Everyone has a comfort zone of some size. Wherever yours is, it gets more comfortable with each visit. My first comfort zone on skis was established on the Big Hill at Badger Pass in Yosemite after I had made turns on it the 207th time I skied down it. The Big Hill is in reality not very big, but in name only.
I was uncomfortable eight years later when I made my first run down from the summit of the Parsennbahn cable railroad in Davos, Switzerland, because I was blindly following the crowd of skiers to somewhere that I had not even seen before.
Anytime you expand your horizon there is always a moment of being uncomfortable and then it gets better the second time.
There are hundreds of small mountains, as their owners call them, that are less than 500 vertical feet above the never-large-enough parking lot at the bottom.
“Anytime you expand your horizon there is always a moment of being uncomfortable and then it gets better the second time.”
When the first chairlift was invented in Nebraska and then installed on Dollar Mountain in Sun Valley, Idaho, it became an uncomfortable zone for people learning how to turn long, stiff skis with low, soft boots.
It would be five years before ski lifts were built on nearby Baldy because it was perceived as too difficult for most people to turn skis on.
I know that if you list the comfort zones at your favorite ski resort, it will include that secret parking place behind the Snowcat garage; your favorite edge sharpener for those hard-packed, granular snow days; and we cannot forget your favorite maître d’ at the darling restaurant nine miles down the road from the chairlift.
Most of the people who develop a comfort level of any kind at one of the small resorts will likely never ski anywhere else. Why should they? As long as they get comfortable, why go anywhere else?
I was filming at one of these small resorts one day when a ski patrolman proudly told me that he had skied there every day it had been opened and logged 67,819 lift rides since he started and it became easier to track with his GPS on his phone. He’d never skied anywhere else. Why should he?
Can these small resorts produce good skiers? Of course, they can. The best female ski racer America has ever had is Lindsey Vonn. She learned her skills on a small, rope tow hill just outside of Minneapolis.
The list of small hills stretches across North America from Maine to Seattle. Names such as Twin Bridges, Ligonier, Nubs Knob, Green Valley Lake, Snoqualmie Summit and Boyne Mountain, to mention a few. There are other people who are comfortable skiing anywhere and have laid down tracks wherever there is a ski lift and many places where there is not a ski lift but a helicopter.
I would hesitate to put a number on how many ski resorts or places I have skied and/or filmed that later became ski resorts.
After my first venture into the mountains as a Boy Scout, I do know that I have never been uncomfortable anywhere in the world. When I made my first ski movie in 1949-50 there were, to the best of my knowledge, only 13 chairlifts in North America. Today, the Kircher Family who own Boyne Mountain in Michigan, also own and operate a total of 160 different chairlifts across America and Canada.
Wouldn’t you like to be able to say, “I have a comfort zone on that many ski lifts?”
I have always been most comfortable wondering what is over the horizon. If you own a pair of skis and use them, you have to get to the top of the mountain to see what is over the horizon. Years ago when someone opened a ski shop next to my studio in Hermosa Beach, he got permission from the city to grind big blocks of ice and spread it on the small hill under the street light in a nearby public park. It quickly became a target for my camera and there I watched and then filmed a young man dressed in a budget-busting outfit of Bogner’s most expensive stuff. He could do a couple of Art Furrer’s freestyle ballet moves, as well as an eye-popping variation of a tip roll. He was obviously an excellent skier, or so I thought.
However, when it came time to interview him for my narration, I needed to know where he had skied and gotten so good. He had never skied anywhere except under the street light in the park in Hermosa Beach.
When you are within your comfort zone you have a sense of freedom within that zone. And I firmly believe that freedom is man’s most basic need, so go for it with everything within you and do it 24 hours of every day.
Warren Miller is history’s most prolific and enduring ski filmmaker. Visit warrenmiller.net or his Facebook page at facebook.com/warrenmiller. Read more of Warren’s stories at TheTahoeWeekly.com.