Life on the Mountain
Warren Miller’s "Flow State"
The Best and Worst Ski Movie of the Year
In all likelihood, you’re going to see a better ski movie this winter than Warren Miller’s "Flow State." Releases by Level 1, Matchstick and Teton Gravity Research, to name a few, will feature gnarlier athletes, bigger lines, crazier rails and superior soundtracks. If you don’t believe me, you’re not watching the competition. The industry has evolved (beyond the obvious switch to HD cinematography) and Warren Miller hasn’t.
Fortunately, the franchise doesn’t really have to. "Flow State" is the 63rd film by Warren Miller Entertainment (WME), this year sponsored by Soldier Mountain. That’s literally more ski movies than the aforementioned production companies combined (TGR: 28 movies, Matchstick: 22 movies, Level 1: 13). Most of Warren Miller’s audiences were decades away from being born when he first began honing his craft on the slopes of Sun Valley, living in the resort’s River Run parking lot from 1946-49. Miller himself hasn’t personally produced or directed any ski movies since 1988, but that should take nothing away from the pioneering and prolific nature of the franchise that he founded over half a century ago. Miller didn’t just raise the bar, he created it. Period.
That being said, maybe it’s because of Miller’s absence that Warren Miller films have lost their innovative appeal, at least with ski town audiences who already know how to ski powder. Or maybe it’s because the company is owned by Bonnier Corporation, which manages 40 special interest magazines and is headquartered, ironically, in Winter Park, Florida that WME has lost its singular focus. Having hit the big leagues long ago, WME now advertises itself as a “full service production company” and serves mainstream clients, like The Weather Channel, Fox Sports and Field and Stream. WME’s annual feature-length ski movie is just one of its many projects, which span multiple industries. If you think I’m being unfair, then you’re in denial. Warren Miller Entertainment is no longer the independent company that it used to be: it’s grown enormously and expanded its activities far beyond rootsy ski movie premieres.
There are plenty of reasons that Warren Miller movies are what they are. But, like I said, the franchise doesn’t have to do much to stay popular. "Flow State," which played at the Sun Valley Opera House on Friday and Saturday wasn’t a bad ski movie by any means. The level of skiing was still high and the mountains were still big. Jonny Moseley’s narration, a franchise staple since 2008’s Children of Winter, was smooth and fun-loving. There was some incredible footage of the 10th Mountain Division learning to ski on prehistoric equipment during wartime and even a shadowy but impressive snowboard segment, which included no names or locations. It’s hard to go wrong shooting deep powder shots in Hokkaido, Japan and the WME crew nailed that too. More than a few beers deep by the end, the crowd got what they wanted: inspiration. We’d waited all week to take vicarious pleasure in massive descents by Ted Ligety and Chris Davenport, our enthusiasm piqued even further by Monday’s whiteout, and the pros delivered.
Warren Miller’s "Flow State" won’t win any Powder Awards; most of Friday’s audience will probably forget most of the movie. But that doesn’t matter. All of us will remember celebrating the start of another winter with buds and beer at a ski movie premiere. “It’s a ritual,” concluded Sarah Berman, a longtime local, on the way there, a ritual destined to forever include a Warren Miller ski movie. Anything else would be practically blasphemous.