Warren Miller Entertainment owners serve up advice at CAP luncheon

When Kurt Miller bought out his father’s adventure film company in 1989, he felt a once-great brand was floundering but could be turned around, he said Tuesday in Longview.

Miller of Boulder, Colo., and business partner Peter Speek knew they needed to modify Warren Miller Entertainment’s ski films to reflect the changing times. They quickened the pace of the films, improved the musical scores and offered free ski passes to viewers.

Within 10 years, Warren Miller films were back in the spotlight, and Speek and Kurt Miller had quadrupled business by 2002, they told business leaders at a Lower Columbia CAP luncheon at the Cowlitz Expo Center.

“We saw an opportunity to evolve our business and our product,” said Speek, 56, whose father-in-law, Tim Welch, is the CAP Foundation director.

About 300 people attended Tuesday’s Second Annual CAP Foundation business lunch, designed to highlight the social service agency’s achievements over the year and inspire business leaders to improve their sales and give back to their community.

Speek and Miller did just that, selling their business in the early 2000s and launching a nonprofit film production company called Make a Hero. On Tuesday night, the two men showed their latest film, titled “The Movement,” at the Columbia Theater. Narrated by Robert Redford and Warren Miller, the documentary is the story of a man who returns to the ski hill where he crashed and became paralyzed.

“We make movies. We get people excited about helping people. It’s the same way that CAP gets people excited about helping the community,” Kurt Miller, 53, said.

Warren Miller started making ski films after he returned home from World War II and moved to the mountain resort community of Sun Valley, Idaho. In 1949, he launched Warren Miller Entertainment, which produced more than 50 ski films, most of them featuring dramatic photography and the athletic abilities of professional skiers, Inside the world of skiing, Warren Miller and his company were soon household names.

Kurt Miller and Speek said they learned a lot on the fly when they took over the business, and there were times when they feared they wouldn’t make it. A key turning point, Miller said, was when an executive at Colorado’s Vail Ski Resort saw one of the films and offered free lift passes to viewers, saying it was a great promotion tool for the industry.

“You need partners to help you grow your business,” Speek said.

CAP officials said they local businesses can learn from the speakers at the business lunch.

“We wanted to invite Peter and Kurt to tell their story of how they developed Warren Miller Entertainment into a worldwide brand with the idea that it could inspire us in our own business community,” CAP spokesman Alan Rose said.

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