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Q&A: “Thirty Years in a White Haze” with Dan Egan

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Extreme skier Dan Egan has appeared in more than a dozen Warren Miller films and was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2016. He will be presenting his new book “Thirty Years in a White Haze” at the Big Sky Community Library on March 16. PHOTO COURTESY OF DEGAN MEDIA

By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR

BIG SKY – After looking death in the face on Russia’s Mount Elbrus in 1990, extreme skier Dan Egan emerged from a historic blizzard with a new perspective and a new lease on life. Now decades later, Egan’s new book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze,” chronicles his life at the forefront of extreme skiing as well as his personal and family history.

Egan, 58, hails from the East Coast and has traveled the world seeking adventure and skiing in places with fraught geopolitical landscapes including the Berlin Wall and the border of Iraq and Turkey. He has appeared in more than a dozen Warren Miller films and was inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2016.

On March 16, Egan will present his new book at the Big Sky Community Library from 5-7 p.m. He will tell stories, answer questions and sign book copies for attendees. 

Ahead of the book-signing event, EBS sat down with Egan to learn more about “Thirty Years in a White Haze.” Below are his answers and anecdotes, a sneak preview of what is to come at the event.

Some answers below have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Explore Big Sky: What inspired you to write “Thirty Years in a White Haze?”

Dan Egan: The Mount Elbrus disaster in Russia where 15 people died, people had always asked me if I would write about that. A lot of disaster stories end with the disaster, but for me, my entire adult life started after that disaster. Everything I’ve done in the last 30-plus years has been based on the experience of being lost in that storm for 32 hours. I had always thought that one day I would write a book from that perspective that really was the beginning of my adult life, not the end of it. 

EBS: Tell me about the process of writing your book.

D.E.: Yeah, I mean, I had started the book, I wrote the outline, and I wrote the chapters down and table of contents and had all that sort of thing going on. And then my co-author Eric Wilbur and I both write for The Boston Globe, and he had approached me back in 2016, if I wanted to do a book and I said, “I’m already doing it,” and then I realized now I could use some help. So, I gotta call him back and once Eric got involved we had deadlines and accountability with one another and that moved the process along. …We wanted to do a story that was as open as possible and for me the ties to family was super important and the roles that growing up in a family with seven kids played. The age differences between John and I, six years, really we’re practically a generation apart, and we’re different people, and that led to sometimes conflict and sometimes not. 

EBS: Do you have a favorite anecdote or a favorite part of the book?

D.E.: Well, I have a few sections that, for me, are pretty cool sections. I think the stuff around growing up in such a big family and what the house was like, the chaotic nature of that house, and how my mom and dad sort of fostered independence and individualism through that. Nothing was ever really standardized. The whole family didn’t have to do one thing. If my brother wanted to go play baseball, he went to play baseball. If I wanted to go sailing, I went sailing. But it wasn’t like they drove us to those things. For me to go sailing in the summer I had to walk a quarter mile to the trolley station, take the trolley to the train, take the train to the bus, walk a mile to the yacht club. I started doing that when I was 7 years old. By the time I was 10 and 12 I was sailing solo, sailing all up and down the coast of Boston, and Massachusetts. The only thing my mom would tell me on the way out the door was, “Be home for dinner.” And as long as I was home for dinner, everything was good. 

EBS: Do you have any advice for young athletes today looking to follow a similar path?

D.E.: Athletes ask me all the time for advice and I always tell them, “What are you doing that’s different from the other ones? You all dress the same. You all ski the same. I can’t tell you apart. I don’t know who’s doing what trick. I can’t even tell you what tricks you’re doing. And so how are you going to do this and be different? And do it in a way that people are interested? What’s the story behind what you’re doing? Why should I care that you can spin five times and grab your tails, tell me why I care.” 

Instead of just thinking that’s the coolest thing ever, most of the audience is completely bored by it. They don’t know what it is. So, unless you tell me what it is, I’m never going to know. The benefit of our career was the VCR and the VHS tape. Our videos lived in people’s homes for 10 or 15 years. And people watched them when they worked out, they watched them when they went to their ski condo and they watched them when they get psyched for the fall. People still quote to me those movies. But you don’t do that with YouTube, you don’t do that with Instagram. You don’t rewatch it. You might look at it, but then it’s gone. And although the opportunity is there for more exposure, it’s not there for longevity. I think the kids need to figure that out. They need to be able to produce something that somebody is interested in and is going to be emotionally attached to. We did that by going to the Berlin Wall. We did that by going to ski with the Kurds during the Persian Gulf War at the border of Iraq and Turkey. That’s something people could get into. It wasn’t that we were going to ski crazy mountains, we did that too, but we did it under the guise of hey, here’s why we’re here. And I think most of the kids don’t understand that.

EBS: What do you hope that readers get out of or take away from your book?

D.E.: I hope they see that when you commit to a passion and a lifestyle there’s gives and takes, right, you can’t have it all. So, what are you willing to risk? What are you willing to do? What are you willing to survive, to make it happen? I say that skiing, saved me and almost killed me at the same time. And for me I knew that going in and I was willing to survive it and stick with it all these years. I can give you countless examples of people who chose otherwise for whatever other reasons they wanted to. I think to see it from that point of view that this is something that if you commit to it, passion, and you lock in, wild things can happen. …What people tell me they take away is the connection to family. They take away the commitment to always having to reinvent myself. There hasn’t just been one job. If I didn’t have the video distribution company, I would have probably never had a ski career.

EBS: Anything else that you would add or want people to know about your book?

D.E.: I think the Mount Elbrus disaster really brings forward some ideas about the bright light and the idea about guardian angels and how that spiritual piece plays a role in our lives if we allow it. When I’m freezing to death in the snow cave and the angels are saying, “follow me,” I interpret that they want me to go to heaven. But in in hindsight, years later, I came to realize they did exactly what they said they would do, they would find my way through the crevasses and snowfields and rescue three people. I have come now to realize that that’s what they were going to do. They were there to lead the way back home. And my mom wanted me home for dinner.

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