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Sports This Week: Book tells story of pioneer snowboarder and his death in avalanche

The avalanche is what the story really comes down to being about.
The Darkest White: A Mountain Legend and the Avalanche That Took Him by Eric Blehm.

YORKTON - While I can appreciate snowboarding as a sport, I am in no way an avid follower of the sport.

So, I admit I was unaware of snowboarder Craig Kelly, or of his death in the 2003 Durrand Glacier Avalanche which claimed the lives of seven people.

But, when the opportunity to review a recent book -- The Darkest White: A Mountain Legend and the Avalanche That Took Him by Eric Blehm -- recounting both the life of Kelly and of the avalanche I was immediately intrigued enough to say yes.

From the publisher’s page ( we learn more of the story most are likely not particularly familiar with.

“On January 20, 2003, a thunderous crack rang out and a 100-foot-wide tide of snow barrelled down the Northern Selkirk Mountains in British Columbia, Canada. More than a dozen skiers and snowboarders were thrust down the mountain, buried beneath several tons of rock-hard snow and ice in the Durrand Glacier Avalanche.

“A heroic search and rescue ensued. Among those buried was Craig Kelly . . . a man who had propelled the sport into the mainstream before walking away from competitions, to rekindle his passion in the untamed alpine wilds of North America.

“The Darkest White is the story of Craig Kelly’s life, a heartbreaking but extraordinary and inspiring odyssey of a latchkey kid whose athletic prowess and innovations would revolutionize winter sports, take him around the globe, and push him into ever more extreme environments that would ultimately take his life. It is also a definitive, immersive account of snowboarding and the cultural movement that exploded around it, growing the sport from minor Gen X cult hobby to Olympic centerpiece and a billion-dollar business full of feuds and rivalries. 

“Finally, The Darkest White is a mesmerizing, cautionary portrait of the mountains, of the allure and the glory they offer, and of the avalanches they unleash with unforgiving fury.”

To begin with, as a reader it was easy to tell author Eric Blehm was invested in the story – deeply connected to it if you will.

Blehm said that indeed snowboarding is a personal interest.

“I wanted to be a pro snowboarder at one point in time,” he told Yorkton This Week.

Why a pro career eluded Blehm, he would be involved in snowboarding as the editor of Transworld Snowboarding Magazine.

Through that involvement in the sport he knew and became friends with Kelly, so the book was something of a natural to undertake.

“This one was kind of like returning home, returning to my roots,” he said.

In undertaking the book, one weaving Kelly’s live, into a story of snowboarding, and ultimately a deeper look into the deadly avalanche was a huge undertaking – a five year journey of interviews and research.

“I love being a detective. It’s my favourite part of writing; doing the research,” said Blehm.

Since Blehm was close to Kelly and the story, he added he “wanted to get it right.

“It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of weight.”

In Kelly you have a pioneer of the sport of snowboarding “who really helped spread the sport,” said Blehm, adding he describes him “as the Michael Jordan of snowboarding.”

Having his story woven into The Darkest White really creates a secondary tale within a book that is also about the tragedy which ended the snowboarder’s life.

The research included interviewing most of the survivors of the disaster, but also going back to interviews carried out by the RCMP within hours of the event – the details as fresh as possible.

The avalanche is what the story really comes down to being about.

“There were lots of things that were never reported,” said Blehm.

Ultimately, it was terrible occurrence, one of the inherent dangers of seeking out fresh places high in the mountains to snowboard.

“He (Kelly) made the decision to go,” said Blehm. “. . . Everybody that was there was fully aware of the risk – had signed waivers.”

But, that doesn’t lessen the impact in any way of The Darkest White. It is very much a compelling read, a book the author said has been well-received.

“I’ve gotten hundreds of responses (via social media and other avenues),” he said, adding only two of those were negative toward the book. “. . . The response has been overwhelmingly positive.”