans,” Haskins said. “His fan base is made up of multiple generations. Everyone knows his name. He will always be synonymous with skiing.”
Miller leaves behind his wife of 30 years, Laurie, and his three children, Scott, Kurt and Chris.