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Ski film pioneer John Jay dies

SUSAN WOOD, Sun News Service

Ski film pioneer John Jay, who was the official photographer at Squaw Valley Ski Resort during the 1960 Olympic Games, died of cancer in Encinitas a little over a week ago. He was 84.

As his family and friends reflect on the life of the ski industry icon who made 34 feature-length films, his widow Mary Margaret, 73, of Rancho Santa Fe, fondly recalled how Jay won her heart on the tennis court – not the ski slopes for which he became famous.

“He wanted a doubles partner and got my name off a tennis roster,” Margaret said of meeting her late husband of 20 years at a Carmel club. She agreed and the rest is history.

“At that time, I had only seen one of his films,” she said, remembering how he didn’t want to retire.

“You know he didn’t even know he had cancer,” Margaret said, describing her late husband as a “very active, bright man who loved people and loved entertaining.”

And that he did, according to friends around Lake Tahoe.

Squaw Valley founder and Chairman Alex Cushing, a good friend of Jay’s, was disappointed to hear the news Friday.

“I admired his sense of humor and unique sense of style,” Cushing, 87, said, citing a “certain personal quality” that came out in his films.

“He was an extraordinary man who will be sorely missed,” he said.

Donner Ski Ranch owner Norm Sayler skied with Jay when he made the rounds at Lake Tahoe resorts, but it was his appearances at the movie theaters for his own films that Sayler remembers more vividly. His films often played in an auditorium at Sacramento City College.

“These movies are what would get people excited about going skiing,” Sayler said.

“Everybody who was anybody on the slopes back then would come out of the (Sacramento) theater and ask where’s the snow,” he joked.

“Skis Over Skoki” highlighted a daring 1939 ski adventure in the Canadian Rockies. On the opposite side of the equator, “Head for the Hills” starts out with Jay skiing the notorious corn snow of Mauna Kea, a 14,000-foot peak on the Big Island of Hawaii.

His 1952 film, “Alpine Safari,” was nominated for an Oscar in the short-subject category and later became a Warner Bros. release under the title “Winter Paradise.”

Jay had skied all over the world, including Zermatt, Switzerland, Aspen, Colo., Sun Valley, Idaho, and Taos, N.M.

He was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame a decade ago.

“He pretty much invented the ski film business,” ski film mogul Warren Miller told AP. Miller followed in Jay’s footsteps, making 500 ski movies since seeing his first Jay film in 1947.

“We were competitors, but I can’t say enough about how good John was at what he did. He had a sense of humor that really separated him from everybody else,” said Miller, who retired himself a few months ago.

Jay shared his experience and wisdom in making ski films on his Web site.

“You have to know how to shoot and edit film, provide entertaining commentary and select appropriate music. You also need to know how to ski,” he said.


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