STRAIGHT LINING THE ROCKIES Jasperite finds snow to ski every month for three years
Three years ago, Courtnall Durrant set a goal: ski every month of the year for 36 months. This month, Durrant will strap on his skis and carve a few solid turns to complete the last month of his goal.
The Maligne Glacier, Rogers Pass, Parker Ridge, Opal Hills and the Columbia Icefields are only a few of the areas Durrant has skied in the past three years. During the summer Durrant hikes up to the top of the snow line, changes into his ski gear and skis down until the snow stops. Then he switches into his runners and hikes the rest of the way down.
The summer is particularly challenging for skiing, as rivulets of water run down hard snow. Durrant said he can be waiting for hours for the sun to come out and hit the snow at the right time.
“I always forget how to ski for the first two turns, and I get a lot of funny looks coming back down,” said Durrant. “I like the turns that are up high, off the beaten track.”
His favourite spot to ski is Ullr’s Couloir, named for the Norse god of snow. The steep patch of snow in between cliffs is prone to releasing sloughs—small, loose snow avalanches.
“The snow there is going to avalanche a bit no matter what, but you just have to make sure it’s not big enough to kill or bury you,” said Durrant. “Ullr’s Couloir is where I first realized how much I love to ski.”
Durrant hasn’t decided on the location for the final ski, but he thinks it will be somewhere in the Columbia Icefelds or on Mount Unwin, in the Queen Elizabeth Range.
Wrapping up this adventure isn’t Durrant’s rst remarkable accomplishment of the year. In June, on his fourth attempt, Durrant summited Mount Charlton. The mountain has proved to be a difficult challenge over the past five years. The first time Durrant attempted to climb Mount Charlton in 2011, the conditions were bad. Durrant said he “caught summit fever” and kept trudging forward, even though he knew he and his climbing partner should turn back. Shortly after, Durrant set off an avalanche.
As the snow dragged him down the mountain, Durrant tried unsuccessfully to kick off his skis and swim through the powder. He struggled to make an air pocket in the heavy wet snow. Durrant finally clawed his right hand out of the snow, which was piled on top of him.
“I remember seeing a star above me and realizing I had an air pocket,” said Durrant. “It’s like being stuck in concrete. It’s so tight it’s hard to breathe.”
His climbing partner, Christian Roy, spotted Durrant’s hand clutching a headlamp and sticking out of the snow. Roy dug him out.
“I know to this day I could not have dug myself out alone. Chris saved my life,” said Durrant.
The avalanche left Durrant nervous in small spaces, and he is more cautious before skiing and climbing on snow. His experience inspired him to get involved with the avalanche control team at Marmot Basin.
Durrant and the team measure temperatures, crystal formation and crystal sizes to determine the snow science and overall safety of the mountain. Every morning they assess the snow. If too much snow has accumulated, the team will use bombs to trigger smaller, less destructive avalanches and reduce the danger for skiers.
Although Durrant has a keen sense of adventure, he’s learned the importance of checking the weather and not taking unnecessary risks.
“When I was buried in the avalanche on Mount Charlton, I accepted it as a challenge. I tried to go up the mountain at the wrong time and I learned a lesson that day,” said Durrant.
Now he’s putting his experience towards something positive. In addition to his job at Marmot Basin, Durrant is also working towards his avalanche safety and ski guiding certificates through Thompson Rivers University and the Canadian Avalanche Association. In the future, Durrant wants to work as a highways forecaster, predicting avalanches on routes like Rogers Pass.