Peace in the Clouds: How One of the World’s Deadliest Warriors Found His Zen
The sun has barely crested the snowcapped peaks of “his canyon” when Dan Schilling pulls into the back lot of Snowbird ski resort. He grabs his ruck — packed with snowshoes and hiking poles — from the back seat and shuts the truck door.
His white pickup matches his long hair and beard, camouflaging him against the snowy, late-spring Utah landscape. At nearly 60, Schilling’s white hair shows his age, but his high energy suggests he’s anything but old.
“You’re gonna love it, man. These views never get old,” he says, cinching his pack-straps tight and turning with a smile. “Ready?”
With that, we step off to climb 11,000 feet through snowbanks and loose granite, because that’s how the soft-spoken author likes to relax.
Schilling’s 30 years in special operations are evident in the ease with which he ascends the steep path. After spending half of his life operating in some of the most austere environments in the world, he’s comfortable being uncomfortable. Schilling served as an Air Force special tactics officer and, before that, a combat controller — in other words, as one of the deadliest warriors in the world. Now, when he isn’t challenging himself or stirring up adrenaline in the great outdoors, Schilling devotes his unending energy to writing books.
In a climb toward his goal of becoming a New York Times bestselling author, he’s published three books since 2004, including Alone at Dawn: Medal of Honor Recipient John Chapman and the Untold Story of the World’s Deadliest Special Operations Force. After initially balking at the idea of writing that book, preferring to focus on writing fiction, Schilling accepted the responsibility of telling the story of the Air Force combat controller who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan in 2002.
Five years after retiring from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel, Schilling hasn’t slowed down. He spends nearly every day either hiking, skiing, or speed riding — his favorite. That’s when skis aren’t enough of a thrill, so you strap on a parachute and combine the two extreme sports into a single, adrenaline-pumping method of descending mountains.