Celebration of life for Nick Courtens, who died in Glenwood Canyon paddling accident, set for Friday in Vail

John LaConte
The Aspen Time
Nick Courtens, the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens' curator of plant collections, died in a paddling accident in Glenwood Canyon on Sunday. A public celebration of life has been scheduled for 12 p.m. Friday at the gardens.
Courtesy photo

A public celebration of life has been scheduled for Eagle County local Nick Courtens on Friday from noon to 2 p.m. at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail.

Courtens, 34, the garden’s curator of plant collections, died in a paddling accident in Glenwood Canyon on Sunday.

Garfield County Coroner Robert Glassmire confirmed Tuesday morning to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent that Courtens was pronounced dead at the scene between Shoshone and Grizzly Creek in Glenwood Canyon after he fell from a raft and drowned. 

Courtens was born on March 14, 1989, in New York, the oldest in a family of three children. He was connected to horticulture from a young age through his family’s farm, Roxbury Farm, in the Hudson Valley of New York. 

Courtens studied horticulture at the Longwood Gardens professional gardener program and came to Colorado for a summer internship at Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in May of 2010. He remained on staff following the internship, ultimately becoming the curator. He also joined Ski and Snowboard Club Vail in 2012 as a coach. 

The Betty Ford Alpine Gardens described Courtens as a rising star in North American horticulture, and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail said he was a significant contributor to the freeski and snowboard community in Vail.

Those closest to Courtens knew him as a dependable friend who took the lead in helping to plan the celebrations of life for Bindu Pomery and Lily Connelly, who were both killed in backcountry snowboard and ski accidents in Vail. He was also deeply affected by the death of his friend Spencer Cooke, a Vail local who died in 2015.

Courtens was himself a talented backcountry skier and also enjoyed mountain biking, fly-fishing and whitewater rafting. He was a world traveler who ventured to Alaska for heli-skiing, Central America for sightseeing, and Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan for mountain trekking in an effort to learn more about high-altitude horticulture.

In recent years, Courtens had branched out into public speaking and had been featured at several presentations for plant societies and botanic gardens. In April he visited Vancouver, Canada, where he studied plants and gardens and participated in speaking engagements.

Courtens is survived by his parents, Kelly Testa and Jean-Paul Courtens, brother Johannes Courtens, sister Annie Courtens, stepmother Jody Bolluyt, grandmothers Meg Cashen and Corrie Courtens-Soonius, as well as many aunts, uncles and cousins.

Friday’s celebration of life will take place on the lawn at the lower bench of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens location, adjacent to the gardens.

Members of the public are welcome to attend and are encouraged to park in the Vail Village parking structure and bring blankets or lawn chairs.

Pictures of Courtens will be shared at the event, and those who have pictures they wish to share can upload them to dedicated folders which have been set up on Dropbox and Google Drive.

There will also be a visitation from 5-7 p.m. on Thursday at the Vail Interfaith Chapel.

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