Winter is the best time of the year for ski photographers to get his or her best shots with the low angle of the short, backlit, north-facing sunny days.
On a quiet street in Boulder, Colo., Don Brolin was resting quietly in his afternoon nap. Don was watched over by his wife Colleen and her sister, a registered nurse from a small town near Duluth, Minn.
Don and I had worked together for 35 years. He captured on film, many of the memorable sequences in my movies. Who can forget that funny sequence of people falling off of the chairlift at Snow Valley?
When I sent Don to Japan, he went out early one evening with a 5-gallon bucket of water and a shovel and built a couple of humungous, icy bumps in a catwalk and was standing there when the first 20 or 30 people crashed.
We worked side-by-side occasionally and one of those times was in New Zealand on the Jean Claude Killy TV series.
We got to spend a full day skiing on an active volcano that was blowing up every day between 3:30 and 4 p.m. It was nice to work with another cameraman who would put his life on the line to get the never-before-seen shots of skiing down the side of an active volcano.
On that same trip, we flew off the Tasman Glacier after dark in a Bell helicopter with five of us on board along with four pairs of skis and two 40-lb. rucksacks full of camera gear. We had turned our skis upside down on the landing gear and then we tied Killy and Lacroix onto the upside down skis like two dead deer on the front fenders of a passenger car.
Don was always there suggesting a better camera angle or a different thing to have the skiers do.
Don was not a big man, physically, but he always did big things with a camera in his hands.
He mastered the operation of the temperamental Mitchell Hi-Speed camera. It ran for Don at a 1,000 frames per second and allowed him to get a lot of never-before-seen shots of thoroughbred horses racing at Hollywood Park in California. It took 40 seconds to watch one second of action. Don established a milestone in action photography with those close-up shots of the horses’ lower legs and hoofs.
Don was a man for all seasons with his camera and he filmed half a dozen sailing films in the 1970s. High speed sailing included hydrofoils on sailboats way back then. And, probably the first time you saw a hydrofoil on a sailboat was on The America Cup boats this year in San Francisco as they attained speeds of 54 mph. This was almost 40 years after Don filmed them for me.
I first met Don when he was doing the public relations for the Sugar Bowl. That was in 1964 and he was living in his own private room in the lodge; he had built a wall around the empty space under a stair well. It was cramped, but private. Some people might call it cozy. But, it was a lot better than a crowded employee dormitory.
When Don showed me his still photos of Sugar Bowl and some of his press releases, I started thinking about hiring him to do the same for my company; Don had a good eye with a still camera. But, he had never held a movie camera before.
In late April, after Sugar Bowl closed for the season, Don showed up in my Redondo Beach, second-floor office over the swimming pool store. He was wearing a neatly pressed suit, white shirt, a necktie and a vest. He was all set to rock and roll in the motion picture business in southern California with me. This was the start of a lifelong friendship.
Last summer, when Don and Colleen returned from their annual cruising in Southern California, Colleen said, “Don, your dark tan from all of this sun looks kind of yellow. I think we should see a doctor!”
They did and he was diagnosed with liver cancer; the doctor told him to get his affairs in order.
When Don called and told me the bad news, I listened with a great deal of sadness. And, yes, I shed a lot of tears because he was a close friend and we had shared 35 years of working together.
When I finally figured things out, I went up into my garage full of stuff and located my 16mm Bolex movie camera that I had been saving for I don’t know how long.
Don used a Bolex to get all of his great sequences until we could afford to buy couple of used Arriflexes.
I knew I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Don so I shipped that Bolex to him along with a note and few rolls of film.
The note read: “Hey Don! Over the years I have sent you on assignments all over the world, but you are on your own on this new one. I don’t think anyone has ever sent any pictures back from where you are going, but I know if anyone can, you will be able to do it.”
And, I went on to say “I also know that someday we will again be filming side by side somewhere. In the meantime, send me back the pictures you take with this trusty Bolex, you know better than anyone how and where to send back the images.”
With the days getting longer, Don will have more time to run that Bolex. I know Don will send me back some great, never-before-seen images.
Warren Miller is history’s most prolific and enduring ski filmmaker. Visit warrenmiller.net or visit his Facebook page at facebook.com/warrenmiller.