Dan Egan’s respect for the way mountains can turn cranky and ill-tempered, as they did this year with avalanche-prone conditions stretching across Utah and most of North America, runs deep.
During his decades as an extreme skiing pioneer, and later as a guide and ski coach, he has seen hundreds of storms and slides. Most famously, Egan and his brother John triggered the collapse of a cornice the size of two tour buses while skiing at Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort for a Warren Miller films in 1990. The segment, in which Egan sets off the avalanche while floating along a ridge and John narrowly avoids it with a cat-quick jump turn, is one of the most-viewed ski film clips of all time.
But that was nothing compared to Mount Elbrus.
Months after the Wyoming slide, Egan found himself sheltered in a shallow cave he had dug with an ice pick near the summit of the tallest mountain in Asia. Outside its mouth, all he could see was a white haze as a storm raged. Inside, he saw the red blood from his vomit stain the snow and the Russian guide who, after 38 hours without food or water, would save his life.
Egan will be in Park City on Friday to speak about his ordeal in the storm in Russia that ultimately claimed the lives of at least 15 people and to sign copies of his book on it, “Thirty Years in a White Haze.”
“That experience,” Egan told The Salt Lake Tribune, “has never left me.”
After the storm passed, Egan and the guide escaped the cave and rescued 14 others who had been caught on the 18,510-foot peak.
Gary Nate, an accomplished videographer from Utah — the one who would later capture the Grand Targhee avalanche — had been invited to join the expedition up Mount Elbrus. As one of the Seven Summits, the seven tallest mountains on each continent, it’s a popular destination for peak baggers. It’s also one of the most dangerous. Nate asked around about the risks involved in the adventure, including consulting with Frank Wells, the then-president of the Walt Disney Company and an avid mountain climber who had summited Mount Elbrus and advised against it.
“So I called the Egan brothers and I don’t know what part of chicken s— they said,” Nate said, “but I said, ‘Well, I ain’t going.’”
Nate was obviously relieved it wasn’t him caught in that storm. He was equally relieved to see his friends safe, though not unscarred.
Egan and his brother, who was lower on the mountain and escaped the worst of the storm, continued to charge some of the world’s steepest and most extreme slopes. They appeared in a dozen Warren Miller films together and, in 2016, were inducted into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in Park City.
Still, Egan said “it was a process for me to come back out of Elbrus, get through the trauma.” His skiing continues to be bold, much like the yellow ski suit he often wore in films, but he approaches each expedition with more reverence.
Egan said this season brought frequent reminders of how moody mountains can be. He saw, again and again, experienced skiers and snowboarders — like the near-record six in Utah — killed by avalanches.
As much as he loves skiing, he said, it’s not worth that price.
“It changed my perspective on the sport,” Egan said. “Sport is designed to enhance life, not end it.”
‘Thirty Years in a White Haze’
What: Dan Egan, an extreme skier who has appeared in 12 Warren Miller films, will discuss and sign copies of his book about being caught for 38 hours in a storm in a cave on Mount Elbrus in Russia.
When: Friday, 3:30-5 p.m.
Where: Alps & Meters store at the St. Regis Deer Valley Hotel, 2300 Deer Valley Drive East, Park City, UT 84060