Warren Miller's latest ski film pays tribute to Billy Poole

The Utah professional skier died while filming the movie
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The new Warren Miller ski movie has special significance for Phyllis Erck.

Her son, Billy Poole, died in January while being filmed for its Utah segment, crashing into rocks after a high-speed jump went awry on a steep, powder-laden slope in Big Cottonwood Canyon.

"It was a spectacular bluebird day, his last day," she said last week, reveling in the film's shots of Poole making powerful, stylish turns before the crash. "I can't wait to see it on the big screen. It was really, really beautiful . . . Billy skiing and smiling and being as happy as he could be. And he was very happy, very inspiring."

Erck hopes scenes of her son in a poignant tribute to the 28-year-old Montanan turned Utahn - will inspire worldwide viewers of Miller's 59th ski movie to donate to a memorial fund she set up to perpetuate his love of skiing and the outdoors.

Warren Miller Entertainment is donating gate receipts from one of three Salt Lake City showings (Friday's 9:30 p.m. performance at Abravanel Hall) to the fund, administered by The Park City Foundation. It will handle the paperwork for Erck's distribution of grants to non-profit groups sponsoring programs to get kids outside and treat "nature deficit disorders."

Getting the Poole segment right was critical to the filmmakers, said Max Bervy, producer and director of "Children of Winter."

"It was most important to make sure his mom felt good about it," said Bervy, especially since Poole's family and friends knew how much he valued being in a Warren Miller movie. "It was a huge goal for him. It helped legitimize his career, to be able to say "I've made it.' "

In the memorial segment, professional skier Jenn Berg said Poole's appeal extended beyond his skill at carving turns.

"His commitment to the day, the line or just the single powder turn is really what Billy was all about. He's 110 percent. He gives it his all and nails it with true passion," she said.

Berg is featured in "Children of Winter's" six-minute Utah segment along with fellow Salt Lake skiers Jamie Pierre, Julian Carr and Jeremy Nobis. Filmed in a year when Alta received more than 700 inches of snow, the segment's theme is naturally on powder.

"Ahh, Utah powder," said Carr. "The world is a better place because of it."

As always, that emphasis appeals to Leigh von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. There's nothing like expert skiers cutting fine lines through deep snow on plunging mountain faces to excite the masses.

But what von der Esch liked this year were scenes, such as Pierre knifing through a grove of trees, "that seemed more accessible to me. This looked like terrain that I would want to be part of. It looks like you could be floating in it."

The Tourism Office allocated $350,000 to Ski Utah to complete a three-year run as a sponsor of the movie's national tour. Besides extra name recognition, the relationship with Warren Miller gives Utah's ski industry access to film clips that can be used in other promotions.

"They give us our segment and we play that in a loop in all of our trade shows around the world," von der Esch said.

The partnership with Warren Miller has been good for Ski Utah, said Nathan Rafferty, president of the marketing organization for the state's resorts, noting that Utah's segment is between two ski world heavyweights - Austria and Sun Valley.

Still, the tour sponsorship will lapse after this run.

"We wanted to hit it three times in a row and to stay on message all three years - that we have incredible snow," Rafferty said. "We've done really well and now it's time to look at some other opportunities. We'll come back to Warren Miller when we come up with other ways to make it unique."