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Classics: Don't Keep Score



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To preserve skiing history and to increase awareness of the sport’s heritage

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Bimonthly journal and official publication of the International Skiing History Association (ISHA)

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Classics: Don't Keep Score

By Warren Miller

At a certain point in life, it’s best to reward joy, not athletic achievement. That way, you can never lose. 

Most of us these days refuse to accept the fact that our bodies are aging before our eyes. There was a time in college when I could play basketball for four hours straight and not get tired. I could paddle a hundred-pound redwood surfboard all day or ski summit to base from first chair to last and not take a break. As I look back on my modest athletic career, I realize that the way I measure success has changed as much as I have.

In 1962, after surfing for 25 years, I gave it up and started racing sailboats. I knew that racing my catamaran didn’t require the agility of a teenager. I raced sailboats for 20 years, until I found myself getting beat by people half my age. So I moved on. To windsurfing.

I even moved to Maui for three months out of the year so I could do as much windsurfing as possible before my body wore out. When I was 65, I surfed from Maui to Molokai. About the same time, I came to realize that I would never ride the giant waves at Hookipa. Slowly it came into focus that my pursuit of any particular sport was changing at the same rate that my body was wearing out. I finally gave up windsurfing because it was just too hard on my body.

A while back, I pedaled my mountain bike to the top of Vail Mountain and then coasted down. I didn’t enjoy going up, but I really enjoyed coming down. That was about the same time Vail announced its lifts would haul you and your mountain bike to the top for a few bucks. My wife and I did just that. We coasted from the top to Mid-Vail, where we had a nice lunch and then coasted on down to the village.

In route we passed a lot of sweaty people pedaling up. We also passed the bike patrol administering first aid to a tourist who had hit a tree. We coasted all the way back to our house without turning a pedal. We didn’t set any speed records, but I loved how the wind felt on my face as I careened down the mountain. Were we lazy? Probably. But at my age, I didn’t feel the need to tell my friends how fast I pedaled to the top. The first liar never has a chance in these kinds of conversations.

When it comes to skiing, I have long maintained that moguls on the hill are like heartbeats: You only have so many of them in your knees, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. My knees wore out a long time ago, and since bumps make you turn in specific places, I avoid bumps the way I avoid political discussions.

Yes, I would still like to be able to jump cliffs, but my body won’t do that anymore. Come to think of it, my body never did jump cliffs—I just filmed other people doing that. But because of advances in snow grooming and shorter, wider skis to match my wider body, I can still ski down a hill at a speed that gets my adrenaline going. It remains a thrill like no other.

Is there a moral to this story? No. There is a lesson, however: As you age, recalibrate your values to reward joy, not physical prowess. No one keeps score on what you’re doing except you. Are you the fastest person in the over-50 age group to run up Mt. Baldy in your underwear? Who cares?

As I get older, I measure my athletic achievements by the width of my smile. This won’t give you bragging rights around the dinner table with your grandkids, but it does keep life interesting. Don’t give up on athletics; just reset your standards—and definition of success.

Climbing Mt. Everest is very difficult. A few years ago, a young Norwegian rode his mountain bike from Norway to Nepal, towing all his climbing equipment in a small trailer. Then he climbed Mt. Everest alone. At the summit, he snapped a few pictures, climbed down and pedaled his bike all the way back to Norway.

There is a lesson in this story: No matter what you do, there always will be someone who does it better. So do everything for the fun of it, and never mind keeping score. 

This column was published in the February 2008 issue of SKI magazine. Miller’s autobiography, Freedom Found, My Life Story, was published in 2016. He died in January 2018, at the age of 93.


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