In 1946 Warren Miller and friend Ward Baker packed up an eight-foot long tear drop trailer, attached it to an ancient 1937 convertible Buick sedan, and set out on an epic five-month ski bum adventure on a total budget of $268.00. What ensued was a tale of misadventure and high jinks that today’s ski bums can only dream of eclipsing. As a snowsport instructor and well-seasoned snow bum myself, I find this book gives a hilarious but accurate portrayal of life as an itinerant ski bum from the ultimate ski bum himself – Warren Miller.
For the past five decades thousands of people have celebrated the upcoming ski season by flocking to see the latest Warren Miller ski film in cities around the world. Most attendees never stop to think how Warren got started in skiing, writing, and film production. In 1958, Warren wrote a first-hand account of his introduction to skiing and his first three months of ski bumming in Wine, Women, Warren, and Skis. The book is now in its 22nd printing, has sold over 250,000 copies, and is still for sale on the WarrenMiller.net website.
Wine, Women, Warren, and Skis is undoubtably the funniest book ever written about skiing and ski bumming. In his famous dry-humor storytelling, Warren documents how he and Ward Baker left Southern California with frozen mackeral, goat meat, and a dream of skiing at ski resorts around the West. To live and survive they scrounged, bartered, poached, forged, littered, trespassed, camped, worked, romanced, and partied at some of the finest ski resort parking lots in the West. Their interactions and evasion of local law enforcement show the true resourcefullness and guile or lack thereof, that young men intent on ski bumming are capable of.
Veteran ski bums across the world will recognize familiar themes in this collection of short stories and anecdotes. Stories of surviving on oyster crackers, ketchup, or anything free in the ski resort day lodge cafeteria. Camping in an unheated four by eight foot trailer at sub-zero temperatures in an army surplus sleeping bag used to store frozen meat and mackeral. Hunting rabbits and ducks from the running board of a moving vehicle. Vehicle and camper breakdowns in Little Cottonwood Canyon, on Teton Pass, or a stuck throttle at 85 mph through downtown Ketchum, Idaho.
Quite by accident, the history of skiing and western ski resorts are documented by Warren throughout the book. Skiers today will be amazed at the equipment and terrain skied back in 1946. Release-able ski bindings, shaped skis, and groomed terrain did not exist. Photographs however show people enjoying fresh powder, great skiing, and good times. If one were to take away the hairstyles, you’d think they were taken last night. Sadly, some of the ski areas Warren visited have closed and faded into memory.
While it’s the perfect book for skiers, anyone who enjoys a well told story will enjoy this book. It captures the pursuit of a sport that one is passionate about and how to live on a budget. Not many people today can find accomodations and vacation at a ski resort for 18 cents a day.
The only criticisms that I have about Wine, Women, Warren, and Skis is that it is far too short and there don’t seem to be too many ‘wine and women’ stories. As a moderately successful ski bum and frequent visitor to some of Warren’s old hangouts, I’m sure they exist – somewhere at the bottom of a drawer waiting to be released at some unspecified date. Hopefully, Warren will share them someday.
True ski bumming today has nearly disappeared. Ski resort rules, upscale developments, the cost of living, and more stringent Forest Service enforcement has put living the ski bum lifestyle on the endangered occupation list. If you are thinking about living the ski bum life, you better hurry up. At the least, Warren Miller’s book can teach you how to creatively thaw a frozen car engine or track down prize hens.
If anyone doubts the authenticity of any of Warren’s ski bumming stories, one can always contact him at his Facebook page. He’s been retired from film production since 2005 but is still actively writing and skiing. His columns can still be found in SKI Magazine and on the Ski Bum Forum at WarrenMiller.net.
Wine, Women, Warren, and Skis by Warren Miller