Podcast #41: Eric Wilbur, Coauthor of “30 Years In A White Haze” with Dan Egan
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March 15, 2021
Why I interviewed him
Because Wilbur is one of the Northeast’s great ski journalists, running the online edition of the wide-ranging New England Ski Journal. With a couple decades covering the region’s mountains and a lifetime of New England sliding under his skis, Wilbur has the perspective to filter the events of today through the region’s history, mountains, culture, and aura. This New England orientation made Wilbur the ideal coauthor to Egan, Eric an able counterpart who could channel the more rough-and-tumble Boston of past decades as the starting blocks for the flashy and dashing global ski pioneer that Egan became. Thirty Years in a White Haze is expansive and layered, a complicated book about a complicated character, an achievement of teamwork, persistence, and storytelling. I wanted to talk to Wilbur about the process and the final product, how they put it together and why, and how it feels to hold it in his hands after years of labor.
What we talked about
The gratification of seeing your book in print after years of work; how Wilbur met Egan; the genesis of the book idea; why the book isn’t zany Egan Brothers wackiness; the coauthor writing process; Egan as a storyteller; tracking down the globetrotting Dan; the challenge of recreating events you weren’t present for; how Covid disrupted the writing process and accelerated the book’s timeline; the book’s pivotal scene and why it pinpoints such a vital moment in Egan’s life; Dan’s relationship with fellow Egan Brothers superstar John; why the book is written in the third person; why the first publisher didn’t work out; keeping the book’s narrative honest; capturing the essence of the big, boisterous, multi-generational Egan family; tracing the history of freeskiing from the hot-dogging 1970s to Squawllywood to today’s wild aerial gymnasts; the insane logic of skiing’s “progression” and reckoning with its current how-big-is-too-big state; Shane McConkey; talking to Scot Schmidt, Kristen Ulmer, Tom Day, Greg Stump and other extreme skiing pioneers for the book; how the VCR changed skiing; Dan the businessman; Warren Miller; “following CNN” on global ski quests; resilience in the face of failure; Tenney and the era of the SnowMagic machine; how Dan’s Irish-Catholic faith has influenced his life; the mission and history of the New England Ski Journal and Wilbur’s role there; covering Covid and its impact on skiing; reconsidering Massachusetts skiing; Berkshire East; Wachusett; Black Mountain, New Hampshire; why Vermont skiing is special; assessing the 2020-21 ski season; Killington and the commitment to the long season, even amid the pandemic; Cannon; Sugarloaf; what it means to make it through this season without involuntary shutdowns; the rapid evolution of the New England multipass market; why everyone complains about Vail; Stowe’s evolution as an Epic Mountain; people who complain about not grooming Wildcat don’t understand Wildcat; the importance of the Indy Pass; Magic Mountain; and Mad River Glen.
Why I thought that now was a good time for this interview
Wilbur has been on my list of potential interviewees since I launched the podcast a year and a half ago. It’s a long list though and I hadn’t gotten to it for the same reason I haven’t gotten to all of the other interviews I want to do: I can only do one thing at a time. But I’m glad I waited. Wilbur has nuanced insights into New England skiing, the ski industry’s fallout and recovery from Covid, and the evolution of the megapass landscape, but anchoring this interview to his book project gave us terrific insight into his working process as a journalist and storyteller, and gave the interview a much wider scope than it may have otherwise had.
Questions I wish I’d asked
I would have liked to have discussed Dan’s two previous books, Courage to Persevere and All Terrain Skiing. The book also explores the startling-to-remember reality that the brothers’ early cliff-hucking and pow-bounding took place on 1980s skinny skis, and that would have been an interesting topic. I also had a question lined up about skiing at a high level far after the age when it becomes difficult to keep up in many sports. But I don’t think anyone’s going to be listening to this podcast and saying, “Dude that was way too short,” so I’ll be happy with the three dozen topics we did roll through.
What I got wrong
I accidentally asked twice how much time Wilbur spent with Dan. The second time, I meant to ask how much time he’d spent speaking with John.
Why you should read this book
Dan Egan is a phenomenal skier. Dan Egan is an inventive and resilient businessman. Dan Egan is someone who’s struggled with alcohol, endured a tough divorce, and regrets not having children. Dan Egan is a tough and maybe impulsive boss. Dan Egan has a complicated relationship with his family, at once dependent on them and committed to his own life track.
People are complicated. At least the interesting ones are. And they are many things at once, in spite of what our current reductive social media climate insists. This book distills the many sides of that character into a compelling story, a tale that tracks the evolution of modern skiing, marketing, and media consumption. If you love skiing and the story of skiing, you’re going to devour this book. Enjoy.
Buy the book.
Wilbur and I discuss the death of skier Ian Forgays in a Mount Washington avalanche last month. Here’s Wilbur’s coverage of the event (scroll down), along with a deep account of that day by Vermont Ski + Ride’s Lisa Lynn.
Egan on Warren Miller and skiing:
Dan and John’s Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame tribute video:
Wilbur says early on in the interview that getting the print copy of the book in the mail was his “George McFly moment.” For those of you who missed the memo on Back to the Future, this is what he was talking about (3:55):