Warren Miller movies endure through generations; ‘Chasing Shadows’ comes to South Shore
If you go
What: South Shore premiere of Warren Miller’s “Chasing Shadows”
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 4-5
Where: Harrah’s Lake Tahoe
Tickets: $16 plus fees
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Like every aspiring young skier in the mid 1980s, Jeff Engerbretson dreamed of one day slashing turns like Scot Schmidt, Tom Day and Robbie Huntoon in a Warren Miller movie.
More than 30 years later, he’ll settle for watching his daughter play out that dream.
“I’m definitely proud, but I’m definitely jealous,” Jeff said of his daughter Amie, who is among a handful of Tahoe-area skiers who appear in the latest Warren Miller Entertainment movie, “Chasing Shadows,” which is set to premiere at the South Shore this Friday and Saturday, Dec. 4-5, at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe.
Now in its 66th year of production, Warren Miller Entertainment endures as a staple of the evolving ski movie industry. Generations of ski lovers kept the tradition alive, including the Engerbretsons. It started with Jeff’s father in Idaho, who took him to Warren Miller premieres at an early age — back when Miller himself traveled to narrate the films in theaters.
“Literally since I could walk I’ve been to every Warren Miller movie, and Amie can say the same,” said Jeff, who moved to Squaw Valley in the mid ’80s to join his aforementioned idols — and to ski for Warren Miller. “I had this list of goals, and I basically checked off everything except skiing for Warren Miller. But now having my kid in the movies, it’s like, ‘OK, the Engerbretsons have done that, so we’re good.’”
A rising star on the professional freeskiing scene, Amie, 27, is joined in “Chasing Shadows” by fellow Tahoe skiers JT Holmes, Ingrid Backstrom and Sho Kashima. Squaw Valley Olympic icon Jonny Moseley narrates the movies, while Jeff has done freelance video work for Warren Miller over the past seven or eight years.
As any of them will attest, working on a Warren Miller set is still a big deal, even after six and a half decades and a growing number of companies challenging with progressive new films.
“It’s definitely the biggest break that I’ve gotten in my ski career, because Warren Miller is the most visible ski film in terms of the following,” Amie said Wednesday from Seattle, where “Chasing Shadows” premieres this week. “So it’s huge for me. I’m really excited about it.”
The Engerbretsons are not the only Tahoe family with close ties to Warren Miller.
Day, who moved to Squaw Valley from Vermont in the early ’80s, skied in eight Warren Miller movies, starting with “Ski Country” in 1984. He got into video work after several years starring in films and went on to become a cinematographer with Warren Miller. He holds the title to this day and is regarded as one of skiing’s elite filmmakers.
As with any good Tahoe father, Day passed on his love for the sport to his son Danny, as well as his knowledge of film. Danny ran with it. At 27, he now shoots video for Warren Miller and National Geographic. He spoke by cellphone Wednesday from the Arctic Circle, where he was working on the set of a National Geographic series called “Life Below Zero.”
“The first time I shot with Warren Miller, I think I was 16, and I went with my dad to Davos, Switzerland, and was just kind of like an assistant for him,” Danny recalled. “We’ve always worked really well together. It’s a pretty fun father-son team for sure. He’s my No. 1 mentor. Just working with him over the years was pretty much like going to a film school. Learning the ropes firsthand from him has been huge.”
Tom joked that he might have taught Danny too well.
“Now he’s working for other people; I miss him when he’s not working with me,” Tom said. “Of course I love having him there as a son, but I also miss having him there for his skills. He grew up around cameras, so it’s very second nature for him to know what’s going on on a film shoot. It’s a lot more than just applying what task it is you’re doing; it’s about being to step back and look at the whole picture and add to it in that sense, and that’s where he has a natural gift at it.”
Beyond Tahoe, Warren Miller movies are ingrained in American ski culture. The annual premieres that sweep across the country every late fall are not so much about hardcore skiing as they are about the experience.
While the films are anchored by their quality skiing and riding, they are also synonymous with their exotic filming locations around the globe, comical, dry-witted writing and general mass appeal.
“The formula never gets old, and Warren Miller has become such a tradition for so many families every single fall,” Amie said. “It’s fun to watch ski movies, but it’s even more fun to get together with a big group of people in a community and celebrate the change of season. It’s way easier to get stoked for something when you’re in a room full of people, rather than just watching it at home.”
Added Tom, “I think one of the biggest things that keeps the movie alive is variety. And it’s not geared to just extreme skiers. I think if you were a non-skier and you saw this movie, you’d come away with a good understanding of the sport. I think a lot of the other companies out there are really focused on the high-end talent and terrain and progression at the highest level of skiing, which is great.
“But I think our movie in a certain degree is more geared toward everybody. When I take a shot, I can imagine someone looking at a 30-foot screen going, ‘Wow, I wish I was there,’ instead of constant stuff that would scare people. But we also go for those shots whenever we can. If we can get shots that show what the high-end people are doing, we love doing that too. We just don’t want to saturate the whole movie with it.”