THE BAFFIN MIRACLE: INTERVIEW WITH
DAN EVANS AND MICHELLE BRAZIER
By Meghan J. Ward
In Banff to Baffin: Local Adventurers Ski the Polar Star Couloir, we featured the adventurous exploits of Banff-based skiers, Dan Evans and Michelle Brazier, and their 17-day expedition to Baffin Island this past spring. New to the expedition scene, the team overcame enough challenges in the first three days to call the trip “The Baffin Miracle”. Ultimately, they came out of the experience having skied couloirs that were above and beyond their goals for the trip. What advice would they have for rookie adventurers?
MW/ How did you feel about the expedition prior to leaving?
DE/ The closer I got to the trip, the more anxious I got about whether the months of planning was enough to make up for the limited experience we had. Managing the time away from my family for an extended trip was new to me. And I wanted to have more practise time. I mentally prepared myself for the worst case scenario: blizzards, minus 30, stuck in a tent being unable to do anything. I tried to imagine things as cold and inhospitable as possible. I was expecting a sufferfest. Since only half of it was a sufferfest, that was bonus.
MB/ I definitely had my moments of “what have I gotten myself into?”, but then I reminded myself that this is what I love, this is what makes me come alive. I had some worries around whether I brought the right gear, if I was a good enough skier, and how I would hold up in cold temperatures.
The remoteness was a concern. You have to do your own forecasting. And if something really bad happened and you needed to be taken out, that was a worry, for sure.
MW/ What surprised you the most?
MB/ How far everything is. I did my research and had as much beta as I could find. But you can’t realize how far everything is until you’re there. You can look across the ice and say, “let’s go ski that” but, really, it’s five, ten kilometres away. You really can’t grasp the magnitude and scope of that place.
On another note, what surprised me about myself was how comfortable I felt winter camping. I thought I was going to struggle.
DE/ Once we were in it, all the preparation time and everything it took to make it all happen made it surprisingly easy. Apart from the frostbite on my toes, after Day 6, I just felt as though we could have been out there for three or four months. It felt easy, which allowed it to be more fun. I built up the couloirs as being big, gnarly and scary. We climbed up these terrifying lines, but as soon as our skis were on, it felt easy and freeing.
The biggest surprise is how much bigger everything is. Pictures just don’t do it justice; they don’t show the scale. You can’t even see the people in the images, they are so tiny compared to the landscape.
MW/ What were the biggest mistakes you made?
DE/ Don’t mess with your systems right before a trip. You can’t change things and think that the Arctic will be a forgiving place. That’s what really happened with my toes. I hadn’t tested my new system enough, and it was a big issue.
MB/ It’s a matter of opinon. I skied a couloir called Broken Dreams by myself. We were out exploring, and I saw some seals, so I went to see them. It took so long to get there, though, and the boys had set off. I couldn’t catch up, and so I saw this couloir and decided to ski it, thinking that, by the time I skied out of the couloir, they’d be kiting back, which is in fact what happened.
It was hard to find “me” time, when, for safety reasons [polar bears, etc.], you shouldn’t be alone. I suppose I took a risk there. But, if I had been really concerned, I wouldn’t have separated myself from the rest of the group.
MW/ Any advice for rookie adventurers?
MB/ Do your research and get as much beta from people who have been to the area. Just try to prepare. We were challenged in the sense that winter in the Rockies didn’t happen this year and we couldn’t get winter camping experience in advance. Talk to people who have done it.
DE/ Take some time to think through the entire process – from start to finish, from best case to worst case scenario. If you get caught out longer than expected, do you have enough food? What does self sufficiency mean? What if your plan A doesn’t work?
Dan Evans and Michelle Brazier would like to their sponsors: Helly Hansen, MEC, K2 Skis, Yamnuska Backcountry Kitchen (who supplied all of their dinners) and The Alpine Club of Canada.
This expedition was made possible through a grant from the Jen Higgins Fund of the Alpine Club of Canada.
Writer, adventurer, outdoorsy mama and summit cartwheeler, Meghan J. Ward is the editor and co-founder at Crowfoot Media and lives for backcountry getaways.