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Ski Tips with Dan Egan: The breakthrough zone

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Entering the breakthrough zone of skiing requires changing your paradigm not only for how you ski but where you ski and why. Once you take the focus off improving and shift it to strategy and tactics, difficult ski runs become achievable. Over the years I have discovered that the best way to inject your skiing with new energy and skill is to take a step back from your current skiing comfort zone and ramp up the terrain that challenges you, moguls, trees, control, speed, powder or hard-packed snow.

Dan Egan making some deep powder turns in the trees. COURTESY OF DEGAN MEDIA

Think of this approach as the equivalent of reprogramming your computer’s hard drive. It is time to update and reboot our physical and mental approach to skiing. Many of the ruts we fall into have to do with who, where, and when we ski. These patterns are as much holding you back as technical knowledge. The Breakthrough Zone is all about busting wide open into new realms of experiences.

It’s skills and drills time. You must always remain motivated enough to practice. If you want to be better at steeps, you need to focus on the basics—upper body, pole planting, and quick edge-to-edge transitions. Or maybe bumps are your thing. If they are, you must be willing to start on medium-grade bumps and build up to the steep, rad lines. This is going to require practice, time, and patience; try and carve out two a day for this pursuit.

The ultimate objective is to turn “Oh no” into “Oh yah.” We’re all driven by some form of inner voice. It’s best to flip the switch of this conversation into positive reinforcing language, such as: “I can, I will, I am progressing, it’s going to happen, there is progress happening here.”

The author turning a potential “Oh no” into an “Oh yah.” COURTESY OF DEGAN MEDIA

When you are not skiing practice visualization of how you want to ski. Find images and videos of other skiers who model your goals. Watch them, embed the images in your memory, and visualize them as you ski. See yourself skiing the terrain you want to ski, the way you want to ski it. Think about your body position, focus on where you’re looking during the run, how you’re maneuvering over and around obstacles. Replay these images in your mind. If you feel your body getting tense or anxious during the visualization, take a deep breath and tell yourself to relax. This practice of visualization will help reprogram your skiing patterns.

Now is a good time to discuss the F word: “falling”. Remember, falling or having a bobble is not a negative experience, but a learning experience. If you are going to push past your limits, you’re likely to have a few struggles along the way. That’s fine! Just part of the process. Explore the possibilities of all-terrain skiing and expand your horizons. As your confidence grows, so will your adventures. Be safe. Be smart. Be bold and go for it!

The purpose of practicing skills and drills is to develop agility. An agile skier can go wherever they please, and most often they get there with fluid grace. You know skiers who just seem to flow so beautifully, their body appears to float above the snow, always seeking the path of least resistance. These agile and fluidity skiers add the art of dance to skiing, in just about any conditions. These skiers are operating in the Zone of Excellence.

Author and philosopher Joseph Campbell once said, “The best things and experiences cannot be told, because they transcend thought. The second best are things are the things we think about and are often misunderstood when spoken of. The third best things and experiences are the ones we describe.” In other words, the ultimate ski run has no translation from experience to explanation.  

I’ve often thought this to be true and have described my best ski runs more from the vantage point of observation rather than physically doing it.

So, recapping how to enter the Zone of Excellence, where the mind and body act as one, allowing you to perform extraordinary feats. Take time to practice, ski with skiers who match your motivation to improve, practice visualization, see falling as a positive, and finally shift your thinking from judging your performance to observing it. My “All-Terrain Skiing” book, videos on YouTube and app, gives you the drills and skills to experience the Zone of Excellence, all you have to do is dedicate the time.

Dan Egan making the steeps look easy. COURTESY OF DEGAN MEDIA

Extreme Skiing Pioneer, Dan Egan coaches and guides at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His 2022/23 steeps camps at Big Sky Resort run March 1-3, and March 8-10. His book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze” was released 2021 and his newest book, “All-Terrain Skiing II” was released this November and comes with a free app which you can download from Google and Apple App Stores. His books and worldwide ski camps are available at

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