On the Edge of Extreme
Story by Mary Thompson
Photos by Dan Thrift
It’s a cloudless Sunday after a stint of stormy weather. I’m at Squaw Valley USA but it feels more like heaven as my skis dangle over the top of a milky-white bowl in the resort’s expert-only terrain area.
They call it Silverado and the slope is so steep that it rolls out of sight.
To my left, a group of five men and one woman are craning their necks, looking for the bottom. They are “wannabe” extreme skiers.
On my right, stand the icons of the image.
Eric DesLauriers, a skier worthy of Warren Miller film, is coaching the group through their nightmares in order to get to their dreams.
“This is pretty steep — over 45 degrees,” he says. “Make sure you stand over your skis and don’t lean into the slope.”
In the middle of Eric’s speech, his younger brother Adam, also an extreme skier, drops over the edge and out of sight. A few seconds and he reappears in one piece at the bottom.
He’s setting up the video camera to catch this monstrosity on film.
A few more survival tips and Eric drops over the edge. He shows us exactly how it’s supposed to be done, with smooth, controlled turns.
While Eric does his thing, a few snickers spread amongst the crowd. “Yeah, right,” is a common theme whispered under breath.
At the bottom, he turns and faces the group, waiting to see our performance.
“You’re up Mary,” the group says unanimously, with a smirk. “That’s what you get for being the newcomer.”
Eyes from above and below watch as I jump in, heart first. The snow, heavy from sun exposure, demanded that I make hop turns, or so I thought.
“Keep your feet on the ground,” Eric yells, as I hop past him like a rabbit on skis.
His voice triggered a defining moment in my life, where I — a skier of more than 15 years — discovered that my place on this planet was with the group at the top of the hill, “the wannabes.”
Teaching the mortals how to tackle the steeps is Eric’s job. And how could he complain? The view from his office is superb — sweeping scenes of Tahoe framed between giant Jeffrey pines. And it never stays the same as the Extreme Team Ski Clinic stops at various resorts in the U.S. as well as South America, New Zealand and France.
In the clinic at Squaw, held Feb. 4-6, brothers Eric and Rob DesLauriers and Dan and John Egan coached 17 skiers of varying levels the rules of defying gravity. Extreme skier Dean Decas is also an instructor. Adam DesLauriers handles the filming so the skiers can critique themselves after the lifts have closed.
Most of the students stumbled across the Squaw clinic on the Internet, which explained their diverse backgrounds.
This group, which I joined on their last day of instruction, included a neurosurgeon from Arizona, a San Francisco stock trader, a Boston-based culinary arts consultant, a software engineer from Russia, an oil exporter from Milan and Ross Perot’s right-hand man.
On a skiing level, I fit in perfectly with this crowd. But, being that I spent the last decade earning a living as a ski patroller and a wilderness ranger/river guide, I felt closer to the coaches on a career level.
Dan Egan, one of the founders of the clinic, is entering his 10th year as an extreme coach. He said the changing atmosphere of ski instruction is one reason the extreme skiing clinic has become popular.
“The one common denominator in ski schools was personality — it used to be that skiing was taught by European instructors and that made the ski school sexy,” he said.
Egan added that the mystique of the steeps has brought about an interest in instruction. “People see it in the movies and they want to learn it,” he said.
The clinic is designed to take the skier to the next level, just beyond the line of the comfort zone. And at Squaw Valley, where more than 1/3 of the runs are rated advanced, it’s an easy venue to test your nerves.
“We don’t promote jumping,” he said. “But you’ll jump if you came here to learn how to jump.”
While some are looking to learn how to fly, others in the clinic are seeking greater control in the careening steeps.
“It’s definitely a paradox,” said Jack Calhoun, a customer of the clinic. “You feel like you have to give up some control to gain it.”
But what’s comfortable for Calhoun, a Boston businessman who regularly launched helicopters during the three-day course, may not be the threshold for others.
Chris Chang, an engineer from the Bay Area, said he’s been skiing for 20 years but doesn’t go enough to break through the expert barrier on his own. He said the $1,300 clinic, which includes coaching, filming and mountain-side lodging, gave him the boost he was looking for.
“They mostly helped with my balance, foot work, stance and position,” he said. “It’s like night and day. I need to come out on the weekends now and work on it on my own.”
As for me, I learned that 15 years of skiing doesn’t make you perfect. The Tahoe Hop, as they call it, needs to be worked out of my skiing style, and some serious courage and confidence needs to be worked in.
Above: Adam DesLauriers heads to a place to video tape skiers.
Right: The author sticking to the slopes.
Tips for sticking to the steeps
* On the steeps, resist leaning into the hill
* Stand forward on your skis, making sure you are pressuring the front of your boot
* Keep your shoulders square with the fall line and the upper body quiet when skiing
* Conserve energy by keeping your skis on the ground instead of hopping
For more information on Extreme Team Ski Clinics go to
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