In 1946, the ski world was a completely different place that very few people in the world would recognize today.
America had fewer than 15 chairlifts in the entire country as Ward Baker and I started for Alta in mid-November of that year.
I was six months out of the Navy, after four years in the service.
I had saved enough money to publish my first cartoon book, ‘Are My Skis on Straight?’ and with a few cartons full of books, Ward and I headed for the only two chairlifts in Utah at the time, at Alta.
Alta was usually one of the first ski resorts in the U.S. to have chairlifts running in early November.
Statistically, here is what ski country looked like if you wanted to ride a chairlift: California had two of them, one at Sugar Bowl in Northern California; another one at Mt. Waterman, fewer than 50 miles from the Los Angeles City Hall.
Oregon had one chairlift at Timberline, near Portland; Idaho had three on Baldy and one on Dollar Mountain.; Wyoming had a small one on Storm King Mountain in the suburbs of Jackson Hole; Colorado did not have a single chairlift, so you would have to drive all the way to Mt. Tremblant, out of Montreal, to get to the next one.
I believe that Mad River Glen and Stowe each had one but then I’m not quite sure.
At one time or another, my skis and cameras captured images of them as the ski industry grew in the 1950s and the ’60s.
It is easy to talk about all day chairlift tickets only costing $2.50, but a Coca Cola in those days only cost five cents unless you bought at the top of the mountain, and then it was 10 cents.
The thing that is impossible to put a price tag on is how it felt to ski in those days. You cannot put a price tag on how it feels today, either. There are readers who have sold their home in a big city and gone to a ski resort for their lifetime career.
They used to be called Ski Bums and probably still are today. Instead, I think they are people of courage to follow their own convictions, depending on the job they select.
They have become snow farmers, living and dying financially by what falls from the sky.
That of course all changed when someone figured out a way to make the snow come out of a hose and not have to wait for the storms to come and have the snow falling in the form of rain instead.
I was very lucky because those four years in the Navy allowed me to save enough money to pay my expenses that first winter of skiing.
When I skied that winter in Sun Valley, a lot of the employees were from Omaha, the site of the Union Pacific headquarters.
People got a round-trip ticket to Sun Valley and room and board and $125 a month. A lot of them never cashed in their return trip.
If I had it to do over again I know I would not do anything differently.
Ward Baker and I managed to ski seven days a week for two winters and got money ahead during the summer to do that. Were we the pioneers?
I don’t think so. We were just lucky because they had not invented wet suits by then and riding surfboards in January was way too cold in Southern California—particularly when you can see the San Bernardino Mountains covered with snow as you are driving down the street with your hundred-pound, redwood surfboard in the back of your car.
Or you wanted to go golfing but it was raining … making that great snow in the mountains.
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.