By: Dan Egan
I often get asked how I ended up making my wintertime home in Big Sky, Montana. The answer is simple and complicated all at the same time. In my new book “Thirty Years in a White Haze,” I try to tie the entire tale together and it all starts with being lost in a mountain storm for thirty-eight hours, during which fifteen people perished. The following are excerpts from the book rewritten to fit this format.
In May of 1990, at 18,500 feet, I was in the belly of Mount Elbrus, a dormant volcano just west of the Black Sea and north of Russia’s border with Georgia, the highest peak in Europe. Each year, an estimated twenty-five to thirty people do not survive while attempting to summit the mountain. Elbrus is one of the Seven Summits in the classic mountaineering challenge: scaling the highest peak on each of the world’s seven continents. Elbrus has a higher annual death toll than Mount Everest, despite the list of tragic stories that emerge from the highest peak in the world, many of which have been made into riveting documentaries of triumph and loss.
The Elbrus ascent is steep and icy. Abrupt storms and sub-zero temperatures lead to frostbite and hypothermia. Its history of bad weather has frustrated climbers for centuries. And in 1990, this was where I found myself, pinned down by a massive snowstorm, digging a snow cave in a fight for my life.
My brother John was far below where I was, in the storm raging on Elbrus. We had traveled there with cameraman Tom Day to help document an expedition consisting of twenty-three people from nine countries.
Filmmaker Warren Miller had discovered John while skiing at Vermont’s Sugarbush Resort in 1978. By 1995, we had appeared in more than a dozen Warren Miller productions. While I was hallucinating, vomiting blood, and fighting for my life on Mount Elbrus, it was likely that somebody was enjoying the Egan Brothers, skiing in tandem on a VHS tape as we jumped cliffs and skied mountain steeps.
John and I helped bring extreme skiing from the mountains to Madison Avenue. Cameras followed us to places in Turkey, Canada, and Greenland, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Russia. And here we were on Mount Elbrus.
After that eternal two nights, my new Russian friend and I rescued another fourteen climbers and eventually found our way to the valley. Walking off that mountain alive on May 3, 1990, changed me forever. For the next thirty years, I’ve had to learn to restructure the patterns caused by that traumatic experience. That trip has touched every aspect of my life: relationships with my siblings, business, and financial decisions, and where and why I ski the locations I do today.
Soon after, my travel itinerary began to change. Instead of filling my winter calendar with as many dates and locations as I could possibly handle, I made the decision to visit fewer places and stay longer at each of them. Those frantic, globetrotting spurts of youthful wanderlust had abated. A bit, anyway.
In addition to my home base in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, I settled in at Big Sky, Montana, where I had hosted a handful of clinics through the years. It was a resort we had first visited in the 1980s on a whim, after hearing rave reviews. Big Sky’s COO, Taylor Middleton, who served as the resort’s marketing director at the time, always invited us back. Over the years, we shot film segments here and ran our X-Team Advanced Ski Clinics.
The Mount Elbrus disaster was the beginning of my adult life and from that day forward my outlook on the world around me changed forever. That has brought me not only here to Big Sky but also over the years, it evolved into a mindfulness approach to living and a skiing philosophy I share with all who attend my camps.
Since 2012, I’ve been hosting my Steeps Camps at Big Sky Resort each winter. It is the perfect training ground for skiers who want to improve their skills in the trees, moguls, as well as ripping groomers, plus Lone Peak stands alone when it comes to access to steep slopes and powder runs. When you add all of that up with the lift-served extreme skiing afforded here makes it a bucket list destination for skiers all over the world and I’m glad to call it my wintertime home.
Dan Egan has appeared in 12 Warren Miller Ski films and countless others and was inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2017. Today he teaches clinics and guides trips at locations around the world, including at Big Sky Resort. Thirty Years in a White Haze is available at Big Sky Sports and online at www.White-Haze.com.