Wonderful World of White

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

You know how you find a photographer, and then click through their ENTIRE Instagram, liking each one? Or heading to their website to discover more? When we find such a creative artist that speaks to us, it’s both a lucky occurrence (finding them in the millions of people online) and a life-enhancing moment. From now on, our lives will be enriched by their talent, view, artistry, and sharing of their worldview.

One such artist I love to follow is Curtis Cunningham. He’s shared much with us at Wandering Educators, from his feature as Photographer of the Month to photo stories and ebooks. Every time I see his work, I pause, soak it in, and am grateful for his art.

So imagine how pleased I was to discover Curtis’ new project, which focuses on snow, ski touring, and the beauty of Canada. His photography? Well, it makes you want to get outside, to experience it for yourself, and to join him in the fun. Can’t do that? Thanks to the internet, we can follow along, from anywhere in the world. AND, you can order cards, to send a bit of winter to your friends

S is for Snow. Curtis Cunningham, snow photographer. From Wonderful World of White

Please tell us about your new venture into sharing your photography...
As will be explained in greater detail in the following paragraphs, my passion for being outdoors and combining my two loves of skiing and photography has led me to this new venture. I am planning on producing a coffee-table book that will be released at the end of November 2017. This book will document the world in which I have immersed myself since I began ski touring in 2014. It will show the places I have gone and the experiences I have had. Ultimately it will highlight the beauty of the surrounding spaces I have gone on so many adventures in. 

In addition to these things, the book will also go into detail on how it has brought a measure of healing into my life as I struggle with depression and exhaustion.

Curtis Cunningham, snow photographer. From Wonderful World of White

What inspired you to move your work in this direction?
It started out with thinking of ski-touring as an idea I could try to help me lose weight and improve my physical health. I've struggled with the effects of fatigue since early 2007 and it got really bad during the summer of 2014. There were times during those months where it was a struggle to get off the sofa and do anything. So in August of 2014, I spent a month at a clinic in Mexico seeking answers through a variety of different treatment modalities. During that month, as I was free to focus on myself, and not have to worry about my wife and son, I started walking every day that I was in Tijuana. I managed to keep it up the whole time I was at the clinic, and when I returned to my home in Smithers, British Columbia at the end of the month, enough of a habit had been formed that I was able to keep going with this new exercise regime.

As I had a brief taste of ski touring earlier in 2014, I really wanted to do more of it during the ski season that was starting at the end of the year. So I knew that since I was overweight, I figured ski touring would be a great way to get exercise and help me regain some of the energy that I had lost. 

I've been in love with photography all my life, and when I started downhill skiing again here in Smithers in 2012, I figured I should take my camera with me every day. I don't remember having any grand plans apart from simply documenting the mountain, and telling the story of where I went and what I did with my camera. That passion only continued to grow when I started ski touring.

Since ski-touring gives me the ability to go where not everyone can or does aspire to, the number of images of the high and wild places near my home has dramatically increased. I've felt the passion I have for being outside in winter grow by leaps and bounds. The joy I get from sharing my images and experiences with others has only increased my desire to get out that much more.

I have a background in graphic design and love the tactile nature of holding a book in my hand. So when I coupled this passion for skiing, photography, and the printed page, it was an easy decision to take these loves in a new direction. 

Curtis Cunningham, snow photographer. From Wonderful World of White

What is ski touring/back-country skiing?
Put simply, ski-touring is the means by which you can walk uphill with your skis on and not slide backwards. Apart from the skis, there are three main components to ski touring:
1.    skins: these are pieces of material that you clip onto the bottom of your skis (so that when laying on the snow, the skins are between the snow and your ski). They have a plush to them such that they lay flat when you are walking uphill, the skis glide smoothly, and when your stride is at it's end, the plush stands up, digging into the snow, preventing you from sliding backwards and allowing your other ski to take another step up the hill.
2.    boots: ideally you want to have boots that are specifically designed for walking uphill. Proper touring boots have specialized ways in which they connect to the bindings such that when the boots are in walk mode, they connect to the ski by only the front binding, leaving the heal free. When you're done climbing, you take your skins off your skis, and put your boots into ski mode. The flex that touring boots provide you when walking up is thusly removed and you have the required boot stiffness to ski down hill. You can use regular alpine boots for touring, but they do not provide near the amount of boot flexibility that makes the load on your legs going up a lot easier. Alpine boots used for touring require a different (and heavier) type of binding than what you use with touring boots.
3.    bindings: as mentioned before, touring bindings allow the boot to be attached to the ski at the toe end of the boot. When you're at the apex of your tour and want to come down, you adjust the heel of your bindings such that your boot will be fixed for regular downhill skiing. If you're into telemark skiing, you can choose to leave your heel free for going down.

You live in one of the most beautiful places - what is winter like there? How can readers ski as you do?
My personal belief is that winter is amazing, no matter what the weather, or how much snow falls in any given season. I am not overly concerned with the things that some people are (specifically quantity or quality of snow, weather conditions, etc). Having said that, each season is unique unto itself. Some years, we have really great conditions with lots of regular dumps of snow, and other years, there haven't been as many consistent days of snow. There is typically a few weeks each winter where it gets really cold, but on average I don’t find the temperatures too extreme. But then I’ve gotten used to the cold, and have learned how much heat I generate by walking up the mountain!

But what really matters to me is how the world around me is utterly transformed by the falling snow. I feel everything around me looks so much better in the winter. The only way I can describe how I feel is that when I out skiing in the mountains with my camera, it is most definitely my happy place.

I would recommend to anyone that hasn’t tried ski touring to go to their local gear shop and inquire about renting. My modus operandi is to learn by doing, and the only way people will fall in love with the activity as I did, is to just get out and practice. Read online, ask questions, learn the little tips that make touring easier. I would also recommend getting a good ski jacket and ski pants. My personal experience has taught me that I need fewer layers now than I thought I did when I began touring. You generate so much heat on the way up that a good base layer and shell are really all you need (both for your upper and lower body).

Curtis Cunningham, snow photographer. From Wonderful World of White

The power of nature is extraordinary - what do you hope readers take away from seeing your photos?
I hope that anyone reading this will be inspired to get out and have an adventure in nature. They shouldn't worry about the weather, as there's always a better coat to wear. Besides, the weather is what makes the adventure exciting. It adds variety to the photographic landscape. I hope that they will begin to have an appreciation for the beauty that is all around them. Also, I wish for them to learn the value of a slow pace and the art of noticing details. 

Curtis Cunningham, snow photographer. From Wonderful World of White

What's up next for you?
As my first newsletter in support of this project has just come out, I'm going to be focusing my efforts on trying to grow and nurture what I hope to be a continually growing group of supporters who are interested in my work. There are so many new things I'm learning with this project, things that I haven't done before, that it takes an inordinately long time to get certain things done.

Another area I'm going to be looking into is the whole process of developing an effective Kickstarter campaign. 

Ascension. Curtis Cunningham, snow photographer. From Wonderful World of White

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
People can follow my project’s progression through a variety of social media channels:

●    Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wonderful.world.of.white/
●    Twitter: https://twitter.com/wonworldofwhite
●    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wonderfulworldofwhite
●    Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/wwofwhite/
●    Project Website: http://wonderfulworldofwhite.com

I also send out regular newsletters that keep people up to date on the progress of my project (newsletter sign up form). As an added bonus, each new subscriber to my Wonderful World of White newsletter will receive an exclusive link allowing them to download my latest eBook, Bulkley Valley Beauty (where I share images from around my home in Smithers in a variety of locations and seasons).

Bulkley Valley Beauty, by photographer Curtis Cunningham

Lastly, if anyone has questions about anything I’ve written, or would just like to say hi, I can be reached through my email (curtis[at]wonderfulworldofwhite.com).

Thanks for reading about this passion project of mine. It means a lot, and I don’t take your time for granted. I appreciate this opportunity to share from my heart.

Curtis Cunningham, snow photographer. From Wonderful World of White


All photos courtesy and copyright Curtis Cunningham