Sundance didn't exist, not as a ski area and certainly not as a film festival, when Warren Miller made his first movie in 1950. He'd founded his ski film company the previous year, hence the name of its 50th annual picture, which also provides a sort of career retrospective for the genial Orcas Island resident. Before the era of low-budget indie filmmaking, Miller was camped out in the parking lot at Sun Valley, armed with an 8-millimeter camera and he was a one-man operation, shooting, editing and distributing his wares via a ski resort road-show circuit, actually narrating them live (like some silent movies). For powder lovers, Fifty serves its intended annual purpose of motivating skiers for the coming season. Its promise of untracked, uncrowded slopes and daring expert skiers is a cheerful fiction, of course, since none of us can ski so well or afford helicopter rides in BC or Alaska. All the staples of a Warren Miller ski film are there: breathtaking aerial shots of extreme skiers descending pristine white couloirs; boarders launching off unbelievably high cliffs; knowingly lame comic skits; massive wipeouts; and countless, shameless plugs for resorts, gear, and sponsors—all of it drolly narrated by Miller himself. Yet the best footage is the old, grainy stuff—actually shot on film—of Miller, his family and crew, of the vintage skiers and equipment, the treacherous rope tows and T-bars, and those wacky ski fashions of yore (most of them recently revived). In particular, the '70s hot-dog era stands out for its crazy threads and short-lived apotheosis of apr賭ski cool. That's when baby boomers really embraced the sport (still relatively affordable), and before its transformation into the expensive, corporate, real estate-oriented enterprise of today. Maybe that's why, after a half-century, Miller is essentially bidding an affectionate goodbye to the snow business in Fifty. His son now runs the company, which competes with hip
young competitors like Teton Gravity Research (Continuum, Uprising), while Miller accompanies its films on the road. There he can bask in his legacy, enjoying the good will of young boarders, their skiing parents, and even their grandparents who've made his films a favorite annual tradition. And that's not a bad way to schuss into the sunset. Meydenbauer Center, 11100 NE Sixth, Bellevue. 11/3-4 at 6 and 9. Later, Seattle Center Opera House: 11/19 at 6:30 and 9:30; 11/20 at 6 and 9. Information: www.warrenmiller.com. Tickets at Ticketmaster and local ski shops.