This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.
When word trickled out that this year’s Warren Miller movie was going to be a retrospective tour through the late moviemaker’s film archive, the message quickly spiraled into a tale of a new owner trimming costs and burying the venerable brand.
“Word of our demise has been greatly exaggerated. Greatly,” said Chris Jerard, a ski media veteran in charge of the Warren Miller movie tour.
“If it was like a game of telephone, someone should have actually called us on the telephone and asked us what’s up,” said Micah Abrams, another former SKI magazine boss in charge of content strategy for Outside Inc.’s growing stable of adventure sports brands.
Warren Miller Entertainment is still very much alive and the annual movie is a critical cornerstone of Boulder-based Outside Inc.’s new video and streaming business plan, Abrams said. Even though, for the first time in 74 years, the annual Warren Miller movie this year will not include fresh footage of athletes plundering powder.
Outside has a plan for Warren Miller Entertainment, which the company acquired in the summer of 2020 alongside SKI, Climbing, Backpacker, NASTAR ski racing and 11 other magazines, events and brands from Boulder’s Active Interest Media.
The media juggernaut formerly known as Pocket Media in the last few years has acquired more than 30 media titles — including Outside magazine in 2021 — using financing from heavyweight investors. Led by Colorado investor Robin Thurston, the strategy involves offering a single subscription to its lifestyle magazines and brands without a complete reliance on advertisers.
But Outside’s plans have not necessarily unfolded exactly as projected. Last year the company cut its workforce, closed magazines and reduced print publication for most of its titles. Outside is making big changes to traditional media business models.
“There is some change coming to how we make the Warren Miller movie and how we show the film in the theater,” Abrams said. “We are pretty excited over here to change some things up.”
This year’s Warren Miller movie is “the first of a two-year party,” Abrams said. The movie this fall will be looking back, with never-before-seen footage from the Warren Miller archive dating back to the ‘50s. The 2024 film will feature new video, new athletes and new contributors as part of a 75-year celebration of Warren Miller, the pioneering skier whose first-of-their-kind films helped launch American skiing.
The Warren Miller movie will continue to tour, visiting 60-plus cities for festive showings that draw more than 70,000 fans. They are calling it the Get Outside Winter Tour. (Outside has all sorts of taglines for its plans … things like “Bring Winter to Life” and “Winter Lives Here.”)
The annual Warren Miller film will be a big part of the company’s plans for its new Outside Watch, a web-based video platform formerly known as Outside TV that now offers domestic U.S. Ski and Snowboard World Cup contests and the Dew Tour. Outside Watch is part of the $45-a-year Outside + subscription plan.
This year’s Warren Miller film will include short ski films from new directors selected in an Outside contest designed to boost up and coming filmmakers and photographers.
“For the kids out there filming their friends. The idea is ‘Who is the next Jimmy Chin and where does she come from?’” Jerard said. “We really expect this will bring a lot of new energy.”
Those winners could play a role in making the 2024 Warren Miller movie.
Angst over the Warren Miller plan was sparked by the company’s longtime film director Chris Patterson. Late last month Patterson posted on Instagram that he was not filming a Warren Miller for the first time in 30 years, saying that “due to financial challenges at Outside, executives have chosen to assemble the future movies with existing footage.”
“It’s heartbreaking and I’ve been in disbelief since hearing the news just before Christmas,” he wrote. “I’ve truly loved my career behind that camera, every day proudly following in Warren’s ski tracks.”
While he was off with the suggestion that all future movies would be archival footage, “the fact is no one is filming the Warren Miller movie this winter,” Patterson told The Sun.
“That has never happened in the 74-year history,” he said, wondering why Outside would choose not to film a new movie when the West is boasting record snowpacks after two years of travel restrictions and less-than-stellar snow.
“And we’ve never had the innovation like we have today to capture the most mind-blowing action with drones, GoPros, gimbals. Skiing and snowboarding have never been more progressive than right now,” Patterson said. “In my opinion this seems like the wrong winter to go back to the vault for creative reasons and make a retrospective film entirely edited with existing footage. Clearly something is out of alignment.”
Patterson still thinks finances — not creative redirection — are the reason for the archival movie this year.
“I think that most people feel that this is a strong sign of what is to come and it’s potentially the beginning of the end. At least that is what I hear from people,” Patterson said, adding that he asked Outside to sell Warren Miller Entertainment to him and his film crew “to protect the legacy” but has not heard back.
Abrams, who was part of the innovative Freeze magazine in the 1990s, and Jerard, who helmed Freeskier magazine, are adamant that the annual Warren Miller movie and tour is a cornerstone of Outside’s business plan to build an online video destination for all things skiing.
“There really isn’t one place for all this winter content,” Jerard said.
Work on the next two Warren Miller movies are underway with a focus on “creative collaboration,” Abrams said.
“We are reaching out to well-known production partners in the ski and snowboard space but also less well known and the tenor of those conversations are that all of us, in some way, shape or form, are the descendants of Warren Miller and his form of filmmaking,” Abrams said. “This whole two-year process, we are calling it a love letter to everything Warren Miller created and which brought us up to this point at the 75th anniversary of his films.”