Forty inches of snow fell over the week in Big Sky Montana. Visibility is marginal and I’m looking into the abyss over Lone Peak’s Big Coulior. I’m with a group of skiers from Dan Egan’s Steep Camp, ready to test our skills on one of the gnarliest lift-serviced runs Big Sky has to offer.
Dan’s team spent the prior two days honing their extreme skiing skills and working up to this unique opportunity. I am lucky enough to tag along with Dan and his nephews John (Johnny) and Will (Willy) who spent the week shredding powder between Big Sky and Bridger Bowl. Aside from the pure adrenaline rush of “skiing the Big”, I had the opportunity to see the Egan legacy of skiing and goodwill being carried forward by the next generation.
Dan and his brother John (father of Johnny and Willy) are living legends in skiing film, guiding and coaching. Featured extreme skiers in more than 14 ski films and inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2016, the brothers continue to carry passion and excitement for skiing.
I’ve skied Sugarbush (VT) for most of my adult life and the Egan legacy runs deep. John is a visible presence at Sugarbush as Chief Recreation Officer. More than once I’ve seen him disappear into the woods with a cloud of powder trailing behind him. His Bush Pilot meetup on Saturday morning is a tradition that’s been going since the late 70’s. John and his “rat pack” of men and women ranging in age from 30 to 70 charge hard from 10-2. No breaks!
Dan has run ski camps and clinics around the world since 1991. His company Skiclinics.com organizes trips in South America, Europe, and North America where Dan teaches skiers “Secrets of All Terrain Skiing”. Dan coaches a holistic approach to all terrain skiing. Going well beyond the technical aspects of skiing steep and technical terrain, the mental aspect plays a critical role in success. Like a golfer standing over a big money putt, tension and stress impede a skier’s body’s ability to execute the physical skills they’ve developed. Dan’s last advice as the group broke and left to click in? “Don’t forget to breathe”.
The success of Dan’s approach is evident - most of the skiers in the group were prior attendees. One gentleman shared that he started attending Dan’s camps because he had a goal to “ski the Big” before he turned 60. When I asked if he achieved the goal, he gave me a wry smile and said that he certainly did. He’s 72 now and put another send of the Big into his repertoire today.
It's evident how the holistic approach to skiing is being adopted by Dan’s nephews, Johnny and Will. Ages 21 and 16, they’re a bright representation of an emerging generation of skiers. Carrying a legendary name may create some pressure and maybe gain some recognition here and there, but you’d never guess it with these guys.
Johnny is a sophomore at Montana State University. He’s living in a shared house with 4 to 5 other dedicated skiers, carrying a full class load, working part-time as a line cook, and working to resurrect the freeride ski club. With all of that, he says he manages to ski Bridger Bowl 4 times a week. He shoots and edits his own videos for publicity and promotion. (I especially enjoyed the Bridger Bowl University production found on Johnny’s YouTube Channel.)
With that kind of schedule, Johnny is realistic about his freeride competition limitations. At the same time, he’s super excited for his friend Kevin Nichols who placed 2nd in the Revelstoke 4 Freeride World Qualifier. Johnny has some sponsorship to help with the considerable expenses required to support a freeriding career and he’s posting some incredible skiing on his Instagram page. You can find and follow Johnny here: https://www.instagram.com/johnny__bahama/
I was a bit surprised to see Will, a sophomore at Harwood Union High School in Vermont, skiing in Montana during prime ski racing season. He’s a solid skier who will perform well in competitive racing. Like Johnny, he was really excited for a friend who qualified for the Vermont State team the prior weekend. Will explained he was only able to make 3 meets this year due to commitments he’s made to his school outside of skiing.
Two years prior four of his classmates were killed by a driver traveling the wrong way on an interstate highway. While the local Vermont community rallied around the school, concerns of suicide and related mental trauma continue. Instead of dedicating his time to skiing, Will and classmates had a deadline for developing a proposal requesting federal funding to construct and staff a wellness center for their school. Will thinks someone dealing with these issues shouldn’t need to seek help in the same Guidance Office as someone looking to change their class schedule. He felt a responsibility to his classmates to lead this project and knows there will be time to ski.
John and Dan were “discovered" when legendary film maker Warren Miller recruited them after migrating to Sun Valley to the Green Mountains of Vermont. That’s not likely to happen for Johnny and Will. If they continue to work the craft, I’m certain they possess the skills for success. They’ll need to shoot, edit, lay down soundtracks to back the video and finally work social media to promote their work. They’ll form lifelong friendships in the skiing community. Same end result as their predecessors, just in the modern way. I want to see them have a successful skiing career if that’s where life takes them.
More than that I want them to know when to pull back, just as their father and uncle did. The Pros “go big” these days and it’s scary to think of the consequences. All said, it’s exciting to think of both generations of Egan’s coming together in a professional capacity. Maybe we’ll get a ski film out of it?
Additional pictures from this super fun morning
Instructions at the base of the Ramcharger before a warm up run.
1st on the tee... @MattSmith, Johnny, Willy, and Tristin (from Charlestown, MA, Ski The East!)
Johnny (left) and Willy (right) mugging while waiting for the tram
Obligatory cute avi dog shot. She hangs out in the Patrol Hut on Lone Peak
A quick boot pack to the run in
"Transporting" to the drop in
Looking over the tips into the abyss
Northern Rockies/Alberta The Next Generation of Egans Is Ready for Launch
So glad the stars aligned for you when you were here and you got a shot at the Big !
We’ve been in a bit of a dry spell since your departure, to put it mildly and the peak has been hit or miss since- yes, timing in life is everything !
We’ve had friends here this week have been waiting 5 days for it to be open and afraid today being their last it won’t present itself.
Our group did happen to ski down to the tram two days ago to check the status. There was no line as it was posted as closed on all the boards.
There was a small sign at the steps -
“ North Summit and the big are open, no first timers”
Crap ! No avi gear and they had not experienced the snow fields alone and guiding our friends out of bounds was not on my radar.
We went to the loading deck and approached patrol hoping someone would accompany us.
After a several minute conversation, one of Big Sky’s finest offered up to guide the group.
After signing out at the base of the tram the 5 of us were first up for the day. I later found out we were the first and only tram of the day !
Gotta say for those who haven’t been, the exit gate can be a bit unnerving and two of our group was having second thoughts and almost turned around.
We were greeted with 5-6” of fresh snow that had bonded nicely to the week long hard pack and had the best run of the year down the chutes to great falls and then finally connecting back onto horseshoe. High fives all around !
Wish we had skied more together @MattSmith when you were here, look forward to your next visit, we will know more terrain to explore together.
I'm hoping Big Sky squeezes every inch out of this upcoming system. Keep the stoke alive! More fun with spring skiing is on the way.