Photo by Chandler Burgess, courtesy of Killington
In 1990, Dan Egan and his brother John joined an international
expedition to climb and ski Mount Elbrus in Russia. With bad
weather, John decided not to attempt the summit, but Dan pushed on
and was trapped with others above 18,000 feet for 36 hours in a
raging snowstorm. It was a nightmare with 33 people dying on the
Dan came close to freezing to death himself and found
himself "having apparitions. It was a peaceful feeling that I
was going to be okay, but it would be hard on my brother John when
I died," he recalled. But he and a Russian climber had taken over
the role of leaders to a group of about 14 people they were trapped
with. They did "three crevasse rescues and eventually led the group
to safety, climbing down to the valley and arriving at
From this ordeal, Dan had learned the fallacy of the idea in
extreme sports-and among extreme sports onlookers-that you die with
a smile on your face when you're doing something you enjoy. Egan
doesn't buy that these folks "died doing what they love" so it
makes their deaths alright.
Death is final. They don't come back and some don't get to raise
their families, he said.
"I'm opposed to that. They didn't choose to die," he said of 25
professional athletes and friends of his who have died pursuing
their passions over the years.
Because of these direct and painful experiences, Dan does not
believe in, nor advocate, unnecessary risk. He will be discussing
sane approaches to enjoying the beauty and challenge of natural
terrain, as he teaches jumping and steeps and avalanche safety,
backcountry awareness and an overall approach to skiing out of
bounds. "I try and temp people's level of risk," he added.
But his approach to risk and challenge in his clinics is also
informed by his own understanding of how extreme or freeskiing
became popularized. He agrees that there is an irresistible 'siren
call' via monetary reward and fame, that benefits the experts, in
addition to the incredible feeling of accomplishment. But he
emphasizes the need for instruction and practice and expertise
before one heeds this siren call.
For backcountry adventures, it is important to have certain
skills like the ability to read conditions and the knowledge of
preparedness for what is involved.
"Instruction is a good way to gain that knowledge on what to
practice and how to improve; let alone tackling moguls,
backcountry, jumps, etcetera," Egan says. His clinics will explore
the trees and the new zones Killington has outlined for adventure.
(He also teaches clinics in Big Sky, MT and Val D'Isere,
Q&A with Dan Egan
How did you get into "extreme" skiing?
Growing up in New England we always found the challenging
conditions on hard trails fun. So whether it was narrow trails,
moguls or trees, my brothers and I always pushed our
When my brother John spent the winter 1983 in Squaw Valley and
skied in his second Warren Miller film (the first was at Sugarbush
Resort a few years prior) his reports back to me on the terrain
were so amazing that I moved to Squaw in 1986 and skied there
That resort changes the way you see the mountain and has been
the jumping off location for many serious skier looking to break
into the pro skiing scene. It was at Squaw that John and I together
joined the North Face Extreme Team and launched our pro skiing
careers as the Egan Brothers.
You often speak of how ski videos popularized extreme. Can
you relate one of the unexpected experiences you
In the early 1990s I had a letter from a family who had seen one of
our extreme skiing films and in the letter they complained about
the cliff jumps and the crazy skiing. That motivated us to start
Skiclinics.com and to run ski camps and clinics around the world to
teach safety and the skills needed to ski the steep and wild
terrain. I have always been proud of having an education side of my
ski career to expand peoples view on the mountains and help them
get to where they want to go safely.
Some of the athletes regularly court death on the flanks of
big mountains. Do you think that today's videos and films are as
much a glorification of tempting and cheating death as they are
about lines and beauty?
Today's tricks and aerial maneuvers performed by X-Game athletes
are as death defying as skiing 55 degree pitches in the Alps as I
did in the 80s; the difference is they are doing them on manmade
kickers within the resort boundaries and in the backcountry. No
longer are natural terrain features enough to highlight brains,
brawn and athleticism. These pros are building hits in undeveloped
valleys and using snow mobiles to pull themselves into and up to
new heights, while at the same time, blogging and posting "Go Pro"
videos of their experiences in real time.
The winter culture is being blended into a multi-sport culture.
Shane McConkey and his buddies crossed into this realm when they
started to "ski base" and now the "speed fliers" are going places
and placing lines on the side of cliffs that no one could access
with out these gliders and parachutes.
This multi-sport culture is pushing the real limits of life and
And there is no stopping as long as companies continue to
sponsor the athletes and films. It is here to stay.
The mistake the X-Games culture is making is that they are
searching for freedom in the face of fear and living under the
delusion that dying doing what you love is a good
Are the athletes doing it for the money, the desire to
challenge themselves, or the wish to gain fame as 'the person to
ski the steepest lines on the planet?'
The athletes are professionals, the pros have big time
contracts. From where we started in the 1980s to where it is
now, once the athletes make it on to the big stage of a major film
or competition, they are being well paid and the sponsors are
building their brands around the athletes and their personalities.
This is all part of the social media marketing and the conversation
between consumers and the athletes via twitter and Facebook. Fame
or popularity is a major part of the success. Athletes today are
being paid by their distribution or reach via social media. Much
like we were via our distribution of the VHS, but the contracts in
some cases are five times as much as we made.
Do you worry that as we see trained athletes going on
expeditions where they have to avoid seracs, rock fall, and glacial
crevasses or outrun avalanches that we are somehow encouraging
people to push their own limits when they should not be doing
Well, Alaska has made this idea popular, the idea of out skiing
falling snow and in some cases avalanches. But the reality is that
is particular to Alaska and the snow conditions there and the
terrain is perfect for this big fast, major air and straight lines.
Out side of Alaska, this is hard to duplicate. In Europe, nearly
impossible because the escape route doesn't exist and the
consequences' are too high. Many of today's "rock star" skiers come
to Europe and seek myself and others out to learn how to ski the
steeps and chutes because their straight line techniques don't work
over there. The want-to-be skier won't have the guts to try what
they see in the movies. It's just too intimidating.
One relatively new extreme skier's life was recently said
to be "defined by lofty ski objectives, and he's experienced plenty
of loss along the way. It's insane-and utterly
This may be seen as an insidious 'siren call' that is trickling
down to the inexperienced and dangerously so. Do you agree?
I always say stay away from so-called experts that are in love with
their lifestyle. That is a very dangerous place to be - people
operating from this concept are misguided and self-seeking. I often
get the questions, "how do I pick a good guide?"
My answer is always the same, "If a guide starts off by telling how
cool his lifestyle is, find another guide. The guide's first words
should be about safety, and what you want to achieve." If someone
is chasing a lifestyle of self indulgence stay clear.
What action can the experts and parents of those whose
judgment is not yet fully formed, take to temper the siren
Well, when it comes to ski resorts in the North America, the best
place to start is with the ski school. If skiers and riders
are looking for adventure on trail or off-the-beaten path, the ski
and snowboard schools have plenty of programs from park and pipe,
free-riding, coaching backcountry skills and so much more.
Unfortunately, we have developed a culture in this country where we
look down on ski schools and guides. It's not like that in Europe,
over there having an instructor or guide for the week is the
standard and in my experience has produced adventure, fun, safety
and a structure of professionalism not found in North America. It
is, however, what you do find when you go on a Heli or Cat Skiing
vacation because those operations are set up to deliver safe fun
What responsibility do extreme skiers and media have, if
I believe anyone making a living promoting himself or herself has a
responsibility to think about how their actions will affect others.
However, there are plenty of examples in pro sports and celebrities
who don't agree, or don't care, what others think.
There was a famous skier from New England who when they first made
it to the Olympics in Japan, the local community got together and
sent his family over to watch him race. Years later at his third
Olympics, in an interview with me, he mentioned that he didn't owe
his fans anything. That he purely raced for himself.
And I instantly thought of the fundraising efforts made for his
family to watch him win his first Olympic Medals and found that
statement very sad and off-track.
As my mother always said, "Dan, people are watching you, rooting
for you, praying for you. Don't forget that. You're being helped by
people you don't even know. Be nice, be gentle and be
grateful for the things you have and don't forget about the people
who look up to you."