I just got back from watching Warren Miller's latest film down at the Fox Theatre (isn't it strange that I'd never been there before, then attended two events in three days? Monday's Iron & Wine show was incredible!).
I've long been a fan of his ski and snowboard films, which isn't a surprise considering he basically invented the genre. But for me it's always been more about Miller's narrative abilities and how he infuses his films with a great energy, taken from his simple mantra: If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do.
I haven't skied in nearly 11 years. Writing that, it kinda pains me that it's been so long. It was a trip during Christmas break my senior year of high school, out to New Mexico with the pop and the bro, to crash with friends in Farmington (shithole!) and venture out to the glorious Wolf Creek and the stuck-on-the-side-of-the-road Hesperus. (Coincidentally, the car-ride hours of that same trip were dominated via headphones by my newly acquired Recovering the Satellites album, which would later offer 'Angels of the Silences,' 'Miller's Angels' and 'A Long December' to Miller's Snowriders 2, the first of his films I'd see on the big screen.)
I was never much good. I could get down the not-too-steep hills just fine, but I was never too daring. What I liked most was zipping down fairly flat ground, not having to turn much, just enveloped in the nearly motionless gliding speed. To me, it was kinetic energy at its most peaceful. There's no other way on Earth to move quite like that, and it's absolutely exhilarating.
I learned at Williams Ski Area, an out-of-the-way mountain that was cheap enough and small enough to allow anybody more than enough runs in a day. There just simply weren't any crowds or lines. I still see that whole ski area in my mind clearly - though from a quick search on the 'Net it's apparently now called Elk Ridge Ski Area. But that map is still the same, and I know exactly what it represents.
I miss the feeling -- but skiing is expensive, and I live in the desert, and just a couple weeks after that last ski trip I blew out my left knee, which still doesn't feel completely strong...
Someday again I'll ski -- and that's the overriding inspiration that Miller's films provide.
But I also take away this tremendous spiritual uplift. The photography is gorgeous, the athletes are the best in the world, but Miller without a doubt captures skiing at its essence, which is the simple fact that it exists outside of day-to-day reality. It's an escape, it's pursued feverishly by people who can't be tied down, whose only drive is to go where there's fresh powder. Fresh powder, probably the most powerfully metaphorical playing field in all of sports. Skiing is exploration and escape -- and you're afforded a good bit of each just sitting there in the theatre.
I've now seen at least five of Miller's films on the annual big-screen tour (out of 58 total). It's just a ball of fun (though expensive -- I lucked into a free $20 ticket tonight). Playground was this year's title. There's little better for a pick-me-up as the winter arrives than getting a dose of Miller's quirky philosophy and get-up-and-go mentality. He's truly inspirational, even if you've never touched snow in your life. All he asks is that you grab a little adventure in your life.
See you next year, same time, same place...