Warren Miller: Knee Deep Powder

By WARREN MILLER for the Flathead Beacon

As I’ve said many times, when I produced my first ski movie, there were fewer than 15 chairlifts in the world. Everyone who went into the ski business during the following 25 years was a real innovator. One of those innovators was an Austrian named Mike Wiegele, who talked his father into a plane ticket from Austria to Canada. Mike never returned home.

I first met Mike when he was teaching at the Sugar Bowl in 1962 when he skied for my camera in knee-deep Donner Summit powder snow.

From California, Mike went to Banff in Alberta, Canada, were he ran the ski school until he decided he would ski in the Canadian Rockies west of Banff using helicopters instead chairlifts.

Fast forward to the spring of 1969. I was finishing up the Jean Claude Killy, 13-week television series with 40 employees and a client who refused to pay me what he had promised.

When I returned home from Europe one of the many letters I had received was a note from Mike Wiegele inviting me to come up and ride in his helicopter at no charge. I had been away from home for two months and, as I was dead broke and frantic, I sent one of my best cameramen at the time, Rod Allin.

Mike only had 13 customers that entire winter and he jammed them all together while Rod Allin was there so he would have skiers to film. When I saw some of the footage Rod shot, I phoned him and told him to stay as long as Mike would fly him around and he still had some unexposed film.

When Rod’s footage of Mike was seen by my audiences the next fall, the ski film business was changed forever. The footage was outstanding.

Today Mike has 11 helicopters flying out of his Blue River headquarters and he now has 240 employees, accommodations for all of them and handles 200 customers a week with an annual gross income in excess of $25 million.

While Mike was skiing here at the Yellowstone Club last week he talked about what he might do next. He talked a lot about building a resort at a place he calls Eight Peaks. He wants to offer skiing in helicopters, snow cats and chairlifts.

During his visit here, Mike said, “When I wrote that letter years ago, inviting you to film helicopter skiing in Blue River, I sent that same letter to five or six other ski filmmakers and you were the only one who responded.” Thus began a 45-year friendship.

At the age of 75, with a 14-year-old hip replacement, he is still out skiing and guiding his helicopter operation in British Columbia.

Mike used to guarantee a 100,000 vertical feet of skiing in a week. When fat skis were invented that amount of skiing almost doubled overnight and price adjustments had to be made. Everyone I know has a wish or bucket list. Put Mike’s name on your list because I have never heard of anyone who has come back disappointed from a week of skiing with him.

About 30 years or so ago when he was building his base of operation for his resort, I produced a movie for him called “Seven Days in Paradise.” My closing statement in that film so many years ago has been repeated in a lot of my stories or advice. All I said was, “If you don’t do it this year you will be one year older when you do.”

For many years I’ve used that statement at the end of my movies, but I wonder how many missed experiences there are in your life because you didn’t hear this advice until you saw one of my shows?

Remember, it is Mike Wiegele helicopter skiing in Blue River, British Columbia. You won’t regret it.