Frequently Asked Questions


Is ZEN MASTERS right for me? How much prior experience or skill do I need?

ZEN MASTERS is about rediscovering “Beginner’s Mind”. Opening the mindset of being open, vulnerable, excited, and new to an experience. Focusing on putting aside what you “know” to make room for what you don’t know. ZEN MASTERS is designed for people new to, or with limited experience in, Backcountry skiing or kayaking.


Pre-requsite: Winter Program: Backcountry Skiing

Skiers must be experienced resort skiers capable of confidently and independently skiing all-terrain, in variable conditions on Mount Baldy or similar ski mountain – including skiing in marginal visibility, tree-skiing, and in a variety of snow conditions (powder, hard-pack, crud).


Pre-requisite: Spring/Summer Program: Whitewater Kayaking

You must be very comfortable in water and be a good swimmer.

What will be expected of me as a student?

ZEN MASTERS students are expected to:

➢ Ensure they start class physically and mentally ready to tackle a new challenge.

➢ Attend all classes and in-field learning days; read and prepare assigned material in advance of class ➢ Communicate respectfully and effectively.

➢ Work effectively as a member of an expedition team in the field under potentially difficult or stressful conditions:

  • listen and follow instructions well
  • independently contribute to the safety of the group by staying alert and communicating hazards
  • constructively problem-solve while being respectful of differences within the group

➢ Contribute positively to a safe small-group learning environment – no verbal or physically inappropriate behavior tolerated

➢ Take responsibility for sharing expedition duties in the field, as directed by ZEN MASTERS instructors. All students are learning the skills and being challenged by the conditions and activities; there can be no expectation that any other student will be able to continually assume a greater share of the work or that an instructor can continually focus a greater share of his/her energy and time on one student.

➢ Show up on time and be prepared. This includes ensuring you have the materials you need for the day; that you’ve packed and re-checked your gear/ backpack, have hydration and food, and brought appropriate clothing and emergency supplies.

➢ Have the cognitive and physical ability to handle the information and training being delivered in the program. ZEN MASTERS is a tightly designed multi-week curriculum that delivers an intensive but fun immersion experience in new skills.

How physically fit do I need to be?

You do not need to be an uber-athlete but you need to be in reasonably good physical shape and without any pre-existing injuries that compromise your motion or strength.


Once you have been accepted into a course, we strongly encourage you to begin some focused level of physical preparation in advance of the program starting. Remember, EFFORT is the price we pay to achieve our goals and honor our aspirations.


General Fitness Suggestions for either Winter or Spring/Summer Programs:

  • For your own safety and success, it is imperative that you focus on strengthening and stretching your muscles prior to beginning ZEN MASTERS.
  • Strength, endurance and cardio fitness are important for both kayakers and backcountry skiers. Prior to the first day of either program, as a baseline fitness test – all students need to be capable of easily hiking to the top of Baldy (3000ft) within 3 hours carrying a 20lb pack. If you are in good shape but haven’t done this before, we strongly encourage you to begin scheduling this hike one or more times every week until you can accomplish this with reasonable ease BEFORE the program begins.
  • Once you are registered for class, we will send you more specific suggestions to incorporate into your fitness routine.
  • Should you require help with physical training, or motivation, Thunder Dragon Adventure Institute and Zenergy have instructors and trainers ready to work with you.

What is the average age of students in ZEN MASTERS

This is an adults-only program. Student ages have ranged from 35-60 years old.

What is included in the tuition?

Your tuition includes:

✓ all instruction (lead instructor and assistants)

✓ course materials (with the exception of individual GAIA App subscriptions for Winter students)

✓ all forestry or other use fees & permits for in-field instruction


Your tuition does NOT include:

  • equipment / gear
  • transportation to and from in-field class days (i.e., you are responsible for driving or getting yourself to the river or the trailhead)
  • Snowmobile tow-ins. (i.e., if the snowpack coverage is poor we can use a snowmobile tow to access more remote terrain such as BakerCr. Headwaters of the Salmon etc.
  • meals (i.e., lunch for class days on the mountain or on the river)
  • cabin rentals, if not camping, for overnight trips (rental costs will be split between whole class as a mutually agreed upon reimbursement to Thunder Dragon)


**For ZEN MASTERS Spring/Summer Whitewater Program, depending on which program you signed up for (4 or 5 week) tuition may or may not include the last week’s Main Salmon 6-day Private Departure with Thunder Dragon. Information about this is covered here.

What equipment do I need?

Enrolling in ZEN MASTERS is a commitment to immersing yourself in a new experience and a new sport. Students are responsible for buying or borrowing the equipment they need to fully participate. The investment in gear can be significant if you are buying all your gear and starting from scratch, however we will guide you toward choosing equipment that will serve you well for years to come. Once bought, there is no further barrier to entry for backcountry skiing or kayaking!


ZEN MASTERS students are eligible for discounts at Sturtevants.

Winter Program Equipment: Backcountry Skiing (please consult with us first)

  • Backcountry skis & skins
  • Alpine touring boots
  • Adjustable ski poles
  • Avalanche transever/beacon (Mammut Barryvox)
  • Back pack
  • Backcountry ski clothing: under layers, heavy insulated down jacket, lighter insulated down jacket, technical shell, technical ski bibs/pants, wool socks, knit hat, ski goggles, touring gloves and ski gloves.
  • Subscription to GAIA App (for your smart phone)
  • Power brick for smart phone


NOTE: Specialized snow camping equipment (tents and bags) for a required 2 day overnight expedition can be rented from Backwoods or the Elephants Perch.

Spring/Summer Program Equipment: Whitewater Kayaking (please consult with us first)

  • River-running whitewater Kayak
  • Whitewater paddle
  • Spray skirt that fits your kayak
  • Kayaking helmet
  • Whitewater kayaking-specific life jacket
  • Whitewater kayaking-specific dry-suit (not sea kayaking or diving)
  • Whitewater kayaking specific dry-top & neoprene shorts
  • Floatation bags for kayak
  • Rescue throw bag
  • River knife
  • Camping equipment (tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, stove, etc.)


NOTE: We can guide you through sourcing appropriate kayaking gear from Backwoods or online through sites like NRS.com or manufacturer sites like Kokatat.com, Werner.com and others. Camping equipment for required overnight excisions (tents and bags) can be bought or rented from Backwoods or the Elephants Perch.

Can I just rent equipment for the program?

For your own safety and ours, you will need and want access to high quality gear. In order to properly familiarize yourself with how your gear works and to consistently grow skills and confidence, you will want the SAME set of gear for the entire length of the multi-week course, not different ski gear packages or a different kayak every time you go in the field.


In our experience, this is difficult and expensive to accomplish through rentals. For this reason, most ZEN MASTERS students make personal investments in purchasing gear as a long-term commitment to enjoying their new skills for many seasons to come.

What is the instructor to student ratio?

For both the Backcountry Ski and Whitewater Kayak programs, ZEN MASTERS teaches in pods of 5 students with one lead instructor and one assistant per pod.

Is the program classroom-based or out in the field?

Both! ZEN MASTERS combines a weekly mix of classroom-based learning evenings, roll classes and full-day or multi-day adventures out on the river or mountain.


*To handle COVID-19 safety and health protocols, classroom-based learning may be conducted remotely via Zoom. In-field adventures will be practiced with appropriate social distancing and masks when necessary.

How is travel handled for classwork on the mountain or rivers?

Students will be responsible for driving themselves to trailheads or river rendezvous locations for COVID-19 safety. Without COVID-19 protocols, we would typically carpool.

How safe will I be on the mountain or on the river?

The health, well-being and safety of our students is of highest priority. Every ZEN MASTERS lead instructor is a well-known licensed professional in their field with decades of guiding and teaching under their belt. ZEN MASTER instructors and guides are capable and experienced with conducting wilderness rescue operations and emergency medical triage – both on the mountain or in the river. They are armed with up-to-date safety and professional training including holding IGLB Level 2 Ski Guide certification, SSI Swift Water Safety certification, and NOLS Wilderness First Responder medical certifications.


Every day that students and instructors are learning in the field, ZEN MASTERS ensures that rigorous safety, transportation, and communication protocols are followed and medical kits and rescue gear are immediately available. However, it is very important to remember that any wilderness outdoor activity has inherent risk.


Every ZEN MASTERS student must understand and accept the risks associated with backcountry skiing and kayaking. These risks include dangers such as avalanches or foot entrapment underwater and potential outcomes could include personal injury or even death.

Do I need special insurance?

ZEN MASTERS students are required to show proof of current personal health insurance coverage with registration.

What exactly is the “spiritual” part of this program?

The ZEN MASTERS teaching approach is about embracing “Beginner’s Mind” and cultivating an attitude of mindful living.


To complement learning new skills related to backcountry skiing, kayaking or adventure travel, ZEN MASTERS supports students with additional resources to develop soft skills that are equally important to embracing Beginner’s Mind as an ongoing life practice. Topics include growing personal awareness, overcoming fear, accepting vulnerability, facing uncertainty, taking responsibility, and managing risk.


➢ Students are introduced to guided meditation and the positive role it can play in developing better personal awareness. No prior meditation experience necessary, however being open to trying is expected.


➢ Students receive a suggested reading list on topics related to Beginner’s Mind and developing personal practices that foster positive growth mindset.


➢ Students participate in a special workshop on cultivating personal resilience and growth.


➢ Special presentations and guest speakers will be offered as part of the program.

What if I have to miss a day?

If you miss a classroom learning experience or an in-field day we will make sure you have the information that was covered.

How do I sign up?

As a high-quality, intensive and intimately-sized education program, ZEN MASTERS asks prospective students to submit an application. We’re committed to putting together the best possible cohort of participants every season.


1. Please fill out an Application (click here link).


2. You will be contacted by ZEN MASTERS for a brief interview to discuss your interest and determine your fit for the program. This conversation will help us assess your physical preparedness, level of interest/commitment, your level of experience, and reason for applying to the program.


3. You will be emailed a Registration Form for official enrollment. Registration is due within 14 days of acceptance. Full tuition payment is due at the time of registration.

What is your cancellation policy after I’ve enrolled?

In general, your registration and tuition are considered final and non-refundable once you’ve been accepted and officially enrolled.


We carefully consider the interpersonal make-up of each cohort to ensure a fun and supportive environment. As such, once we put together a class, it’s difficult to make last minute switches or adjustments due to baked-in staffing, scheduling, and overhead considerations.


But we know things happen and life doesn’t always go as planned. If you registered and payed tuition for a ZEN MASTERS course and need to cancel for a personal reason prior to the start of class:

➢ You must cancel in writing to us at least 60 days or longer before the first day of class in order to receive a full tuition refund.

➢ If you cancel in writing less than 60 days before the first day of class, you will only receive a full refund IF we can fill your slot prior to the first day of class. There is often a waitlist for ZEN MASTERS, but we cannot guarantee we can fill your spot or issue a refund.

➢ If you have already started class or you wait until the class starts to inform us of your inability to participate, you will not receive a tuition refund.

➢ If you sustain and injured while participating on the course in the field, or cannot participate for any other reason you will not receive any refund. If this is a concern we recommend you purchase the appropriate insurance policy.


Is there anything special I should do to physically be ready?

  • Prior to the first day of either program, as a baseline fitness test – all students need to be capable of easily hiking to the top of Baldy within 3 hours carrying a 20lb pack. If you are in good shape but haven’t done this before, we strongly encourage you to begin scheduling this hike one or more times every week until you can accomplish this with reasonable ease BEFORE class begins.
  • Once snow is on the ground, (man made or natural) skinning up Baldy in the early morning on a regular basis is a tried and true preparation for backcountry skiers.
  • Your legs should be strong enough to comfortably skin up Baldy and then ski a FULL day by the time class starts.

Do I get technical certification?

No – we focus on teaching practical skills for the recreational skier rather than teaching to a technical certification standard (such as an Avalanche Level 1 course). That said, students who have previously studied/received an Avalanche Level 1 certification will find that training useful, though it is not a pre-requisite for ZEN MASTERS.

How steep is the terrain that we get to ski?

ZEN MASTERS is geared toward adventure-seekers looking to expand their personal skills and mindset, not thrill-seekers looking for adrenaline, or uber athletes focused on maximum vertical. We’re focused on developing your foundation for confident, proficient, smart and safe backcountry ski touring – NOT just guiding you toward the best powder skiing stashes.


Backcountry touring is an amazing, soul-filling experience but unlike on a groomed mountain – conditions in the backcountry are solely dependent on Mother Nature. What can appear to be a perfect ski slope can actually be a deadly hazard. In order to safely enjoy wilderness ski adventures, you must develop an understanding for appropriate safety protocols i.e., good judgment. We spend the vast majority of the course in noncomplicated avalanche terrain practicing and honing the skills required to make informed decisions that allow you to recreate safely and confidently.


But yes…we do get to ski some pretty sweet lines out there!

What does a backcountry ski day look like?

We rendezvous for a pre-tour meeting in town at 8.30 sharp to check gear and discuss the day’s route, weather and avalanche hazard. (social distancing protocols may influence departure meetings- more to follow) Field days are a combination of ski touring through varied terrain, learning and practicing navigation techniques, simulating rescue scenarios, and enjoying the mountains. We exit the field no later than 4pm.

When do we do our backcountry ski days?

Students will do in-field learning (a backcountry ski tour with instructors) one day a week, for 8 weeks. In-field touring days are held mid-week to avoid the higher number of weekend recreation skiers.


ZEN MASTER student groups will learn in “pods” of no more than 5 students and each pod will be assigned a weekly backcountry tour day for the entirety of the program – for instance, Group 1 departs on Tuesdays, and Group 2 departs on Thursdays. If the avalanche forecast elevates to an EXTREME hazard warning during your scheduled backcountry tour day we will reschedule the tour day accordingly.

Where do we go on our backcountry tour days?

ZEN MASTERS program outfitter, Sun Valley Guides, enjoys exclusive permit access to a vast backcountry region close to Sun Valley, stretching from Galena Summit to south of the Pioneer Mtns. Within this region are many wonderful touring opportunities with excellent and varied terrain for us to explore together.


Every backcountry tour will offer you new experiences and exposure, but to build your confidence with backcountry skiing on your own after the program ends, we also try to focus on developing your familiarity with specific routes and areas. Zen Masters 1.0 is only the beginning – there is more than a lifetime of terrain to explore in our backyard!

How do you decide where we will ski every week and if it’s safe?

Every week, our lead instructors head out the day before each class tour on a reconnaissance day (recon day) to scout and select the most suitable conditions and terrain for the class. That said, given the unpredictable nature of winter weather patterns, including up-to-the-minute avalanche and snow conditions, our backcountry tour plans can and do change often. How to analyze data and make your own safety decisions about terrain and touring are a very important part of what you will learn in the program.

What does the overnight winter camping expedition involve and do I need special equipment ?

Backcountry skiing is a gateway to authentic adventure in Mother Nature’s winter wilderness.  Like any real adventure, it holds elements of risk, effort, excitement and the unknown.  Being prepared is essential.  Ski touring in the backcountry requires being ready for the unexpected – including having to hunker down for the night out in the wilderness if needed.  The ZEN MASTERS winter overnight camping expedition is an opportunity for students to safely venture deep into the backcountry, access remote ski terrain, experience snow camping for a night, and practice emergency survival techniques in the field.  NO PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE IS NEEDED.  We will travel as a team and establish a secure base camp.  Students sleep in tents, with insulated sleeping pads and a 4 seasons winter sleeping bag.  From the comfort of our Base Camp, students will learn how to build a variety of emergency survival shelters including a snow cave and quinzee.  It’s really a whole lot of fun, as well as a great adventure that’s designed to deliver some serious take-aways.  Specialized equipment (tents and bags) can be rented from Backwoods, or the Elephants Perch.

How steep is the terrain we will ski?

ZEN MASTERS’ backcountry ski terrain is typically 30 degrees on average, unless we have bombproof greenlight avalanche ski conditions.


Is there anything special I should do to physically be ready?

Prior to the first day of either program, as a baseline fitness test – all students should be capable of easily hiking to the top of Baldy within 3 hours carrying a 20lb pack.

After registration, you will receive instructions on how to stretch and strengthen muscles to prepare for kayaking. You will most likely be using muscles you aren’t used to strengthening and we will walk you through how to physical prepare for the course.

Will I learn to roll my kayak?

A major mental breakthrough for any kayaker is accepting that being upside down and swimming rapids is a normal part of the sport.


ZEN MASTERS begin our whitewater program with boat sessions in a pool. We spend time introducing the feel of being upside down in our kayaks and becoming comfortable with the “wet exit”.


Learning to roll your kayak is one of the major milestones in any kayaker’s learning curve – it is a skill that must be practiced over and over until it becomes part of your body memory.


Your roll will develop in conjunction with other paddling skills. Rolling is NOT a skill typically mastered in a short period of time, nor is it a barrier to making solid progress on the river.


Pool sessions are a weekly part of the program, both before and after being introduced to the river. With time an effort your roll will evolve.

Where do the pool sessions take place?

ZEN MASTERS has special private access to the Zenergy pool for rolling class in the evening from 6-8.30PM. We may also start a winter/spring pool session at Idaho Rocky Mountain Ranch’s outdoor hot springs pool.


*Please note: Access to the Zenergy pool for rolling is restricted to ZEN MASTERS classes only, and only with ZEN MASTER instructor Gerry Moffatt present. No access or allowance will be granted for general rolling practice onsite outside of class and no kayaks are authorized on site at Zenergy unless with ZEN MASTERS. As a standard rule, kayaks are not allowed by Zenergy in their pools, even for Zenergy members.

What does a river day look like?

Instruction time on the water for different days will vary depending on the length of the river sections. Instruction typically begins river side no later than 10.30AM and include:

➢ morning briefing about the river section

➢ review of stroke technique

➢ overview of river reading/hazard avoidance

➢ discussion of possible rescue scenarios


We typically put on the river by noon (packed lunch on the river) and take out around 5 – 6PM.


As a group, we often decide to camp either the night before or the evening after a full day on the river, although this is not mandatory. The scheduled multi-day excursions require overnight stays however. (details supplied at registration)


ZEN MASTERS camping protocol requires each individual brings their own camping gear, pitch their own tent, and prepare their own food.

What happens in the evenings at camp?

Relaxing by the river, preparing food, camp fire banter, a beverage and a well-deserved deep sleep under the stars!

What is the 6-day Main Salmon River trip piece? Is this mandatory or optional?

The Main Salmon 6-day, 90-mile wilderness river trip is one of the most iconic river trips in North America. It’s a gorgeous multi-day remote river experience that has us camping on big natural sandy beaches every night, floating through remote canyons, soaking in hot springs, exploring homesteads, and seeing Idaho’s great Frank Church Wilderness – the largest stretch of wilderness in the lower 48. It’s also 90 miles of fun Class II – III whitewater and a perfect graduation celebration for ZEN MASTERS students.


Most ZEN MASTERS will be proficient enough at the end of the course to kayak all of the 90 miles in their own boats. Gerry Moffatt, along with assistant instructors and safety boaters, will continue to lead and instruct every day. For Zen Masters students this “authentic adventure” presents an ideal opportunity to consolidate and enjoy hard won skills with family and freinds.


Thunder Dragon operates a private departure fully supported by our partner outfitter Wilderness River Outfitters. The only participants will be those invited by Thunder Dragon, including current ZEN MASTERS kayak students and, if space permits significant others. WRO’s experienced crew will support the group with gear and oar rafts, full camping gear and gear support, and delicious meals all day long.


The Main Salmon trip is designed to be part of the ZEN MASTERS whitewater program, but recognizing the cost associated with that week, it is NOT mandatory.


If your budget or schedule doesn’t allow you to join us for this trip, please know you can still do the 4-week core program, have a fabulous learning experience and sign up for the following year.