Our Definitive Ranking of Warren Miller's 10 Best Ski Films

One of the founding fathers of ski porn, Miller has directed 55 movies since 1950. This is a highly subjective ranking of his work, from the people who know it best.

Sep 22, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
Our Definitive Ranking of Warren Miller's 10 Best Ski Films

'Steep and Deep,' released in 1985, introduced the idea of big-mountain skiing to the masses.    Photo: Courtesy of Warren Miller Entert

Sixty-seven falls ago, Warren Miller sat in a theater in Pasadena, California, and talked through the ski footage he’d captured in the nascent ski towns of Squaw and Sun Valley. That film was Deep and Light, and it set off a nearly seven-decade jag of feature-length ski movies that have since shaped the entire canon. With the release of Miller’s autobiography, it felt like high time to look back on the 55 films he’s directed—and choose the ten that we think best define his career. 

10. Journey (2003)

The last film Miller narrated after he sold his film company, Journey is the test case for the more modern Warren Miller Entertainment films—heavy on obscure travel and athlete features. The film is shot in Morocco, Doug Coombs’ Chamonix, and Portillo, Chile. Glen Plake and Bode Miller make appearances, and the final segment is a tribute to snowboarder Craig Kelly, who died in an avalanche that year.

9. Ski Country (1984)

If your metric is nostalgia, the mid-1980s can be considered the golden age of skiing. Ski Country, with its ski ballet, monoskiing, and oddly hypnotizing demo-team segments, encapsulates the hedonism of the time. An opening segment at New Hampshire’s Tuckerman Ravine builds up to a single slow-motion tomahawk. From there, the movie transitions straight into a Miller classic: making fun of newbie skiers struggling to ride lifts or carry their ski gear. Then it heads to Chamonix and heli-skiing in British Columbia. You have to hand it to Miller—he knows how to jam in all the elements viewers want. 

8. Freeriders (1998)

The late 1990s brought the rise of both freeskiing and snowboarding. The Miller film that best captures the decade steps into the fight between old and new—and embraces the reckless fun of the latter. Freeriders pins down an era when skiing was changing—it seems like every freeskier is on the Salomon 1080, the first real twin-tip ski—and fuels the ’90s nostalgia with a Dave Matthews Band, Counting Crows, and Semisonic soundtrack. Because it’s Warren Miller, there are also shovel races and pond-skimming fails. 

7. Escape to Ski (1988)

It’s probably unfair to peg a whole movie to one segment, but the Telluride section in 1988’s Escape to Ski might be the most Warren Miller-y part of any Warren Miller movie. It features Zudnick the Wonder Dog riding the chair and “skiing” the Plunge with his owner, Scott Kennett, a great skier who gets slightly overshadowed by his sunglasses-wearing canine companion. There are neon onesies, bump bashing, and spread eagles—enough fun that Kennett and Zudnick went on to appear together in ten films. 

6. Playground (2007)

Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, Chris Davenport, Cody Townsend. Playground is arguably the most ski-star-studded of the modern Warren Miller films. Many of the athletes it features went on to define the current ski-film industry. Highlights: Julian Carr and the late Jamie Pierre huck cliffs, a prepubescent Sean Pettit shows what he can do in the air in the Japan segment, Simon Dumont puts on a show at the X Games, and someone rides a giant hotdog downhill. 

5. Ski People (1980)

Chris Patterson, Warren Miller Entertainment’s current director of photography and owner of every Warren Miller film ever made, says the opening sequence of Ski People is his all-time favorite segment. Yes, it’s full of glorious slo-mo shots of skiers like Phil Mahre and Ingemar Stenmark making floaty, long-ski turns. But it also goes a little deeper than basic ski porn with a segment about how 1964 Olympic downhill bronze medalist Jimmy Heuga’s skiing changed after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. 

4. Any Snow, Any Mountain (1971)

The formula for Any Snow, Any Mountain could just as well describe a film premiering this winter: Squaw, Whistler, and Japan, with a side of monoskiing and tandem skiing to up the novelty factor. Andy Bigford, who edited Miller’s autobiography and once ran the Warren Miller Entertainment Film Company, says he saw the film in a packed high school auditorium in northern Michigan when he was 12—and it made him want to be a skier. 

3. Have Skis, Will Travel (1956)

This is the film that planted the seed for gaper-day celebrations everywhere and cemented the jokey-but-dry narrative style that would become Miller’s trademark. Have Skis, Will Travel dives deep into the party culture of places like Switzerland and Wilmont, Wisconsin. It also features Doug Pfeiffer doing what at the time was called “stunting,” the precursor to any kind of freeskiing. 

2. Deep and Light (1950)

Cracking, grainy, and set to church music, Miller’s first major film, Deep and Light, still manages to convey the joy of the early days of skiing in places like Sun Valley and Yosemite. And it set the stage for almost seven decades of movies. “I walked out on the stage to face the crowd and started my introduction—a tale of the ski bum life: living in a small trailer in the Sun Valley parking lot, spending only $18 total for lift tickets for four month’s skiing,” Miller says of the film’s premier in his new autobiography, Freedom Found: My Life Story. “I talked about shooting rabbits in Shoshone for dinner and the rotary plow that threw our buried rabbit skins into the tree above the trailer and the intricate dance routine involved in getting undressed outside in the freezing night air in order to get into bed in the freezing cold teardrop trailer after a dinner date. The audience laughed at my stories, not just polite laughs, but amazingly loud laughter. So far, my ski movie night was working, and I hadn’t shown my movie yet.”

1. Steep and Deep (1985)

Steep and Deep heralded the dawn of extreme skiing. It made ski films cool instead of goofy, it introduced the idea of big-mountain skiing to the masses, and it gave a new generation of skiers the idea that they could make a living from chasing snow. “I had just started freestyle skiing, and Steep and Deep was showing off some classic freestyle and mixing it with cliffs,” says Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley, who now narrates Warren Miller Entertainment films. The extra-1980s, synth-filled soundtrack underscores the ballsiness of skiers like Scot Schmidt and Tom Day as they drop cliffs in the Palisades. And, of course, it goes nicely with all the one-pieces. 

Wild Card: Here, There, and Everywhere (2016)

This year’s film, which follows skiers and riders like Ingrid Backstrom, Jeremy Jones, and JT Holmes to Greenland and Switzerland, marks the first time since 2004 that Warren Miller has narrated a part of his film. (He backed out 12 years ago after a falling out with his son, who took over the production company and then sold it.) He’s back on board, and Jonny Moseley (who may or may not be contractually obligated to say this) says it’s his favorite film ever.

Filed To: Culture, Film, Skiing

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