Warren Miller’s films are a rite of passage into ski season each year. From late October to early December the film goes on tour, with screening events in mountain-minded cities from coast to coast. The goal: get skiers as amped as possible for the upcoming season.
I caught the screening of Warren Miller’s 63rd film “Flow State” in Breckenridge, Colorado. A small crowd of enthusiasts filed in to the auditorium of the Colorado Mountain College, ready to get a glimpse of the world’s most elite ski athletes and locales.
Segments and threads
The film is structured into geographic segments and stories, whisking you from one mind-bending backcountry terrain to the next. Segments are tied together with a common theme of “flow state,” a sort of ski enlightenment where the brain switches off and a state of pure being takes over. Other common threads: MTV-esque editing and soundtrack that interrupt the Zen message, heli-ski access that few hobbyists will ever experience, and some awkward athlete self-enactments mixed in with documentary-style commentary.
The fourteen segments cover a lot of ground, from Alaska and Japan to Switzerland and Austria. As I watched, the segments started blending together in a white blur of adrenaline-pumped footage. But a few stood out as my favorites.
#1 favorite segment – Spoils of War
Set in Colorado in the midst of WWII, this fascinating piece uncovered a part of little-known ski history. During the war, the U.S. Army actually created a “mountain division” ski squad to defend the northern border or to take on one of Hitler’s mountain divisions in the Alps.
Miller cuts historical footage of the “10th Mountain Division” (as it came to be called) with recent footage of a soldier’s skier grandson Tony Seibert who keeps the story alive. Seibert marvels at the primitive equipment the 10th men were using. Military skis were around seven feet long and completely rigid. Even so, many of these skiing soldiers fell in love with the sport and became pioneers of the recreational ski industry in the United States.
#2 favorite segment – Time Travelers
“Flow State” leaves one of the best for last. The final segment is set in the extreme north of Norway on an archipelago called Svalbard just 600 miles from the North Pole. Here, a small expedition arrives by sailboat to the disorienting endless sunlight of arctic summer.
In this unreal landscape of icebergs, polar bears and walruses, there is no trace of human inhabitants and no helicopter in sight. The athletes make the climb with sheer manpower, noting the satisfaction of “earning their turns.”
Warren Miller delivers a foray into the pure fantasyland of elite skiing. The film combines the world’s best pro athletes with access to ultimate locations, and the results exceed even the wildest ski imagination. It makes the prospect of standard leisure skiing at resorts seem a bit prosaic, but reminds us that “flow state” is out there for any enthusiast to find.
For screening and film download information, see www.warrenmiller.com