I was studying for my finals at the University of Colorado in Boulder when the Warren Miller guys found me. Extreme Winter, Warren Miller’s 40th film, was being shot in France at Val Thorens, and they needed one more athlete. Mike Farny, a former U.S. Ski Team athlete and former head ski coach at CU that Vail Resorts had hired as head of course for the 1989 World Championships at Beaver Creek, recommended me. It was a dream come true; I grew up watching Warren Miller films and Mike racing. I ran around asking all my professors if I could go to France to do this. They were all really excited for me except for my sports psychology professor, who said he’d flunk me if I missed the final.
I went to France and took the F.
Learning how to ski for the camera is very different from just skiing, or racing. It’s like learning a whole new sport. I didn’t have a clue. I was trying to ski down perfectly, and the film crew said, “You skied that real clean. That’s great, but it’s like watching paint dry.” You need to make more snow explode, you need to exaggerate movement, you need to make it exciting.
Training with Ski Club Vail as a teenager, there were years when I never got off Golden Peak. I just trained gates all the time, and I was trying to catch up with the whole racing world. But this was the first time I had ever skied off-piste on steep terrain that was also an avalanche zone. I remember everything about that day. It was the day I experienced my first slide.
They were shooting us one at a time, and they pointed to a little chute for me to ski down toward the camera. They radioed, “OK, drop in three, two, one!” I started, and I remember seeing the cameraman and everybody running away, and I thought, “Am I that bad?” And then I realized I was going much faster than I thought I should be going; I was actually on a big plate of moving snow. It started crumbling beneath my feet, and somehow I naturally did the right thing and was able to go from the middle and duck behind a rock. The whole thing hit the road with incredible force right where the crew had been standing.
They all would have been buried.
I’ve been in dozens of Warren Miller films over 26 years. But that first one sticks out in my mind because everything was new and fresh. The cars we were driving. The risks we were taking. I did stuff. ... Ignorance is bliss. We went paragliding in Chamonix, not to be filmed, just to jump off a cliff and go paragliding. We just did things like that. It was crazy.
People think all professional athletes are rolling in it. I’ve never been paid once for a film shoot. You’re not making money, but you work all the time. The actual physical skiing is the easiest part of the whole thing. I hate the term ski bum, because we’re not bums. Like the Chris Davenports. These are some of the most intelligent, hardworking people. You are running a business. You just happen to be the business.
The Chris Anthony Youth Initiative Project started 18 years ago when Colorado Ski Country had a program called the Fifth Grade Passport Program, where all the fifth graders in Colorado got to ski for free. They named me as one of the spokespeople for it, but they didn’t have a plan about what my obligations would be. So with a little help from one of the Warren Miller cameramen, I came up with an idea that I’d go to the schools and share my Warren Miller experiences. Really, if you look at the films, they’re all from different places around the world. So now I’m taking the kids on a journey around the planet. They’re learning about geography, they’re learning about different cultures, they’re learning about science, and I’m telling them about my story along the way.
One of the things I felt was lacking was that I was leaving all of these messages behind, but then what happened when I left? So eventually, the project became a nonprofit, with a big foundation in Denver supporting it and a mission statement. The school visits are one component of that mission, but now there’s a second component: to provide scholarships and underwrite programs.
We’ve had a lot of avalanche incidents happen here because kids don’t know any better. A kid who goes to a school near the ocean, they give them swim lessons, they teach them about what a riptide is, they teach them about tidal pools—they know about the ocean. We have a whole generation of kids in this valley who have no idea about what the backcountry is, or what a cornice is, or anything. I didn’t know anything either until that Warren Miller shoot when I was 19 years old. This year, my foundation has underwritten a free snow science class for 40 kids in the valley who basically go through a Level 1 avalanche awareness class through the Walking Mountains Science Center. It’s teaching them to respect the environment.
I hope kids will be inspired by whatever I bring. It’s multiple stories. I’ve shared Climb to Glory, a documentary about the 10th Mountain Division I co-produced with Warren Miller Entertainment and the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum, with over 10,000 students, and I’ve scholarshipped more than a couple hundred. One inner-city Denver kid is getting a scholarship for a basketball program until he turns 18; I brought 25 kids from Five Points who had never been out of the city to Breckenridge for a day. I want kids to be inspired, and not just about skiing. If a kid has some big dream, any dream, I want to help make it happen.
The only reason I got to do all these things is because I was shooting for something much higher. I didn’t become a Bode Miller or an Ingemar Stenmark, but because of my failures I’ve probably been able to experience more of this sport than most people. It’s provided me with knowledge, and hopefully I can give a lot of it back.