In 2011, I moved to Colorado a boulderer and a trad climber. That was basically all I cared about. Sport climbing entered my life and winter weekends were spent at Shelf Road in Canon City, CO. This went on for a few winters but about 4 years ago, I started getting back onto snow. There were a few weekends here and there where it was actually too snowy to do anything but go skiing so that’s what happened.That first season spent at the resort was so exciting. Being a total gumby at something felt super refreshing and mixing up the climbing schedule a bit was nice.
Last winter, I tried to dive in as deep as I could into backcountry skiing while still having a climbing focus. I skied a fair amount, learned a ton and ultimately solidified that I like this shit. Fast forward to now. This winter I decided that this would be the season that I threw myself 100% at skiing and learning how to document it.
Since January, I’ve skied at least two to three days a week, and most days take a full camera kit out with me. I have learned more efficient carrying techniques for different types of ski tours (in my pack, in a chest pack, multiple lenses, 1 body/1 lens), some style in terms of what I think looks cool, and anticipation (which I think is especially important in sports photography). Knowing the sport or discipline of which you are shooting and being able to anticipate peak action is integral to getting any decent, authentic feeling images.
While the ski season is far from over, I wanted to share my top 5 favorite images from the Winter portion of the season and give a little background into each shot.
#5 - Burn Zone in Northern GTNP (Grand Teton National Park)
I love this shot of my good friend Jacob Stinson out of Jackson, WY skiing in this burn zone. The contrast of the environment is super dramatic. The dark, burnt trees against the pure white snow with a brightly colored human visitor in the midst of it all. The image almost looks like a black and white image except for Jake. There is just no color in the area this time of the year, especially in a white out.
#4 - The Bear Cub Couloir
This is the most recent shot in the bunch, taken only a couple weeks ago just before the most recent storm cycle and only a day or two before the official start of Spring. Colorado Mountain School Guide, Andy Hansen, shreds a short but steep couloir that we dubbed “The Bear Cub Couloir” because of its location on Grizzly Peak and being a much shorter, tamer version of the Grizzly Couloir. This day was relatively wind free and quite nice out, but at the moment Andy dropped in above me on this line, the wind just happened to pick up and kick around some of the loose snow on the surface. The small amount of spindrift, combined with the towering NW face of Torreys Peak in the background and the slightly moody edit really make this image pop. Especially with Andy holding that ice axe. He just looks super bad ass in this position.
#3 - Glory Mountain, Teton Pass
So this image isn’t perfect to me, in fact there are several things I would change about it. BUT, the reason why I included it on this list and why in fact I do dig it so much is because this was the first ski photo I’ve taken where I saw a shot, knew exactly how I wanted to frame it, knew exactly what to tell the skier (Jacob again) to do, and more or less nailed the exact shot I had in mind. What I would change would be that he would be a little further right, not so centered in the frame. I like the composition, so I wouldn’t change that, but having a faster camera would have allowed me to likely get one or two more frames in between this one and the next in the sequence where he is covering up the tree in the background and now has too much snow surrounding him. Still, one of my ALL TIME favorite shots at the moment.
#2 - Berthoud Pass Solar Skinnin’
This shot represents a classic situation. Should I pull out the camera or not…? We were nearing the end of our tour this day and needed to gain a little high ground to help our ski out and nab a few more turns. As we began to ascend a small ridge, the clouds blanketed the sun heavily. I was wearing super polarized sun glasses instead of goggles so when we got to this area I could see a solid round sun poking through the clouds. It almost looked like an eclipse was about to begin. I yelled up at my friend, Cory Fleagle, to move slowly up the ridge with good technique, and told everyone else to hang back. Stacking on an 8x ND filter to my 70-200, I was able to shoot this at a moderate aperture to keep the sun solid but also allow for a fast shutter speed. Some trick nasty editing in Lightroom really made everything pop on this one and brought the intensity of the colors that afternoon to the forefront. In over 30 days out this season, I have only seen the light do this one more time and it was maybe only half as dramatic as this. And we were in the parking lot....
#1 - The Double Fall Line Couloir
There are actually 6 images from this series that I like, so choosing one was really difficult. One of the things I like most about this specific frame is the sense of commitment. You can see the skier’s (Cory again) tracks leading out into the heart of the couloir, and then the first real turn down into the beast. Another aspect that makes this image a favorite, is that there is no other way to get this shot then having to commit to descending the line as well. These are my favorite types of pictures to shoot, the ones where you are just as engaged in the moment as your subject. Being able to perform at a similar level as the athletes that I’m working with is important to me and I feel that this image screams that. A week prior to skiing this line, I had summited the mountain this line is accessed from and got a full look into this couloir. It looked terrifying. One week later, it went, no falls and it felt great.
Bonus - Caribou Beatdown
I choose this iPhone shot as a bonus image, because to me it represents commitment and dedication. Julie Ellison and I spent a good portion of January skiing laps at Caribou Ranch above Nederland, CO early in the morning and then working the rest of the day. By this point, we had skied several days, had bailed on a few and had forgotten gear (I forgot my beacon) a time or two. I remember this day vividly, we pulled up and it was windier then normal, (Caribou is notoriously windy) and just awful out. It took us a hot minute to rally but as soon as we pulled up our hoods we committed. We had just left the car when I looked back at the sun breaking through the clouds behind Julie and quickly setup to silhouette here against the sky with my iPhone. You can see how terrible it is outside. The wind blowing in the background, snow particles in the air and a sense of battle in Julie’s body positioning. Most anyone who has ever been in similar conditions, can look at this photo and go, yup, that’s the shit right there.