70 years; that’s quite a run for a ski film that had its humble beginnings back in 1949. However, if there is one thing that Warren Miller movies have proven over the past seven decades is that the enduring passion skiers and snowboarders have for their sport and his movies is Timeless. That just so happens to be the title of the newest installment of Warren Miller films and this one word says it all. You would certainly be hard pressed to find its match in the skiing world. That is unless you are referring to Glen Plake and his legendary multi-colored mohawk.
Equally as timeless, Glen Plake is the true definition of icon in the world of skiing. If you are reading this and old enough to remember his original stardom in The Blizzard of Aahhh’s you too probably looked up to him. Quite literally if you were like me and had a poster of Plake and his mohawk plastered to your wall. He was the original bad boy of skiing and someone we all aspired to be.
Plake has appeared in many ski movies since then, Warren Miller and others. There are too many to even list. However, it’s been a while since Plake last appeared in Warren Miller’s Higher Ground in 2005. This year he is back in a big way. It only makes sense with a film dubbed Timeless. Having caught up with Plake recently, I learned that although he has taken a few years off from Warren Miller films he certainly has not taken them off from the rest of his endeavors. From his attaining three levels of certifications with the PSIA and working toward his AMGA guide certification to racing in the Baja 1000 and being a host on History Channel’s Truck Night in America, to his continued championing of the little guy with his Down Home Tour, Plake is far from a legend who has fallen off the map. In fact, at the young age of 55, he is thriving and proving that he, his skiing ability and his mohawk are truly timeless.
1. Was the last Warren Miller Film that you were in, Higher Ground in 2005? Why the layoff?
Yeah, something like that. I mean that’s just Warren Miller stuff, you know, before even Johnny started narrating when there was some transitions in the company there. At the same time the only time you ever end up being in a Warren Miller movie, your sponsors facilitate some sort of spot in it. And, the people that I am associated with aren’t necessarily part of the Warren Miller annual sales so that’s the only reason.
I had some other projects that I’ve done and when the call came in from PSIA to put some instructors in the film, and me being associated with that group, they said we want you to ski so that put me into the film and that was cool. It was awesome to get the call, I love it!
2. What was it like to be back filming with WME and being that it was the first one that you were in since his passing, did that have any effect on you while filming?
What was happening was Chris Patterson was the cameraman, who has obviously had a massive legacy in the Warren Miller films.Tom Day ended up doing some kind of some camera work at my house digging through some archives. That was quite funny because, me and Tom were in our very first films together. So there was some good reminiscing there. You know, me and Tom did the the backcountry segment years ago for a Warren Miller film. We did all the retro footage, we created all that together. It was great working with those two guys who have had a long legacy with Warren Miller. It was also nice to hear and be in contact with Josh Haskins again. He was not much more than a dang intern last time around. It seems like and now he’s in a pretty big responsibility.
So aside from Warren Miller’s passing the nuts and bolts of Warren Miller, the integral working parts of the production are still intact. I was happy to see that and it was fun to work with them.
3. What role did Warren Miller and his movies play in your life as a legendary skier?
So I’m kind of funny, and I always kind of laugh when I have this kind of question, because while I was certainly aware of Warren Miller films, and I grew up around the Warren Miller film, it was never something that I was that gravitated to. I gravitated to Roger Brown films or Dick Barrymore films and then, even as my career began, I started skiing with Greg Stump’s films. To be really honest Warren Miller was, in fact, an opponent, the other team or whatever you want to call it. And they went out of their way to make things difficult for us and we tried to go out of our way to make ourselves better than them and I even think it caused them to be better than they were, to be very honest. Even if I did want to go back to more ancient times growing up, we only had three TV stations in town and they used to play all the old John Jay films. Which was actually the precursor to Warren.
However, that is nothing to take away from Warren Miller and the massive effect that he’s had on skiing, and his dedication to the sport and everything else that he’s without a doubt responsible for.
4. Having a chance to watch your segment, why did you get PSIA certified and why was it important for you to become PSIA certified?
A few different things, one, from a personal standpoint, I had no certifications whatsoever. I found myself in some working environments, especially in Europe, doing some journalist trips that would have, let’s say, it just became apparent that I needed certain things like that. It was always assumed that I had one of those certifications and I did not.
From a professional standpoint, as I joke around with one of my buddies who is a world champion motocross racer, who does not, in fact, have a motorcycle driver’s license, oh, my God, totally kind of the same thing. I’m like, dude, I don’t have a ski license.
Through a personal experience, like I say, not only had I been cornered by that, but also I was asked to be a spokesperson for learn a snow sport month. And, it kind of all came to a head when on the Today Show, I was told to instruct the lady Hoda how to ski and she was a first time never ever, skier. And it became very apparent very quickly that I had no idea how to, especially at that level. I had no format. I know how to ski but knowing how to ski and being a teacher are two totally different things.
5. Can you take me through the process of getting certified?
You start with a level one. And so I took a level one in Breckenridge with 250 new hires on a December weekend. Going through the level one certification process got me curious about teaching and the format, how it all works and and the next thing you know, a level two was on the list. After level two I took a year off to kind of let it absorb a little bit because one of the mentors said don’t fast track this one. It won’t be done in good taste. I know they knew that I wanted to do this right otherwise I wouldn’t have done it with a bunch of new hires. I would have cheated. I would have figured out some sort of shortcut and I never did. They knew the sincerity that I had. I wanted to be there getting it like anybody else. I didn’t want any special treatment. So I took a year off and jumped back into it and did my level three.
6. Can you discuss the importance of learning from certified professionals like yourself?
This applies to the ski film, specifically to the ski films in the 80s. Ski school got a pretty bad rap. Yeah, for various reasons, you know maybe it was the movie, I don’t know. Ski instructors had this Adonis arrogance about them. It wasn’t the rough and tumble ski instructor of the 60’s and 70’s at all. It wasn’t that that rugged individual of the 50’s and 60’s, that Austrian descent ski instructor. It just got weird. They started getting a bad rap, especially among their piers. I mean, we laughed at the ski instructors, you know, especially at how they skied. There’s plenty of stories around the area that I grew up. In the old days they thought they were gods and they weren’t, right, and they still aren’t.
It was in the late 90s when the formats were changed, the perfect bones were destroyed. And you know, the skills concept was adopted and all these things that I was ready to contest at my level. It all made sense to nail it man. So there was this transition within the organization. And in that transition I wholeheartedly respect and adhere to the concepts from the bylaws that we’ve created.
7. How is that integral to you as a skier and your segment in Timeless?
The film was to say, hey, the instructors actually are pretty cool people. They actually are great skiers and they actually like to go have fun, just like everybody else. And, you may learn something from them.
8. In your segment, you talk about ski instruction turning people on to something that they are going to do for the rest of their life. Can you elaborate on the significance of this and the connection that it has to human interaction?
I’m giving you the basics of something that I hope you will do for the rest of your life and we’re sitting here treading water. You know, I hope you’ll be able to swim for the rest of your life by the time we’re done. And how is that important to like that human interaction component? It’s wonderful to be able to give that gift to somebody. This is a lot of work, a lot of books, a lot of tests a lot of a lot of turmoil within my own self, you know, getting ready for exams and and being on the exam environment it’s not easy. And, but at the same time, it’s important for me as a professional to make sure that you have an experience like no other. That’s something only I can give you. It’s a professional’s ability to give you something you will never forget, and give you something beyond anything you ever expected.
9. Describe what it was like skiing at Mustang Powder? Was that your first time there?
Yeah, never been there. What a great operation. The lodge is super cool and the people are super cool. The food’s great! The cats are all cool. I’m always hesitant about going to places because sometimes it’s less than what I expect them to be. Mustang was awesome! The powder was great, everything about it was fantastic. Even the price. The price for the snow quality versus what the resorts are asking you to pay for now, tell me about your powder pocket, versus powder run. The price and the logistics everything about that was a great, great opportunity
10. That looked like a cool little cabin you were hanging in after skiing, can you describe the après ski scene there?
Great scene. You know, great food and everything. And no electronics allowed on the fourth floor after four o’clock in the afternoon. No phones, no i pads, nothing!
11. Being big on making connections with so many of the people that you come across, how does sharing stories of your experiences at après play a role in that for you?
Same deal dude. You’re there, you’re hanging out. You’re eating there, you’re socializing there, and I talked to Nick (Holmes-Smith the owner), he said about five years ago when the phones came around nobody talked to each other. So he made them illegal. They have music playing that should stimulate enough.
12. In what direction do you think the sport is going? In general? For yourself?
Downhill. It better be, right?
Rich Stoner is the founder of the après-ski lifestyle clothing and media brand, All About Après. No stranger to the ski and après-ski scene, Rich has been a long time contributor for many publications on topics like skiing, gear, beer and food. However, his passion is on the slopes and enjoying good times with good people. You can find him perfecting his craft carving turns and drinking beers in the Green Mountains of Vermont. @allaboutapres