It’s an old joke but one that rings true every time I hear it or tell it.
Question: Why are ski resorts like prison?
Answer: Because you do 3-5 months, 3-5 years or life.
Well I’m a lifer. My sentence started in 1983 at Magic Mountain, a small ski area in southern Vermont. I was the NASTAR guy—my tasks every Saturday and Sunday were to set up the NASTAR racecourse, set the pace, sign up the competitors and award the medals.
Since then I’ve been transferred around the globe far and wide, from Chamonix, France; Squaw Valley, California; Killington, Vermont; Grand Targhee, Wyoming; Valle Nevado, Chile; and, these days, Big Sky, Montana.
One of my favorite musicians is John Eddie, who has a great song called “Forty.” In that song one of the verses goes like this:
“I’m a petered-out Peter Pan,
Well sometimes I feel foolish,
I make my living singing in this band.”
In other words, when will he ever grow up? I get asked that question a lot.
Years ago, I met a brother of a famous skier who was attending Harvard and I asked him why he gave up skiing, and if he ever wished he’d continued based on his brother’s success.
His answer hit me like a ton of bricks. “When I realized skiing was just an extension of my adolescence, I had to give it up,” he said.
I’ve pondered that answer for a long time now because, for me, skiing is an extension of my own adolescence. I feel youthful every time I ski. The internal smile, the uncontrollable joy and pleasure sliding over and through snow is magic, it never fails me.
I’ve also allowed my adolescent experiences to shape me.
At 16 I had the opportunity to race a boat from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Bermuda and it was a hard trip, with big storms and lots of rain, mixed with long periods of dead calm. The storms were so big that one boat sank during the race.
When we were safely on the dock, the navigator on our boat asked me what I thought of the trip and I told him, “I loved it.” He replied, “Really? You looked miserable much of the time!”
I replied to him saying that that was how I knew I loved it—because I was willing to endure the hard parts.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Truth and roses have thorns about them.”
That’s how I feel about making my living as a ski bum. It’s hard, very hard, I’ve paid a big price for this choice, I’ve almost died several times and financially it might not be the most stable of careers.
However, emotionally, spiritually and physically I can think of no other choice for my life. Skiing is my art form, my expression that has provided me an impressive canvas to teach and to be taught.
In Dan Millian’s book, “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior,” the main character asked his spiritual advisor how to find his way in life and the advice came back, “You will fail many times, but in failing you will learn, and in learning you will find your way.”
In the mountains I have been blessed to live multiple lifetimes, which has taught me to embrace my adolescence while being transformed by a life sentence of mountain living.
Extreme skiing pioneer Dan Egan has appeared in 12 Warren Miller Ski films and countless others. Today he teaches clinics and guides trips at locations around the world including Big Sky, where he’ll be teaching Feb. 22-24, March 1-2 and March 8-10, as well as throughout the season (contact Big Sky Mountain Sports for availability). To find more information on Dan Egan camps and clinics, go to skiclinics.com.