Star Wars has lots of sequels and prequels, but that little franchise has got nothing on Warren Miller ski movies – 71 full length feature films and counting!
That’s an amazing amount of footage, a lot of droll one-liners, and perhaps the World’s best ski history collection. Miller captured, influenced, encouraged and at times led the development of skiing from a trendy new niche activity for the nouveau riche to today’s mass market recreation that sees millions take to the slopes and aprés bars everywhere.
Sitting through all those movies would take a while.
But for a quick snapshot of the history of skiing, and what was happening in the wider world through the past 7 decades, the annual Warren Miller ski movie posters are a fascinating little study in themselves.
So here it is. Check out our selection of the best from the golden decades – the 50s to the 90s – and vote your favourite in the poll at the bottom. It’s a good time to throw back too, with the latest Future Retro bringing back Scot Schmidt and the Egan Brothers as part of edition #71 of the amazing movie saga, set for a 40 plus stop tour in Australia and New Zealand kicking off May 7 in Auckland and May 12 in Melbourne.
Warren Miller ski movies: the 1950s
The Miller films were always in colour, unlike the posters, where duotone had to suffice in the early years.
This was when a ticket to Europe cost a couple of year’s wages, so ski travel was truly showing the dream for most viewers. Warren Miller was truly living it.
1953’s Ski Fantasy promises ’21/2 miles of powder at Zurs’, an ‘8 mile Downhill at Davos’ and ‘Amazing Matterhorn’ – all beyond the wildest dreams and deepest wallets of the vast majority of snow lovers who packed out theatres to see it.
Perhaps the poster that epitomises the decade most is Warren Miller as the beat generation character promoting 1956’s Have Skis Will Travel. It’s Jack Kerouac’s On The Road on skis.
It’s also a slogan that we all still want to live by. That caricature image could easily be that of any ski bum hitting the road O/S today, with a GoPro instead of the movie camera to record their travels.
The featured skier line-up tells another 1950s story – the usual line up of great names for sure, like Stein Eriksen and Sigi Engl, regular headliners. But only males make the credits until Betsy Snite finally makes the list for 1959’s Let’s Go Skiing With Warren Miller – probably his most boring title ever.
Warren Miller ski movies: the 1960s
The 60’s was the decade that started swinging, then went totally crazy, as captured in 1966’s Ski On The Wild Side.
Miller kept pace with times that were a changing, fast. He started the decade on point with 1960’s Swingin’ Skis.
Travel was still key in 1962’s Around the World On Skis. It’s probably the first time ‘Japow’ hit the big screen in the west, although no one called it that back then, as Japan joined the Warren Miller movie destination list.
But by 1966 he had lost the quirky self-portrait promos for something to better catch the mood of the times, wild!
Ski on the Wild Side had wild everything in the titles, and a couple of hippy looking skiers in shorts in the poster. Like ski magazine covers over the years, the buzz words will always come and go – Wild, Extreme, New School, Freeride etc.
One of the little takeaway gems from this movie though is that just 4 years after the Cuban missile crisis, when Russia and the US came as close to nuclear annihilation as any time during the whole 40 years of the Cold War, Miller was doing his bit for detente with a Russia segment.
Just another example of his adaptability to keep pace with change, which he and then the franchise, continue to this day.
Warren Miller ski movies: 1970s
The 70s! Hotdogging, headbands and synchronised skiing were huge.
Miller kept pace, with classics like 1972s Winter People – pretty much a precursor of what we call ‘saisonaires’ these days. Celebrating the people who live for winter, beyond the icons of decades gone. Skiing was in.
In fact, by 1976, it was definitely Skiing On My Mind – which is another Miller ski movie title that spans the ages. Drop it in now and people would get it.
But the decade of disco could only end with Winter Fever ..
Warren Miller ski movies in the 1980s
By the 1980s Miller’s success was attracting a new wave of ski movie makers intent on making him look old school and them look cool – Extreme Skiing became the new buzz word and film makers like Greg Stump challenged Miller’s status with cutting edge new movies like Blizzard of Aahhhs in 1987, introducing Glen Plake to planet snow.
Miller wasn’t worried. As we mentioned in our feature on his quotes and life, he knew that the bottom line was entertainment – sure, you can up the ante on cliff drops etc forever, but for the wider audience beginners falling off a chairlift is more entertaining because they can relate to it.
So Miller rocked on, incorporating most of the new breed of extreme ski talent into his own films anyway and maintaining the mix that kept them relevant to a wider audience.
1981’s Skiing In The Sun featured Mt Buller and NZ, so remains a landmark ski flic for down under fans.
1985’s Steep And Deep features the all time classic ski movie title. Hey, who wouldn’t rock up to see a movie called that in 2021? Or 2055 for that matter. It also shows that Warren Miller wasn’t simply reacting to competition and trends, he was still setting the pace introducing talent like Scot Schmidt to our screens.
1987’s White Winter Heat poster could be a 007 movie poster. How far had Miller come from those daggy self-portrait posters of the 50s?
The competition was heating up, but if you go and watch the old movies chances our the Warren Miller ones will hold your attention better than the more one-dimensional competition trying to consign his efforts to the over-the-hill bin.
Warren Miller ski movies in the 1990s
How do you stay cool after 50 years in the business? Good question!
The competition explodes as snowboarding gets huge and new school skiing arrives.
But no one was telling Warren he had a use by date.
He closed out the millennium in 1999 with Fifty, that said it all for skiing’s great entertainer, and great survivor. The byline cheekily adds “A New School Film Celebrating 50 Years of Filmmaking”.
Take that New Schoolers , who of course about now are getting Middle School if not Old School age themselves. The annual Miller movie ain’t going anywhere was his message, and it hasn’t.
No one else has come close to that longevity and continuing relevance.
Earlier in the decade, 1992’s Steeper And Deeper was the classic extreme ski flic, and logical sequel title to 1987’s Steep and Deep. We’re still waiting for Steepest And Deepest by the way..
The rise of snowboarding was perhaps the biggest challenge Miller faced in all those decades, but typically he took it head on and blended it into his narrative without missing a beat. He even came up with the somewhat clunky ‘snow riders’ phrase, title for his 1996 offering, Snowriders. The subtitle “Gravity – It’s the same all over the World”.
The message, it doesn’t really matter what you are sliding on, the experience of riding snow, the mountains and the accompanying lifestyle are essentially the same.
However good you get, you will always stack. Hopefully, it’s a soft landing, and good for a few laughs. If you don’t stack, and do it big enough, it’s good for some oooohs and aaaahs. And shared good times.
Which is the bottom line that unites us all and keeps us flocking back for the latest instalment.
What’s your favourite Warren Miller ski movie title from his first 50 years? We’ve selected ours for each decade, but write in your favourite if it’s not shown here
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