TACOMA, Wash. — He kicked off winter.
Like clockwork, late October would roll around, and posters for Warren Miller’s ski movies popped up. It meant time to grab the skis and polls.
“It was the kickoff,” said professional skier Tyler Ceccanti, who has appeared in eight of Miller’s films. “I started going (to his movies) when I was 2.”
Miller, the legendary outdoor filmmaker who for decades made homages to downhill skiing that he narrated with his own humorous style, died Wednesday at his home on Orcas Island. He was 93.
For thousands like Ceccanti, his annual ski movies became a rite of passage. Especially here in the Northwest.
“You think of Warren, you immediately think of skiing and growing up in the Northwest,” Ceccanti, who grew up skiing on Crystal Mountain, said.
John Kircher, the president and owner of Crystal Mountain Ski Resident, met Miller for the first time when he was 6 years old. Kircher said the ski industry owes Miller almost everything.
"Warren Miller meant as much to the ski industry as any skier could possible imagine and describe," Kircher said. "He was a huge figure in the spirit of our sport."
Miller went up to Crystal quite a few times, and even did some of the artwork at Crystal Mountain. In classic Miller fashion, the iconic ski pioneer hanged the heavy wood pieces himself.
"He's in his 70's and he's up on a 10-foot ladder and we go, 'Warren can we give you a hand,' and he goes, 'No I love doing this,'" Kircher said.
Miller was born in the Hollywood area in 1924. He grew up during the Depression and said his family struggled to put food on the table.
According to a biography on his website, Miller bought his first camera for 39 cents when he was 12 years old. He used earnings from his newspaper route to buy his first skis and bamboo ski poles when he was 15 and took his first run at Mount Waterman near Los Angeles with his Boy Scout troop.
"I really believe in my heart that that first turn you make on a pair of skis is your first taste of total freedom, the first time in your life that you could go anywhere that your adrenaline would let you go," he told The Seattle Times in a 2010 interview.
Miller played varsity basketball at the University of Southern California and served in the Navy.
In 1946, he bought a camera for $77 and set off with his friend Ward Baker in a 1936 Buick Phaeton towing a teardrop trailer to ski destinations across the U.S., including Yosemite, Jackson Hole and Mammoth Mountain. They camped in parking lots of ski resorts, perfecting the ski bum life.
He once recalled loving the smell of rabbit frying in the silent evening while parked in Sun Valley's parking lot.
Miller launched his film career in 1950 with his first skiing film, "Deep and Light."
He headed Warren Miller Entertainment until the late 1980s, when he sold it to his son, Kurt Miller. Time Inc. bought it in 2000 and later sold it. Warren Miller Entertainment It is now owned by Active Interest Media.
Miller was inducted into the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame in 1978.
Despite his international fame, Miller never lost his down-home roots.
"He had a connection here," Kircher said. "For people who skied most of their lives, it's the end of an era. The Warren Miller era."
As long as films are produced under the Miller name, Ceccanti said, that old feeling of the start of winter won't disappear. Though he's gone, the spirit of Miller isn't going anywhere.
"He's a legend," Ceccanti says. "And legends never die."