By Dan Egan
Spring is the time of year when you can hear the mountains exhale, see the trees embrace the sun, and the longer days beckoning us to play outside longer. The warm wind always makes me ponder the inspiration discovered during the passing winter.
I found encouragement in the season starting in full swing with normal lift lines, full chairlifts, and no masks, normal things calm me down. Seeing full faces always makes for a brighter day. Skiers and riders are nicer too this time of year. Unencumbered by thick coats, neck gaiters and mittens, smiles last longer, conversation flows freer and groups seem to linger longer passing the time gazing at the views.
At the beginning of the new year I really grappled with saying 2022. I kept thinking, “how is it that it became 2022?” After all, it seems like yesterday I was freaked out over Y2K. Then 02/02/22 came upon us in February and somehow that made me see the symmetry in getting older.
Ryan Cochran–Siegle inspired me this year by winning a silver medal in the Super-G at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. A month before the games I asked him on my podcast “Designed by Tradition” on Spotify, “if he was a “ski racer” or a “skier.” He answered, “skier.”
Learning to ski at his family’s resort appropriately named, Cochran’s Ski Area and founded by his grandparents, this little community resort in Vermont has been punching above its weight for a few decades. Ten family members have made it to the world cup circuit and six have been Olympians. His mother Barbara Ann won gold at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics in Japan.
So, adding it all up the “skier” discovered the natural line, while the best “ski racers” in the world struggled. No one skied the mid-section of the Super-G like Cochran-Siegle and he was rewarded with America’s only Alpine Skiing Olympic medal for 2022. And just for perspective he was eight years old at the turn of the century while I was fretting over Y2K.
Have you seen the documentary “Dear Rider,” the Jake Burton Story? If not make a point to watch it. I love this film. It really brings forward Burton who gave birth to the snowboarding industry. The movie helped me understand the culture of snowboarding and the enduring freedom that is associated with it. It also brings to light just how young a sport snowboarding still is and how far the sport has come in just a few decades.
Egan finds inspiration during his annual camp in Laax, Switzerland.
It also made me appreciate Shaun White, whose career has spanned five Olympics and impacted multiple generations. His journey from a young teenager to the highest paid athlete at the Olympics is fascinating. The movie brings to life how Burton looked up to not just him but the likes of the legendary rider Craig Kelly, Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clarke and others.
The North Summit Snowfield on Lone Peak provided some wonderful days here in the late season. Truly one of the most special runs in North America and a crown jewel of skiing here in Big Sky. It also, as we know, is a dangerous place. The tragic passing of our own, Chandler Pelletier, from my home state of New Hampshire, shook us all hard and serves as a reminder that all things precious are fragile and we all ride a fine line between life and death.
His loss makes me hug the ones I love a little longer and pray for those I don’t see often a little more. We are a mountain community, adventurous, transient, seasonal, and resilient. We mourn as one, we celebrate with many and embrace triumph and tragedy annually. I am going to use his passing to mend fences and meet strangers. What will you do?
This time of year, skiing the right aspects of the slopes matters. It requires more awareness and timing. It is a riddle of sorts, frozen chicken heads at its worst and velvet at its best. It is also invigorating. A slow start to the day can mean a magical late afternoon ending.
So, I’m heading off to Val d’Isére, France to extend the season for a few more weeks and ponder a bit more. No doubt I’ll be taking these memories with me, to anchor me till winter starts again. I’ll fire back up in August with my annual pilgrimage to South America which bridges the gap to November when the days turn shorter, temps drop, and snow flurries mark the start of another season.
Extreme skiing pioneer Dan Egan coaches and teaches at Big Sky Resort during the winter. His newest book, “Thirty Years in a White Haze,” was released in March 2021 and is available at White-Haze.com. Visit Dan-Egan.com to preorder “All Terrain Vol. II.”
(Originally published in Explore Big Sky)