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A tribute to my old ski buddy, Ward Baker

September 28, 2012

During the winters of 1947-48, I lived with Ward Baker in the Sun Valley parking lot, in a 4x8 foot trailer. Someone asked me last night, “Who is Ward Baker?”

Ward grew up in Manhattan Beach. I first met him while I was surfing, in January, in the freezing cold waters of the South Bay near his house. I was riding my homemade, 11-foot long, 95-pound redwood surfboard, and he was riding his homemade redwood surfboard that was about 7 feet long. It weighed nearly as much as mine did. We met in 1941, long before the invention of 8-pound foam and fiberglass boards.

Ward was shy, but a talented swimmer, surfer, fisherman, and skin diver, not to mention an auto mechanic who was also interested in photography. We were almost the same age and we had to register for the draft at almost the same time. We wisely enlisted in the Navy V-12 officer’s training program and we wound up together at USC for our initial training.

During the winter of 1944-45, I had a week of leave from the Navy over Christmas and talked Ward into going to Yosemite with me to go skiing. He brought along his 8mm movie camera, and our surfing ability helped us with our skiing. By the time we left Yosemite, four days later, we were making turns on the so-called Big Hill. We loved this skiing thing because unlike surfing, there were a lot of pretty girls that we could not keep up with.

When I got discharged in 1946, we got back surfing together and took 8mm movies of each other. We both had cameras by then. About this time I found a $200 house trailer that had a bed and an outdoor kitchen in the back. What else did anyone need for survival in -10 degrees in a parking lot?

Ward was an amazing automobile mechanic who kept my ancient Buick running no matter what went wrong with it. He also owned a pair of Army surplus down sleeping bags, which he bought for $7 each, as well as an over/under 410/22, and a 22, so we could eat whatever we could shoot.

Ward was very easy going and it seemed as though nothing could rattle him on the two- to three-week trip that lasted five months, skiing every day. We kept a fairly accurate diary of our adventures, but more important, we wrote down any money we spent for food and gasoline. Ward was as much of a penny pincher as I was.

I think people today would call us cheap, but looking back on our record of expenses, cheap or not, we were able to ski all winter.

We traveled and skied together on the cheapskate level for two winters. The second winter, Ward rode the Trailways bus home two weeks early to get in shape to take the lifeguard test. He had to swim around the Manhattan Beach Pier.

Ward got the job and had to patrol the beach from the Hermosa Pier to the Redondo Breakwater by himself.

It was in the late 40s when United Airlines stewardesses went on strike and a half dozen of them started hanging around his lifeguard tower. He wisely chased one of them, a very pretty lady, named Jackie. They have been married ever since.

Two children later, Ward was doing a lot of fishing and was interested in becoming a full-time fisherman. Ten days after Jackie’s second child was born, he took a job on a tuna boat operating out of a small harbor south of the equator in Peru, much to the surprise of his wife and family who preferred that he stay home.

He had bought a lot in Hollywood Riviera, between Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes before he went to Peru. He stayed in Peru for more than 18 months so that all of his income could be brought back to America tax-free … at least it could be then.

He then moved to Maui, where he and Jackie still live today. When I talked with him he was complaining that with the population explosion in Hawaii, overfishing and scuba divers have eaten all of the fish down to a depth of 60 feet.

Our phone call ended when he said that he had to trim the coconuts off of a tree in the back yard before they fell and hurt someone.

After spending two cheapskate winters in the parking lot with me, Ward only went skiing one more time in his life. His comment was, “It was too much of a hassle for me.”

But I wonder if he wasn’t thrilled about the ski bum life we were experiencing. That trailer must have been pretty smelly by spring!

Warren Miller is an American ski and snowboarding filmmaker. He is the founder of Warren Miller Entertainment and produced, directed and narrated his films until 1988. His annual films on skiing and other outdoor sports are renowned for their stunning photography, witty narrative humor, and the impressive talents of athletes. He has received wide acclaim for his promotion of the sport of modern skiing through his films spanning over 50 years and is an iconic figure in ski movie filmmaking. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the Mammoth Times.

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