Yesterday, I woke up to the news that Warren Miller, “America’s ultimate, responsibility free ski bum,” had surrendered to the other side. At a sprightly 93, he passed on to the ski gods. And I have no doubt that they bowed down as he schussed through their gates.

I have distinct ski memories from my teeniest years. Not all of them are on the slopes. I grew up in L.A., just like Warren, and each fall in that urban megalopolis I adored the annual tradition of piling in to watch his newest ski flick. As my mom cried while we wiped away mutual tears after reading Warren’s obituary, she said, “Those films were a must-do for our family. Prime priority every year.”

Mom, little sis and me under the spell of ’70s Warren Miller

I’m fairly confident that Warren’s transparent joy and his passion for the slopes brainwashed me over the years. From the youngest impressionable age, I knew I was destined to “ski bum.” By the time I left Berkeley, a “gap year” was never in question. Alas, I didn’t expect a year on Steamboat’s slopes to turn into a lifetime, which it has.

Jennie and Rich Lay 53 passes
A half-life of ski passes

Warren filmed a lot of powder days in Steamboat over the decades. He captured snorkel-worthy Steamboat runs that the world drooled over. Each time, we’d nod in agreement at his snarky accolades for our bottomless Champagne Powder, then we’d holler in appreciation. Typically, someone local, a dude who you drank beer with, was gracing the screen. Warren spoke the truth. I can summon his droll, silky voice in my imagination to narrate almost any run — and any lift exit debacle.

I never actually skied in one of his movies, but much to my surprise I did make a cameo in 2016’s Here, There & Everywhere. Sloshing my beer in the Chief Theater audience, my posse shrieked when I appeared on the silver screen after intermission.

Screen shot: five seconds of fame, Warren Miller 2016, starring me and Andy Kennedy

I was only après skiing on the dance floor in Gondola Square. And it was decades after Warren retired. But he, too, made a heartwarming cameo in that year’s film. I’ll gladly claim the illustrious affiliation in all its degrees of separation. Life goal — check!

I love what Warren did. I love the joy he felt and shared. His films were equal parts art and sport, a cinematic knack for capturing the essence of bliss on snow. Big air. Epic peaks. Beautiful turns. Ridiculous quantities of pow. And if you were doing something stupid while sliding on the snow — something dangerous and possibly debilitating, but wholly worthy of a laugh at your expense — he probably captured that, too.

In retrospect, I don’t love that he largely ignored rippin’ female skiers for so long. But I’d like to think that his moxie inspired the likes of Leanne Pelosi and Anna Segal and Nat Segal, whose badass films featuring skiing and riding women garnered our utmost awe and admiration when SheJumps screened them in Steamboat last week.

Freshies

There are 5 inches of fresh on the mountain today. It’s a clean slate and a soft landing out there. The turns are sweet and liberating, from the top of Storm Peak to a last blast down See Me. And isn’t that the way Warren always saw it, too?

He once remarked, “I really believe in my heart that that first turn you make on a pair of skis is your first taste of total freedom, the first time in your life that you could go anywhere that your adrenaline would let you go.” Get out and ski like Warren. Feel the freedom, the inspiration, the nurture of nature.

I’m signing off in memory of the world’s most venerable ski bum, recalling the famous words he lived by: “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.” Thanks for the laughs, the adventures, the mishaps and the life goals, Mr. Miller. I’m not sure whether to say, “RIP” or “Rip it up in heaven.” But I do know that down here in the mountains, you will be missed.

Jennie Lay, Telemark skier

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