Kurt Miller Steps Into Dad's Ski Shoes
While most people would expect that the son of Warren Miller -- he of ski film fame -- would grow up on skis, the real story couldn't be farther from that educated guess. "We lived at the beach and were able to go on a couple of nice trips a year to Sun Valley," says Kurt Miller. "While my father was out working, skiing around the world, I was in school." But by age 15, the ski bug had bitten the younger Miller and he started working on his father's annual ski extravaganzas -- two hours of incredible footage highlighting beautiful scenery, unbelievable locales and some of the best skiers in the world. Now, at age 36, Kurt Miller runs Warren Miller Entertainment. Kurt and partner Peter Speek bought the company from the elder statesman of ski bumming five years ago. For much of the last decade, the team has produced and directed the movies that draw larger crowds with every year's new ski season. And, in the process, have turned a small film company into a diversified entertainment conglomerate that includes virtual reality, television production and, of course, the annual Warren Miller flick. This year's installment, Endless Winter is about to hit the theaters. "How we make our films has evolved," Kurt Miller says. "Peter and I look at the film as entertainment, not just a ski movie. When people go to see our movie they compare it to Jurassic Park and all the Hollywood films. We've really had to step up to a new level of quality as well -- editing with new technology, music, camera work -- it's all changed." And the content has changed also. Endless Winter, like all Warren Miller films, has certain segments just to make you laugh -- beginning skiers falling down and such. But it also has some scripted humor -- vignettes that are attached to the breathtaking ski adventures filmed in places like Blue River, B.C., and Las Lenas, Argentina. Taking audiences to exotic locales is always part of the Warren Miller movie experience. "Our thing is to search out those places that no one would ever think of going to," Miller says of this year's trips to Bolivia and Argentina. "We're always looking for places that people's imaginations would never even take them." And while papa Warren still writes the scripts and narrates the films, he rarely goes on shoots anymore. In fact, much of the time Kurt Miller and Speek rely on their director-cameramen to produce the far-away segments. "Our camera-people are actually skiers who learn how to run the cameras. They're the best in the world at what they do -- better than most of the skiers in the movie." And those skiers, most with an aptitude for fun and plenty of skier cheekiness, are found through cold calls they make to WME headquarters in Boulder, Colo. "They find us. We get calls on a daily basis saying 'Hey I can ski better than Kent Kreitler,' or whoever," says Miller. "We say, 'Okay, meet our cameraman at the bottom of the hill at 7 am. They ski a run and show up at the bottom of the hill 10 minutes later and that's it. The skiers who are in our films are like football players. They train year round, they've skied all their life. "And the people who call are mostly like the people who sit there like an [armchair quarterback] on Sunday and say, 'I could be doing that better than him.' People have no idea how good these skiers are. They truly are the best in the world." Knock on wood, says Miller, but nobody has ever been seriously injured filming a Warren Miller flick. And to achieve some of the incredible feats that the skiers achieve on a regular basis, however, has nothing to do with jumping off the highest ridge. "What we did when we took over the company, there were people making films having people jumping off higher and higher cliffs. Peter and I made a conscious decision not to do that. The goal of our films is to ski and to continue to ski. "It's very easy to jump off a 100-foot cliff," says Miller. "It's recovering at the bottom that's the hard part. Our skiers recover at the bottom. We want to promote the sport, not ridiculous stunts." Each annual film actually takes 18 months to produce from start to finish, so Kurt Miller, Peter Speek and their team are already working hard on next winter's feature. Also in the works are an IMAX film, a 3-D ski simulator in Las Vegas and a Hollywood-style feature. But at the core is the annual adventure that skiers around the world are guided through by a ski bum named Warren.