Northern Rockies/Alberta Dan Egan Steeps Camp at Big Sky, 3/5-7

Beartown

Chasing the dragon
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Apr 24, 2017
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This is a camp I've wanted to do for a while, and finally had the time and fitness to give it a go. It is run by Dan Egan, a skiing icon and hero of numerous Warren Miller films. It is run through the Big Sky ski school. While Dan frequently points out that he is certified in "absolutely nothing", all the other instructors are PSIA Level 3, two are currently gunning for the Alpine Demo Team, and one was in last year's Warren Miller movie (Timeless). Our Big Sky instructors were AJ, Ben, Tim, and Chris. They are all personally selected by Dan for their skill and teaching ability. Here's a breakdown of ,y experience in the camp.

DAY 1
To start the camp, we met at the ski school at 9:15 to check in and sign waivers. Around 9:30, we took Ramcharger up for warm-up run down Elk Park Meadows. Our second run down moguls on Africa was used to split us into groups by ability. I started with Dan and a Big Sky instructor named Chris. They took us through bump and tree runs off Ramcharger (Africa, Colton Hell) as well as a very steep tree run down to Thunderwolf (War Dance). There I tested my self-arrest skills after falling on a 55 degree pitch of trees in a head-down/face-up position. I slid about 200 feet, miraculously did not hit any trees, and was able to recover my skis and poles. Image below shows where I fell and slid from x to x. Did another tree/bump run down to the base for lunch.

After lunch, we met up at the ski school at 1:00. We shifted coaches (to AJ) and did a warm-up run off of Ramcharger (Ambush Glades). We then headed up Swiftcurrent and Powder Seeker for a few runs in the bowl. There we worked on general tactics for steeps. After that, we took 4 runs off of Challenger (Country Club/Highway/17th Green/Moonlight/Big Rock Tongue) working on steeps tactics as well as practicing vertical/near-vertical drop-ins that would help us prepare for Lone Peak runs and the Big Couloir. Last run we took back to the base for a final bump/tree run off of Ramcharger (Congo). Left coach at the base around 3:50. Overall, day one was about providing foundational skills geared toward getting us down the Big Couloir. We spent a lot of time learning deceleration skills in steep terrain. We also practiced skiing through tight choke-points as well as transitioning into very steep slopes. Dan seems to really want all of us to have the opportunity to succeed in the Big Couloir, even though a number of participants do not plan to attempt it.

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DAY 2
On day 2, I was “promoted” to a higher level group, and had Dan as a coach in the morning again. Conditions were bluebird, with no snow for 5 days, calm at the bottom with 40 mph wind gusts at the top.

We warmed up with a run on the bowl, then did self arrest drills, practicing in all positions both with a single ski and without skis. Then we proceeded up the tram (through the “back door”!) and after a blustery traverse, took a creamy smooth run down Lenin (which had been wind-loaded and was untouched). Worked on more steep terrain deceleration tactics as we headed down to Shedhorn lift. Back up the tram to even crazier wind conditions, we fought our way down through Yeti Traverse and Gullies Traverse. The gale-force assault dissipated as we rounded the corner to the top of the Gullies. After a “come-to-Jesus” talk about how we were in a serious no-fall zone, we shredded the smooth soft (again, wind-loaded) chute of Gully1 (pictures below), skied the bowl and headed in for lunch.

The afternoon was windier, and we couldn’t even get up Swift Current for about an hour due to wind hold. My PM coach was Tim. Making the best of the conditions, we rode Ramcharger up and did some soft tree/bump runs (Shady Chutes and Ambush Meadows), before finally making it up Swifty and Powder Seeker. By this point, the tram was closed for the rest of the day due to wind, so we spent the rest of the day seeking steeps and buttery wind-load on Challenger. We took 5 runs through variations of Highway, 17th Green, Big Rock Tongue, Moonlight, Midnight, Comet, and Outer Limits before heading home for the day. Teaching pearls for the day focused on efficient deceleration, maintaining ready body position, and “practice terrain” for the Big Couloir. Over the first two days, we were taken through progressively more steep/difficult terrain that ended up with us having skied things that were steeper than the Big, narrower than the Big, had worse snow conditions than the Big and had worse entrances than the big. At the end of day 2, Dan told us we were ready to ski the Big, and the only thing we hadn’t simulated was the sheer length of the Big.

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DAY 3
Day three began early. We met at the ski school at 7:45 and were on Ramcharger by 8:00 for three warmup laps before heading up to the peak. Conditions were firm, sunny and windy. It had not snowed in 6 days with temps in the high 30’s/low 40’s the past few days, so there was a lot of ice down low.

Dan warned us from the start that we may not get up the tram or into the Big that day, due to the wind. Nevertheless, we boarded the tram right at 9:00, riding up with patrol. Seeing the tram with zero line and walking right on was a surreal experience. There were 18 of us, so we took two trams. We got a quick pep talk and were informed that if we went through the gate, we had to ski the couloir as there was no safe way to get you back up if you bailed. Two people bailed at that point and joined the ten or so who had opted out of the BIg from the start. We then headed through the gate and lined up in an order determined by Dan. I’d like to think we went from worst to best (as I was almost last), but that probably wasn’t the case. We sideslipped down to the entrance and waited in a somewhat precarious position between the Big and the North Summit Snowfield. It was mostly calm, but some insane wind gusts (I’m guessing >50 mph) would occasionally flare up and make you feel like you would be cast into the void, never to return. Dan stayed at the top to usher us in and take photos. Our other coach (Chris) waited at the dogleg to ensure that the lower half was clear before sending the next one down. There were about 5-10 minutes between each skier start, so I waited about 40 minutes to enter. I skied down to the dogleg, took a 2 minute break to let the prior person clear the bottom and skied down to my hooting, hollering colleagues. Snow was firm but grippy and the last third (in the sun) was magical, just carving big arcs down to the bottom. Tremendous experience. Per Dan, we were the only group this year that made it down the Big without a single fall. Great stuff. Incidentally, due to the wind, the tram never opened up to the public that day, so we had Lone Peak completely to ourselves. Magical (and lucky!).

We then skied down to the base for coffee (it was around 10 am at this point) and a debrief/celebrations session. Thus refreshed, it was back on the slopes for a few runs down Challenger before lunch. Snow quality was deteriorating at this point, but our coaches managed to sniff out some choice lines for us.

The afternoon consisted simply of five of us trying to keep up with Dan as he raced though steep tree lines off of Swiftcurrent. It was extremely challenging, but a total blast. On the lift, we were marveling at how fast he was and how difficult it was to keep up. He humbly regaled us with a story of him doing his damndest to keep up with Marcus Caston at Deer Valley earlier in the season. That man is full of some amazing stories.

Overall, this was a tremendous steeps course. Coaches were excellent. Instruction was effective and well designed to get us down the Big (which was most people’s goal). The fact that I had so much fun and learned so much despite the lack of fresh snow is a testament to the quality of this program. It was very affordable ($900) for what you got: three days of high level instruction/guiding, lift line (and especially tram line) cutting privileges, early access (8 am) to the lifts on the last day and early tram access (9 am) for the Big Couloir. Groups were small (5-7) and well matched. I was very impressed with the level of the participants’ skiing. I have done Steep and Deep at Jackson as well as a “steep themed” Taos Ski Week (which were also great experiences), and the overall skill level was higher at this camp. I plan to return next year.

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Jim Kenney

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Nice report! That's what I call doing it right. Congrats!
 

Tricia

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The afternoon consisted simply of five of us trying to keep up with Dan as he raced though steep tree lines off of Swiftcurrent. It was extremely challenging, but a total blast. On the lift, we were marveling at how fast he was and how difficult it was to keep up. He humbly regaled us with a story of him doing his damndest to keep up with Marcus Caston at Deer Valley earlier in the season. That man is full of some amazing stories.
@Dan Egan offers a great product in his camps.

I recall when he was one of the coach partners in ESA. One year at Aspen he was coaching the top end group (I was in a lower advanced group) Our group happened to bump into him shortly after we saw a side country access gate that said, "Caution, you may be cliffed out". So I asked Dan, "What do you do when you get cliffed out?"
His answer: "I don't understand the question." ;)
 

skidrew

Getting on the lift
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May 1, 2017
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As a very recreational skier, I'm in awe. What a place and course. thanks for sharing this.
+1. Really nice description, and also really helpful for deciding whether it's something I might be up to (which it would appear I'm not . . . yet).
 
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