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Christopher (Chris) Paul Borstad, 1978-2023

Home 9 News 9 In Memoriam 9 Christopher (Chris) Paul Borstad, 1978-2023

A Life Lived to the Fullest

Our dear friend and colleague Chris Borstad passed away November 15th in Billings Montana. He was only 45 years old.

Christopher Paul, born on April 11, 1978 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, was named after two of his great grandfathers. Chris grew up in Fort Collins, Colorado with his parents Ted and Beverly (Meyer) and two younger sisters Abbey and Stacey. He was active in many sports growing up and developed a love of the outdoors at an early age. He graduated from Rocky Mountain High School in 1996. Highlights of his early outdoor pursuits include wilderness canoe trips with his dad, riding his bicycle across the United States, a season working at Beaver Creek ski area, and backpacking through Europe. He became an uncle to three adoring girls who he taught to swim, ride bikes, and love nature. Through much of Chris’s adult life, he was accompanied by his beloved rescue dog Jed who joined him on every adventure possible.

After finishing an undergraduate degree in Physics/Maths in 2002 at Colorado State University Fort Collins, Chris entered the world of ice and snow, undertaking a Masters (2005) studying the dynamics of extreme avalanches followed by a Ph.D. (2011) investigating fracture and damage mechanics of dry snow slab avalanches, both at UBC’s Department of Civil Engineering in Canada. Appropriately, Chris’s career was launched with a prestigious position as a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory followed by a Caltech Postdoctoral Scholar position at the California Institute of Technology. Here, he began his work developing methods for parameterizing ice shelf damage, laying the foundation for model representation of damage-related calving and ice-shelf breakup, which resulted in a set of manuscripts that are highly-regarded by the cryosphere community.

In the long term, however, Los Angeles was not for Chris. When a position came up in Arctic Geophysics at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS), Norway, he pounced. After spending 5 years at nearly 80°N in the Arctic wilderness, he accepted his dream job in the Department of Civil Engineering at Montana State University, Bozeman. Back in the mountains that he loved and seemingly unstoppable, a year later Chris’s life and career came to an abrupt halt after a seizure in March 2020 that led to a brain cancer diagnosis shortly thereafter. A semi-hemispheric stroke during surgery, which paralyzed the left half of his body, was no match for Chris. Within months, he was back to cutting the grass and shoveling the driveway. While his new physical challenges kept back country skiing, long distance cycling, and remote fieldwork beyond his reach, Chris’s perseverance got him back on a bike, out trekking with his dog, Nansen, and even on downhill skis.

After another seizure in May 2023, Chris enjoyed one last summer with Nansen at his home in Bozeman, Montana, which he loved. He passed away peacefully on November 15, 2023 in Billings after an almost 4 year battle with brain cancer and complications from a fall in the preceding weeks.  

Those who knew Chris will tell you that he was a remarkable guy who was loved by everyone he met. He was brilliant, had the best sense of humour, and an exuberant enjoyment of life. Anyone who has been stuck in close quarters during a spell of inclement weather in the field can attest to the fact that there’s no one better with whom to share such conditions. The loss of Chris from the cryosphere community was tragedy enough, but now we’re left to deal with the huge unfillable void that Chris has left behind. He was dealt a bad hand in the end, but he made the best of every day and fought hard to recover as best he could. Chris leaves behind many friends and his family who miss him deeply: his parents Ted and Beverly Borstad, his sisters Abbey (Borstad) and Chad Biehl and Stacey Borstad and Sherwood Webber, and his beloved nieces, Dagny, Leni and Bo, and of course his dog Nansen.

Please share any photos, stories, and reflections of your time spent with Chris at