Warren Miller: Montana Skiing

By WARREN MILLER for the Flathead Beacon

After traveling the road for 55 years with my skis and my cameras to share the freedom of skiing with the rest of the world, I was invited to Montana for the first time. It was a unique invitation to the state because when I arrived there, I first skied on a 14,000-acre piece of private property with three different mountains on it. When I discovered what Montana had to offer, Laurie and I quit traveling. That was in 1997. I have since discovered a few things about the state and the numbers fit in with the current deluge of numbers we watch on TV.

Montana is the fourth-largest state in America behind Alaska, Texas, and California. Before I go too far, consider that I was born a couple of miles from Hollywood. In those days, Los Angeles only had about 1 million people in it and you could ranch land in the San Fernando Valley for as low as $50 an acre.

Times change and in this fourth-largest state, Montana, we have 16 ski resorts with at least one chairlift each. There are so few people here that only four of the ski resorts are open seven days a week.

Montana has some of the most abundant fossil digs in the world. This is where Jurassic Park actually was when dinosaurs roamed the earth. You can sign up for a tour and spend your holiday in the hot Montana sun digging for fossils. A friend of mine did that and she had so much fun finding fossils that she went home and sold her house in Newport Beach, Calif., and came back to Montana and married one of the men that she met on the dig. He was a stockbroker from Nantucket who was tired of commuting to Boston and had also moved to Montana.

Years ago I was producing a snowmobile film for Yamaha in Cook City, Montana. In the 10 days we were there, it snowed eight feet. It is the ultimate destination for anyone who straddles the engine of one of those machines all winter and is looking for the best place to do it.

Up until 15 years ago or so, Montana had no speed limit on some of its highways. (Now that it does, my wife is on a first-name basis with nearly every state patrolman in the state. She even tried to bribe one of them with a box of chocolates she had with her. He didn’t go for it.) A friend of mine bought an expensive Porsche and came over here to try it out. He was clocked by a Highway Patrol airplane at 165 MPH. When he crested a hill, way out in front of him in the flat, three patrol cars were stretched across the highway.

When he stopped the first words from the officer were, “Don’t you feel a little silly? Now get out of the car and lie down in the middle of the highway on your stomach with your hands over your head while we look in your car.”

There were no drugs and when my friend finally borrowed enough money at the bank to pay the fine, he sold his Porsche and bought a Hummer and now skis at Sugarbush, Vt., with his movie star wife.

There are very few celebrities skiing in Montana. The reason is very simple: because there are very few people here to watch them do what they do – like in Aspen or Vail.

Where we live in Montana, I sit in my office on the side of a ski hill called Pioneer Mountain at the Yellowstone Club and tell stories with my computer. My advice is to put one or more Montana ski resorts on your ski trip itinerary and who knows, with some luck, we might run into each other waiting for the chairlift somewhere at a ski resort where the skiing is exactly as it was in the old days.

For more of Warren’s wanderings go to www.warrenmiller.net or visit him on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/warrenmiller. For information on his Foundation, please visit the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, at www.warrenmiller.org.