Remembering Warren Miller. Lessons Learned Below Freezing.

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I’ve never been able to say that snowboarding is my favorite sport, but that’s just because it’s not the category I’d rank it within.  Sporting is normally regarded and defined as a competition, where one’s skills and wits are pitted against an opponent mandating a one-sided triumph.  Snowboarding has never finalized in a win/loss scenario for me, as every day spent on the mountain is a victory to be had, and more importantly, an experience to be shared.   My tribulations on the soccer field and basketball court have been confined by rules and regulations that keep the game uniform, a constraint I’ve seldom felt while descending the north face.  When compared with the latter, skiing is lawless and to that affect, it’s removed from sport, and transitions to livelihood.  I love to snowboard; therefore, I love Warren Miller.  As we say our goodbyes to the Steven Spielberg of snow-business at 93, like many, I thank him for the contributions he made to the “sport,” but more importantly, I thank him for the impact he’s had on me.

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If you’ve never spent a day in the alpine, carving through gods terrain clad in boogers and spandex, it’s hard to explain the sensation.   I took my first ski lesson at the age of two, probably an hour after my bones calcified and coalesced.  I remember being entranced by the boundless creativity waxed wood on groomed snow allowed for, and forfeited reliance to my newfound affliction.   In 20 years, not much has changed. I still gauge the winter season by the amount of days I get in on the hill and pacify my lust with shitty East Coast day trips.  Of course, the style, technology, access, and personalities inevitably evolved in the span of my tenure, but the cavalier and subversive creations of Warren remained a constant staple to the culture that I am so thrilled to be a part of.  He encapsulated the fervor and zeal we are all seeking with momentous affect, and his message stands to be thematic of mountain culture and answers the overarching why?.  In 1924, Warren Miller and his 8MM camera set out to “find freedom,” by filming cool people, doing cool things as no one had done before.  As we mourn the death of the visionary, we inherit his eternalized legacy in discography form, where we’ll be ever able to watch the progression of extreme sports and the reformation he spurred on public opinion. While skiing is not for everyone, the ideals Warren set out to capture are universal in their design and intent.  His quest to free himself through his own passion was yesterdays and is todays common onus.  He didn’t just film stunt sequences or wide angled panos of the worlds bountiful splendor, he captured a religion and offered conversion.  These immortalized moments are canonized, and offer folks a glimpse of a life beyond the one we’re conspired to live.   If you aren’t familiar with the work of Warren Miller, I’d love nothing more than to take the time to outline a few lessons I learned when I was below freezing.

“It’s our search for freedom, ” he said. “It’s what it’s all about — man’s instinctive search for freedom.”

Stop Fighting the World:

The more time you spend on skis, the less likely you are to spend time off them.  There is a conspicuous point of no return from becoming a ski bum, and it’s probably on day 5 of your education.  Once the camber feels natural and your knees form muscle memory, the hooks become inseparable from the host organism.  Barring injury, the main perpetrator of stifling admiration are the elements.  Don’t let Sundance Film Festival or the X Games fool you into thinking that scaling Everest and leaping the cornice is glamorous, as the forces of nature that outline the descent are fickle and punishing.  Soccer Mom’s, rejoice in the rainy Sundays you spectate on, as the plight of a skier is accented by conditions far more severe. To be a die-hard, one must surrender and accept what is beyond their control.

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Warren Millers films could air on National Geographic as easily as they’d fit the ESPN mold.  His film crew crusaded the planet, pitting their talents against the most treacherous mountains and conceivable terrain.  The craft we love is anything but comfortable, but lesson one is to come to terms with the obstacles that lie ahead.  To use his own words, “Freedom is when preparation meets the opportunity you have created.”  Don’t let the unknown hinder your progression, or deceive you into thinking you aren’t prepared for the challenge.  Never waiver against the world. Instead, find your rhythm within it.

Find A Flow State:

While the action and scenic marvel Warren captured got our attention, the characters and personalities he narrated guaranteed retention.  His movies buck the stigma we attach to the ski bum persona, as the platform he provided to the mountain men showed the romance and splendor that details their lives.  They are talents, many of whom have gone professional, where the top tier of performance is established on what Warren calls “The Flow State.”  I wasn’t overzealous when I called his films canons, or spoke of his religious message, as he believes in a Buddhist-like state of Nirvana within his own realm. The Flow State explains a paradoxical situation where the faster one moves physically, the slower he/she will go mentally.

As we continue advancement in our own careers and up-takings, the beasts of burden become more arduous and challenging.  Like a high school athlete moving through college to the pros, as tenure increases the work-load compounds, and the stressors become more severe.  In the analogy of skiing, moving from the bunny hill to K2.  To that extent, Warrens Flow State describes our ability to cope.  Like finding nirvana, it requires total devotion, so the Flow State is predicated on passion for the craft you are perusing.  When things get harder, we get better, but you gotta bleed for it.  If you are doing a job just for a paycheck, in time, you will succumb to the pressure.  Flow State can only be found in what you willingly choose, which is why it’s a meta unlocked by very few.  Don’t complain about having a lot on your plate, when you used to be starving.

Scare Yourself, Don’t Let the World Do it For You:

Skiing can be poetry in motion, as your coup d’etat against the laws of gravity are defied in a Christmas Tree bowl.  With ceaseless terrain and a perpetually changing conditional set, to a Type A’s misery, no two runs will ever be the same.  In my life, skiing has always been one of very few things I don’t think I’ll ever get bored doing, exemplifying that endless summer (in the winter) ideal.  As we mature in our own fields and chase our own endeavors, we must constantly up the ante to break the monotony of it all, and flush our adrenal glands to reawaken.  Warrens filmed traced the innovation of both sport and media.  Juxtapose his early 1950s collections to his final productions in the 21st century, and the contrast is as wide as you’d expect.

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Don’t let the world scare you when you can go out and scare yourself.  Retrofit the element of surprise to work in your favor, as Warrens athletes do when they purposely push themselves passed the limit.  Travel is held with such virtue, because of the expansion it expands your comfort zone, while simultaneously feeding into that “do it all, see it all” attitude we claim to have. Warren famously explained that “there is no next winter, this winter.”  Do it now.  What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and if a challenge gets the better of you, well at least you will have past doing what you loved.  Martyrdom is the way to go.

Anything Enjoyed, Will Be Better Enjoyed in Good Company

Again, I don’t loop skiing in the “sport” category,” not because I never competed in contest, but because I never felt losing was a possibility.  Solo runs from the summit are amazing, and throwing in an iPod to deafen yourself from everything but the snow ebneath is one of my favorite parts about it all.  Even though I regard skiing as an activity with unlimited potential to be enjoyed alone, Warren explained that the best experiences you’ve had by yourself, would be magnified 10 fold if you had proper company.

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As someone who not only values their alone time, but covets it, I’ve fought hard with this one in countless different situations.  My disdain with my peer’s waxes and wanes, but Warrens films explain that it’s all about finding the right comrades to explore with.  He famously wrangles the best athletes in the world together, where a first introduction proceeds a week-long outing where personal space in curbed at the door of a cliffside tent.  In the ski culture, there is no such thing as strangers, as those who share the interest will always make for good friends.  This commonality is the crux of the snow family Warren created, and it’s an ideal we must all seek to uncover for ourselves.  Friends and family are a given, but when you have a passion and find equals that share in it, true bliss is found.

 “Go Find Freedom”

Warren explained that he was your standard disgruntled teen, whiplashed by the instruction manual that detailed what a man of his age should be doing.  “How old would you be if you didn’t know when you were born?” he once famously inquired.  The happiest people are the ones who know themselves the best, as I find introversion to be the key to decision making. Crush the dissonance that spurs your daily frustrations and woes.  Warren knew himself, and knew what it would take for him to be happy and preached that “freedom is located somewhere outside the box.”  He flew the coup and never looked back, and I thank him for bringing us all alongside him to witness it.  Finding Freedom was his mission and illustrating the path for us is his legacy.

RIP Warren Miller.  You died, living.

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