SUB-ZERO SCUBA: WINTER DIVING
AT LAKE MINNEWANKA
Photos by Kurtis Kristianson
Editor’s Note: The SCUBA diving season in Alberta traditionally spans from late May to mid-September. But, for a small group of fanatical divers, there is no longer an off-season. Thanks to a few qualified Master Instructors, a program has been created to certify potential candidates for the unique environment of SCUBA diving below the ice. In February 2015, photographer Kurtis Kristianson headed out to Banff National Park’s Lake Minnewanka to capture a team from AquaSport Scuba Center Calgary getting ready to take the plunge.
The sun rises on Lake Minnewanka and a SCUBA diving placard, which seems somewhat out of
place for the middle of February in the Canadian Rockies. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
With equipment in tow, a group of ice divers make their way out to the middle of Lake Minnewanka. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Patrick Brown-Harrison, from AquaSport Scuba Center Calgary, prepares the staging area by cutting
an opening in the ice in the shape of a ten-foot cross, where divers will enter and exit the lake on tether. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Divers prepare the staging area by removing large chunks of ice that have been cut from the hole. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
AquaSport Scuba Center Calgary instructors, Saskia de Jong (l) and Patrick Brown-Harrison (r),
drive screws with lanyards into the ice to make entry and exit of the hole easier for divers, who must
wear cumbersome gear for their dives. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
One of the most important safety systems for ice diving is the tether line (primary in white,
secondary in yellow), which connects divers to the safety operator at the surface. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
From left to right: Karl Desjardins prepares his SCUBA tank and Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) on the frozen surface of Lake Minnewanka before his first dive. / A side-mount dive setup consisting of Nitrox tanks, which contain a slightly higher percentage of oxygen than our normal atmosphere, gives divers longer bottom times at recreational depths. / Karl Desjardins relaxes at the surface, protected from the cold air and water by a full body dry-suit and dry-gloves. These suits protect the divers from body heat loss by creating a dry air space between the body and the suit. / Photos Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Ice divers, while extreme, are very passionate about their sport. Here, Karl Desjardins happily answers the many questions about ice diving asked by tourists on Lake Minnewanka. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Connie McEgan helps Patrick Brown-Harrison with his suit as he jokingly kneels in a pre-dive prayer to release the stress that comes before an entry below the ice. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Karl Desjardins controls the tether line that connects Saskia de Jong and Patrick Brown-Harrison to the surface during their dive. Depending on the situation, divers can tug on the line to communicate with the surface operator, who can then determine if they need to be retrieved. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Karl Desjardins controls the tether line that connects Saskia de Jong and Patrick Brown-Harrison to the surface during their dive. Depending on the situation, divers can tug on the line to communicate with surface operator who can then determine if they need to be retrieved. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Four divers (seated), preparing for their turn to dive, appear to be suspended above the water. During the day, ice begins to erode due to the warmer water and gas bubbles being forced to the
surface from previous divers and their air-supplied breathing regulators. Photo Kurtis Kristianson/SPL.
Photographer and adventurer Kurtis Kristianson
chases and photographs the most passionate, extreme, and interesting people he can find on this planet.
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