Snow, no flakes

Dec 5, 2007 at 12:00 am

Warren Miller, the man, is getting old. He's somewhere in his mid-80s, but no one at his Boulder, Colo.-based company seems to have his exact age. They do know he's retired from full time, lives in Washington state and runs a ski program in Montana.

Warren Miller, the man's movie series, however, is staying young, fast and daring with this year's Playground, the 58th of Miller's annual ski action-feature-travel-comedy films. It's part MTV, part X-Games, part travelogue.

Playground will have four showings in Royal Oak this weekend, and will undoubtedly be attended by ski enthusiasts wearing parkas and shells decorated with their lift tickets from last year.

The audience knows what to expect: The Warren Miller genre hasn't changed much since its slopeside birth 57 years ago in a 16-mm camera. A ski bum extraordinaire, Miller lived out of his van, shooting footage to ski as much as earn a living.

In those early decades, the films were shown at small venues — mainly in ski towns — with Miller sitting on stage to narrate in real time.

Now, Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley is the scripted host, and Jeep is the title sponsor. See, the Warren Miller films go on tour now. And that tour will reach 185 cities this year just as the weather is getting colder and the slopes are opening.

"It's intended to get you fired up, not necessarily wanting to ski like the people in the movie, but to go skiing in general," says Craig Oberlink, the movie tour's press flack.

Like its predecessors, this year's film takes viewers through the obligatory deep powder and steep terrain skied by experts and celebs in up-to-the-moment clothes using cutting-edge gear. The Beastie Boys, Maroon 5 and Queens of the Stone Age grace its soundtrack.

Playground sequences range from the U.S. Freeskiing Open and Alaskan heli-skiing adventures; it shows winter activities on Japan's Hokaido Island and in Utah's famed Wasatch Range — which lives up to its self-proclaimed "Greatest Snow on Earth" slogan.

In the Warren Miller globe-trotting spirit of finding winter sports in unlikely places, Playground includes skiing in the desert. (Included are scenes of the indoor ski hill in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which was built in an upscale shopping mall. When the skiers aren't skiing, they're filmed riding camels on the beach.)

Parents may cringe at the segment on professional snowboarders, some of whom are too young for junior high. But Warren Miller movies are still that rare breed of entertainment that families, singles, couples, drunks and friends of all ages can embrace if not replicate.

At 6:30 and 9:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 7, and 6 and 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980, $18.