How Warren Miller Became the Godfather of Action Sports Filmmaking

Warren Miller near the Matterhorn. Photo: WMC

It’s hard to imagine a day where every kid on the mountain didn’t have some action sports camera rig mounted to their helmet, with a friend flying a drone nearby, all to capture the same jump on a nice blue groomer. Don’t get us wrong, the tricks these days people are pulling off on the mountain, the places people are able to go, the way we are able to capture it all has improved significantly.

Personally we can’t wait for the first virtual reality snow flick to come out…maybe it already has. But what if we told you that it wouldn’t be able to exist without one guy born in 1924 in Southern California, who just had a passion for surf, snow, and making movies?

Warren with his Bell & Howell, filming "California Skis and the Hariman Cup"—when he still had a little hair left.

Warren with his Bell & Howell, filming “California Skis and the Hariman Cup”—when he still had a little hair left. Photo: WMC

Warren Miller grew up during the Depression in an unloving, dysfunctional home, and eventually found his freedom, and later his career, by escaping the domestic chaos and exploring the outdoors.

After serving in WWII and nearly going down with his sunken ship, Warren returned to Southern California where he bought an 8mm camera and 3 rolls of film and jumped around the majority of the ski resorts out west (shells of the tourism centers they have become today) for a few years, living out of his teardrop trailer and shooting as much ski footage as he possibly could.

Spending the 1949-1950 Winter in the recently opened Squaw Valley, Warren completed his first feature length Ski film “Deep and Light,” in 1950.

Over the course of his career, Warren would end up directing 55 feature length action sports movies (ski + snowboard), and producing or being involved with dozens of others. We repeat…feature length.

These weren’t your general four minutes of GoPro footage with graphics, 25 angles, and board-mounted cameras. They were a beautiful portrait of a visionary in filmmaking, who featured the mountains as much as a part of the story as the skiers themselves.

Finding home—discovering the sad bum's sanctuary in Montana.

Finding home—discovering the sad bum’s sanctuary in Montana. Photo: WMC

It was his love for the sport, his storytelling, and his dedication to the craft that made these movies legendary amongst snow enthusiasts around the world. He was a hustler, an entrepreneur, an artist, but most importantly an outdoorsman first, and it showed with every one of his films, all of which Warren narrates himself.

With a recently published autobiography titled, Freedom Found: My Life Story, Warren discusses “the lifestyle, the nonstop travel, financial disasters, family regrets, lasting friendships made along the way, and the jaw-dropping global mountain adventures that defined his career.” With the ever-changing landscape of the modern ski resort, Warren reminds us of a day with no rules—when all you needed were a few rolls of film and a vision to start a revolution.

He is a pioneer in filmmaking, truly using classic storytelling techniques and grand cinematography to consistently create timeless films that the public adored, a nice break from the flashy gimmick-filled productions that we see on our phones today.

A line from the recent book says it best, “Warren’s story is full of success and failure, colorful first-person ski history, nostalgia and romance, lessons learned and others ignored. It is the heartwarming and at times heart-wrenching account of an American innovator, a man who did it his own way, understood the importance of making people laugh, and never looked back…until now.”

Check out all of Warren’s upcoming projects + movies via his website and archival YouTube channel. To pick up a fresh copy of his autobiography, jump over here.