Pre-visualization in Ski Photography

With snow totals thus far this winter far below normal, my portfolio of fresh work has been looking a bit meager. Nearly 50″ of fluff fell from the sky last week, which means it was a busy one for yours truly. It felt good to finally get out and get some work done. One of the challenges, however, remains in the high avalanche danger that exists in the backcountry. This means we’ve been doing a lot of shooting in resort. Couple this with the lack of light during the stormy days, and it makes for some challenging obstacles in capturing unique and fresh imagery. Essentially, as a photog in these conditions, you must address two things: unless you have pre-public access to freshies in resort, you must deal with all the tracked out snow in the foreground and background of your image. Secondly, in greybird conditions, you must add contrast to the scene, which means most often that you’re shooting in the trees.

Pre-visualization, or the ability to “see” the shot before it actually takes places, is crucial to finding success in these conditions. Not only will it help you do what you need to do from a technical standpoint, but it will also help you in communicating with the athlete to make sure that all the variables line up to get a keeper image. Read on for a behind the scenes look at a particular powder sequence shot through the trees of Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort.

The first step is finding an alley in the trees. Most often, you see something from above the shot and then ski down to the side (making sure not to track out your shooting frame) where you can then get underneath and find a legit angle on the action.

The first photo you see here is essentially the first thing I see when settling on a spot from which to shoot. It’s a decent alley with adequate contrast and spacing for the skier. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do–especially if photog and athlete can combine to make the magic happen. At this point, I’m trying to envision a shot that will a) work within the space I’ve settled upon b) convey enough action to feel as though it’s part of a continuous line and c) work naturally and smoothly for the athlete.

Once I’ve settled upon a frame, I’ll envision a line and then pick out the points within that line that will shoot best. Choosing these select points of the line is crucial to both establishing your focusing zone (if utilizing AF) as well as communicating to the athlete where you hope to capture the climactic action. It’s important for them to know where “the shot” is as this will dictate how they ski the line and how they look (form-wise) throughout the line.

This second image displays the line envisioned, with several select points highlighted. As can be seen from the graphic, the skier was to enter skier’s left of the tree in the middle of the frame in a right -hand turn, transition to a left-hand turn and then skiing out of frame to skier’s left of the blurred tree in the LRH corner.

In my mind, the select points of the line most likely to render legit images were weighting in to the right-hand turn (#1), transitioning out of the right-hand turn (#2), weighting in to the left-hand turn (#3) and finally, skiing out of frame with contrail behind (#4).

Complicating things a bit further, I chose to prioritize the select points that would allow me to utilize the same focus zone(s) in my camera throughout the sequence while still allowing me to keep the general framework of the image intact (blurred trees in FG, etc.). These prioritized points were #1 and #4.

This was all communicated to athlete Parker Cook before shooting the a single frame. The line, as well as the select points were well understood. I chose my focus zones in my camera that would allow me to follow focus on the action, and still maintain the framework of the image (this is where previsualization is crucial).

The images below show the focus zones selected as they apply to the frames as they were being photographed (utilizing AI Servo on my Canon 1D MkIV).

Finally, the finished product below without the focus zones.

Were there other possibilities with this particular shot? Absolutely. I could have approached it in a way that filled the bottom part of the frame. But as a horizontal image, placing the action smack dab in the center of the frame nearly kills its chances of running as a double spread.

I could have chosen to pre-focus on just one spot, but I wanted to maximize my potential for keepers. There are plenty of times when I choose to go with one shot, rather than the potential for several, but this was not one of those times.

So what does this all illustrate?

1. Pre-visualization is key in both envisioning and capturing five-star imagery.

2. Pre-visualization is key in communicating your vision to the athlete, who plays an integral role in this whole process.

3. The more focus zones your camera has, the more latitude you have in framing up follow-focus shots like this. This image would have been much more difficult, if not impossible with a camera that only has 7 or 9 AF zones.

4. The more confident you are in your AF system, the more likely you are to utilize it, which opens up many more possibilities than simply pre-focusing.

Remember that this is all happening in a matter of seconds! Think it all through before-hand. The more you do this, the more intuitive it will all become. Good luck!

Breakdown: Anatomy of a Stock Ski Image

It’s a pretty slow start to winter here in Utah this year, so I figured maybe I can tease ol’ Mother Nature into submission with some love from last year. I spend a great deal of time shooting skiing in the winter, and it’s about a whole lot more than shredding pow and high fives (though that definitely makes up a decent chunk of it!). There’s a great deal of work that goes into every image,  on both the part of the photographer and the athlete. It requires vision, communcation and an understanding of the end product from both parties. Read on for a little insight into the making of this image of Carston Oliver at Alta, UT.

1. Rule numero uno in most, if not all ski imagery is tack sharp focus. Obviously, there’s a little wiggle room here if you’re going after some other sort of creative effect (blur, etc.), but by and large, your images MUST be tack sharp if they are to stand any chance at getting published. This requires communication to the athlete as to exactly where you hope for the climactic action to occur. This is vital to communicate, as I typically frame my image around this “hot spot”. If the athlete misses it, the shot will likely be a throw away. Carston hits the mark nearly every time. When working with new athletes (to me), I’ll typically give myself a bit of tolerance in either pulling back from what I expect the final image to be, or by following the athlete to a greater extent instead of having him simply ski through my frame, holding the camera still. If I trust the athlete and can see the exact frame I hope to capture, I will pre-focus on the hot spot, as was the case here.

2. I am a stickler about paying attention to the edges of your frame. It’s vital to have that separation between the skier and the edge of the frame for both aesthetic and functional reasons. Firstly, it gives the subject of the image adequate breathing room, and negates the visual tension that would occur were the skier too close to the edge. Secondly, this is very usable (and necessary) space for copy. This image was shot for cover dimensions, and this space around the subject is a must!

3. With most side profile ski images like this, you need to decide what to include in terms of terrain and line choice. Do you want to show where the skier is coming from or where he’s going? Or do you want to include both? In this image, I knew the backlit powder trail would be an integral part of the shot, which means I needed to show a hefty chunk of turn behind the actual hot spot. Again, this is crucial to understand before the action takes place, as it affects the entire dynamic and composition of the image. Additionally, there was a small cliff directly underneath this turn. So–the shot was best when showing where the skier had come from, not so much where he was going. I’ve employed the ridgeline, turn trench and powder spray as leading lines, taking the viewer from the upper right corner, directly to the skier, where the viewer can then wander into the space below (see #2) and continue digesting the remainder of the image.

4. This background serves two purposes. First, it gives the viewer perspective and a feeling of exposure. It serves as the separating element between the skier and “all the rest”. It’s the contrast I always look for both in terms of subject matter, texture and color to give separation and add depth to an image. By using a telephoto lens here, I’ve compressed the scene, bringing that background directly in and almost “on top” of the action. This is a great way to fill your frame with the goods, and get rid of everything else. Lastly, this background serves as usable space for a magazine masthead. Ideally, it would be a little less busy, but it still works dimensionally.

5. More negative space. Again, crucial to the hopeful editorial success of this image. This space is absolutely necessary if this image is ever to have legs as a cover. Editors need aesthetic, functional space in which to add copy, headlines, etc. It also helps to provide that clean separation between foreground and background.

Want to make this work for you? Find aesthetic locations with good snow. Then hook up with skilled athletes that can exact turns with surgical precision, while maintaining that perfect photogenic form. Finally, learn how to communicate your vision in a verbal manner. It looks completely different from the athlete’s perspective, and it’s up to you as the photographer to make sure you’re both on the same page. Good luck!

Image Breakdown: Mountain Biking for Commercial Client

Image breakdown of mountain biker at Deer Valley Resort, UT

Happy Tuesday! Perfect day for an image breakdown if I do say so myself. This image was shot during a commissioned shoot for Deer Valley Resort several weeks ago and serves as a pretty good template for a standard action/active lifestyle image designed for client promotional/collateral use. Sit back and have a read…

1. Focus! Focus in an image like this should always be on the eyes of the athlete. Tack sharp is key here in order give proper separation from the background. On this shot, I pre-selected my focus zone in camera and began tracking the athlete about 2 seconds before actually clicking the first frame, thus allowing my camera to grab proper focus before the athlete hit the sweet spot.

2. Blurred foreground serves two purposes– a) takes the viewer directly to the subject with the soft/sharp contrast and b) provides usable negative space for the client for copy, logos, etc.

3. More negative space for the client to work with. When shooting imagery for marketing collateral, it’s important to think beyond simple image dynamics. You have to keep client needs in mind. This is a frame filling image without filling every part of the frame.

4. Direction. The athlete is moving IN to the frame, keeping the viewer IN the frame. Were the athlete moving out of the frame, it would, in fact, take the viewer out of the frame. That’s the kind of tension we don’t want. We want people hanging out at our party. Keep them in the frame.

5. Blurred background. This helps to further draw the eye to the subject of the image and give that separation between subject and background (refer back to #1). This is achieved by shooting at a moderate focal length, coupled with a large aperture of f3.5. Additionally, note that we’ve given adequate space above the subject for logos, masthead or anything else the client sees fit to throw up there.

6. Fill light. It’s important to see faces in these images. Fill light can be achieved with flash or reflectors. I’m not much of flash guy, especially when moving light and fast. Given the light source (behind and to the right of the athlete), fill was crucial to capturing a complete image. This was accomplished with my assistant holding a reflector and following the athlete as he came around the banked corner. Requires a skilled assistant (thanks Nate!)

Best Photog Watch Ever???

As a landscape and active lifestyle photographer, I spend as much time looking at sunrise/sunset times as a wall street junkie spends checking the DOW. It dictates when, where and how I shoot. It is one of the single most useful and vital pieces of information to getting my job done, and getting it done well. If I could, I would hotwire my brain to the big eye in the sky and I would just know when that sun would rise and set each day. That would be too easy…

Nearly just as easy, however, would be having that information on your wrist each and every day. Enter the Suunto Core Extreme Edition Everest. With over 400 pre-programmed locations worldwide for determining sunrise/sunset times every day of the year, it is certainly one of the handiest tools I’ve discovered out there for making good on the cliche of being at the right place at the right time. Sure you can look up the same info on your phone, iPad or any number of other devices, but I am all about simplifying and minimizing. The easier it is, the more useful it will be. And how often do we find ourselves wondering this info where phone service and/or wi-fi is nowhere to be found?  If you’re serious about getting serious images, check out this watch. There’s a host of other features you’ll find useful as well (altimeter/barometer, compass, storm alarm, depth meter, etc.), and the extra super bonus feature? It looks rad. ‘Nuff said.

Capturing that five-star powder shot!

Skier Ben Wheeler skiing deep powder at Snowbird Ski & Summer Resort, UT.

Pow. Pow. Powder!!!

Still getting through my edit from the Warren Miller shoot last week at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. This shot of Ben Wheeler happens to be one of my faves from the day. It’s nothing revolutionary by any means, but there’s something about an action-infused, frame-filling powder shot that gets the blood going.

So what’s the key to getting that powder keeper? Luck? Super rad really huge professional looking camera? Cool guy goggle tan? Yes. Yes. Annnnnnd yes. Ok not really.

In all seriousness, there are a couple of key elements to successfully capture powder shots time after time.

1. Great snow. Yes. Thank you captain obvious. But it’s true folks. Without great snow, you can’t expect to create that mouth watering pow shot.

2. Skilled skier. This is perhaps the most important element. A very good skier can make even marginal snow look better than most can imagine. There’s a huge difference between a strong skier, and a skier that knows what to do and how to do it in front of the lens.

3. Fast camera/fast lens. While these are not absolutely required, it will make it much easier for you to capture that one perfect keeper. The Canon 1D MkIV shoots 10 fps (frames per second), which is ridiculously fast. Every frame matters, however, when both the skier and the snow are changing places at fractions of a second. A fast lens (preferably f2.8 or faster) is key to stopping the action in low light conditions and separating your skier from the background with shallow depth of field shooting.

4. AF Confidence. I trade off between focus tracking with auto focus and pre focusing with manual focus. It all depends on the type of shot. In this, as we were shooting with a cinematographer, the skier must ski a fluid line, which makes it much harder (if not impossible) for the photog to pre-focus. This is when you must understand your AF system and how it functions. Read your manual. Some AF systems are super customizable, and the better you understand it, the better it will perform for you.

5. AF-on button. This is Canon specific, but I imagine Nikon has something similar. By tweaking your custom settings, you can set your shutter button so that it affects only the actual shutter operation and metering. By utilizing your AF-on button (with your thumb) throughout the entire burst shooting sequence, you allow you camera to micro-adjust focus and track the skier between each frame.

6. Pre-visualize. Understand what you want to fill the frame. Understand how the snow will react to the skier. Understand where in his/her turn your money shot is. All of this translates into which lens you use, how you compose the image, where you place the skier in your frame and how you follow him/her throughout the sequence.

Now pray for snow, and go get em’!

Canon 1D MkIV, 70-200 2.8IS, Clik Elite Contrejour backpack

2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout: That’s a Wrap

For the last three years, I (with the help of Ski Salt Lake and the Cottonwood Canyons resorts) have hosted a ski-based photography competition called the Ski Salt Lake Shootout. It’s a frenetic mess of photographers, athletes, loads of equipment, inevitable cell phone exhaustion and always, exceptional photography. I know by now that, for five days, I am encased in a veritable bubble of shutter clicking, bro-brah-ing, thumbs-upping, and little, if any…sleep.

Andy Jacobsen, making sure gravity is taking time off the clock at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Andy Jacobsen, making sure gravity isn't taking time off the clock at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

In the end, however, the visual and emotional rewards are extremely gratifying. It’s humbling to see what the photographers and athletes are able to produce within such a short window of time. It’s always great to see how other photographers see, and to talk shop with others in the biz. This year we were blessed with a mix of weather conditions and what seemed like consistently good (and at times exceptional) snow. The talent pool of athletes here across the Wasatch Front is staggering, and it’s always cool to see how many top level athletes call SLC home.

Photographer Mike Schirf lines things up at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Photographer Mike Schirf lines things up at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

While I spend the majority of my time documenting the event for awards slideshows and the like, I do search for differing angles from which I can shoot some of my own imagery during the week. Check out the images in this post  for a peek at the action, and I’ll be sure to post a link to the Shootout site as soon as we have the winning images uploaded.

Carston Oliver enjoys a break in the action at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Carston Oliver enjoys a break in the action at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Julian Carr, making the best of late light and fresh pow at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Julian Carr, making the best of late light and fresh pow at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Norwegian photographer Erlend Haugen captures Cody Barnhill at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Norwegian photographer Erlend Haugen captures Cody Barnhill at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Carston Oliver, just before the hurt at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Carston Oliver, just before the hurt at Snowbird during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Julian Carr checks his takeoff at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Julian Carr checks his takeoff at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Andy Jacobsen sends it at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Andy Jacobsen sends it at Alta Ski Area during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Jared Allen takes a break from/for the camera at Brighton Resort during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Jared Allen takes a break from/for the camera at Brighton Resort during the 2010 Ski Salt Lake Shootout.

Focusing Fast Action (Contest Post!)

For you antsy folks, there is a contest at the bottom, but you’ll have to have read the post to have a fighting chance!

Image 1: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Image 1: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Earlier this week we were blessed with a bounty of blower (read: ridiculously light Utah powder) here in the Wasatch. It was the first day of shooting skiing for me this season, and it did not disappoint. There are some days where most everything goes right, and this just happened to be one of those days.

Image 2: Jen Hudak skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Image 2: Jen Hudak skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Anyone that has ever attempted to shoot fast and unpredictable action knows well the challenges of coming away with a sharp image. It’s hard enough to frame it up exactly as you’d like, let alone focus. Any athlete that has ever shot with me knows my typical response when I see something I like on my camera LCD display–“that will be killer if it’s sharp”. IF IT’S SHARP….

Nowadays, the auto focus systems on pro (and even some prosumer) cameras are so advanced that it’s tough to screw things up. That said, it still happens, and it always seems to happen to the shot or frame that you wanted the most. There are a few things we can do as photographers to nail the shot every time. When shooting skiing, there are essentially two techniques I use to focus. I will use a focus tracking method where I’m utilizing the auto focus in my camera throughout the image sequence and at other times I may pre-focus on a specific spot where I’ve directed the athlete to go. Both techniques work well in certain situations–some better than others.

Carlo Travarelli skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Image 3: Carlo Travarelli skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Focus Tracking

Focus tracking works well when:

a) the athlete is moving towards or away from you at a rapid pace

b) you’re not sure where the climactic action will occur OR there are a number of images throughout the action sequence that you may want as keepers

c) there could be confusion between you and the athlete as to where exactly it is you’d like them to turn, air, etc.

d) generally speaking, the athlete will not remain parallel to the focal plane throughout the sequence

*Note: As a Canon shooter, I focus with my AF-On button instead of my shutter button. This allows the camera to continue micro-adjusting focus as the shutter clicks away.

*Note #2: It is best to manually select a focus zone in your camera. Place that focus zone over the part of the athlete you’d like in focus (most often the face). I typically start “tracking” focus about two seconds or so before I start clicking the shutter.

Image 4: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Image 4: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Pre Focus

Pre focus works well when:

a) you have a specific, mutually understood spot (between you and the athlete) where the climactic action will occur

b) the athlete is maintaining approximate equal distance from the focal plane throughout the action sequence

c) you’re shooting at infinity focus–in particular, this pertains to long lens, big line shots where the athlete is a great distance away OR wide angle shots where you’re shooting at infinity

d) there may be anything present (obstacles, weird lighting, atmospheric conditions) that would confuse your auto focus (there are ways to tweak your AF system so it doesn’t get thrown off as easily with things like this)

* Note that pre-focusing requires precise explanation and understanding on the part of the photographer and athlete as to where the action should occur. Generally speaking, the longer you have worked with an athlete, the better you will understand each other, and the more confident you will feel that the athlete can nail the spot on which you’ve pre-focused. Additionally, it’s wise to use larger apertures when possible, thus giving yourself and the athlete a margin for error across the focal plane if for some reason they are a bit closer or further away than the spot you mentioned.

Image 5: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Image 5: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

So. Contest time. I’ve included images throughout this post from shooting at Alta Ski Area on New Year’s Eve Day. I have a super cool Clik Elite medium lens pouch (great for wide angle zooms or moderate primes) and t-shirt for the first person that can correctly state which focusing technique was used on each image in this post. The contest will end on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Good luck!

Image 6: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Image 6: Julian Carr skis fresh Utah powder at Alta Ski Area

Overcome Adversity with Instinct

It seems lately that I’ve been assaulted with numerous mini challenges these days on my shoots. Whether it’s bad weather, disappointing locations or camera malfunctions–any seasoned photographer will tell you that coming home with keepers is about overcoming obstacles. Capturing memorable and moving imagery is never easy, which is why proper shooting technique and creative vision need to be second nature.

When the scenic shooting is best, light is fleeting. When the action is best, time is scarce. Seconds can make the difference between a 3-star and 5-star image. If you’re fumbling with equipment or second-guessing your composition, you will miss the shot. It’s that simple. Here are a couple of tips that may help in making your photography second nature.

Sunrise at Three Dollar Bridge over the Madison River, MT

Sunrise at Three Dollar Bridge over the Madison River, MT

1. Shoot often–this is perhaps the most important tip I can think of. Practice does make perfect. This is a proven fact. Know your camera controls, but more importantly–know when to do what. This can only come with repetitive practice. Your camera should be as familiar as your favorite spot on the couch. It should feel natural in your hands, and you should be able to react quickly when pressed. The more you have to guess, the greater chance you have of missing the shot.

Sunset near Gunsight Bay on Lake Powell, UT

Sunset near Gunsight Bay on Lake Powell, UT

2. Read your camera manual–and then read it again. A lot of the features on your camera may not apply to what you shoot, but you never know when you might discover a nugget that will make what you do ten times easier. Take it when you travel. Read it on the plane or sitting at the airport. Have your camera in hand as you read it so you can practice implementing what you read.

Producer Eric Budget shoots a fly fishing video short for Megaplex Theaters

Producer Eric Budget shoots a fly fishing video short for Megaplex Theaters

3. Previsualize your shot–this is a concept I discuss often. The better idea you have in your head of what you’d like to capture, the better you will be able to capture it when the image presents itself. If you’re shooting action, try to picture where you’d like your model/athlete to be in the frame for that perfect shot. If it’s a frame filler, decide exactly what part of the athlete to be in focus (most often the face) and make sure to put your pre-selected focus zone on that spot if you’re using autofocus.

2008 Summer Dew Tour action over the Salt Lake City Temple

2008 Summer Dew Tour action over the Salt Lake City Temple

If you’re shooting scenic, picture where the light needs to be to capture what you want to capture. Will it be backlit/front lit/side lit/not lit??? Are you going for the big picture, or will you be shooting something more intimate. What is required for each particular shot? When you know this, you can be taking a mental inventory as you hike or drive to your location. By the time you arrive at your destination, you will have a good idea of what type of shot will work best with the conditions given you.

4. Understand your histogram–much of the time, if a shot is botched it has to do with either blown focus or incorrect exposure. Understanding what your histogram is telling you about your image will allow you to make quick adjustments to get the right exposure. This can be done quickly with the exposure compensation feature (most all digital SLRs and even point and shoots have this feature).

Backlit Lupine at sunset atop Duchesne Ridge, UT

Backlit Lupine at sunset atop Duchesne Ridge, UT

5. Understand when to use which Grad ND Filters–mostly applicable to scenic shooters, this is also important for action and/or lifestyle shooters looking to separate themselves from the pack. Here’s a quick field guide: the greater the difference between shadow and highlight (or sky and FG most commonly), the stronger Grad ND you’ll need (i.e. 2-stop, 3-stop, etc.). Uneven horizon with trees or mountain peaks poking up? Soft step filter. Even horizon line? Hard step filter. Shooting into the sun at sunset or sunrise? Reverse ND Grad.

Sunset reflections of Devil's Castle at Alta, UT

Sunset reflections of Devil's Castle at Alta, UT

Hopefully this list will help you in being better prepared for those fleeting moments that can make or break you as a photographer. We all miss it sometimes, but the better prepared we are, the greater chance we have of tasting success!

2009 Ski Salt Lake Shootout

This year marked the second year of a photography competition I created last year called the Ski Salt Lake Shootout. I was hired by Ski Salt Lake to once again put on this competition that yielded amazing imagery last year.

Ben Wheeler waits for the right moment in the Alta Backcountry

Ben Wheeler waits for the right moment in the Alta Backcountry

In a nutshell, the Shootout is a competition between eight photographers shooting in the Cottonwood Canyons (Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, Solitude) over a period of four days. Their are five image categories: Powder, Air, Big Mountain, Mtn. Lifestyle and City Lifestyle. The photographers are paired with local pro athletes and are essentially given free reign to click away and capture anything and everything possible during the competition period.

Alexa Miller shoots Daryn Edmunds at Alta Ski Area

Alexa Miller shoots Daryn Edmunds at Alta Ski Area

Last year’s competition produced several magazine covers and a load of published gallery images, advertising images and more.

Cody Barnhill and Grant Gunderson review an image at Solitude Mtn. Resort

Cody Barnhill and Grant Gunderson review an image at Solitude Mtn. Resort

This year was a battle in terms of weather and snow conditions. Rarely does one ski in Utah for more than several days at a time without a serious dump, or at least a generous dusting of new snow. Mother Nature had different plans in mind for this year’s competition. Unseasonably warm temps, gusty winds, and not a flake of “The Greatest Snow on Earth” fell during the competition. Regardless, the show went on, and the photographers produced some amazing imagery, especially given the less than ideal conditions.

Bryce Phillips and Cody Barnhill scope their lines at Solitude Mtn. Resort

Bryce Phillips and Cody Barnhill scope their lines at Solitude Mtn. Resort

I spent each day at a different resort with a different set of athlete/photographer teams, trying to document the happenings of the Shootout, and also shooting for myself a bit without getting in the way. I have a great amount of respect for the hard work and sacrifice made by both athletes and photographers during this competition. It’s not easy hucking your meat off a 30-footer to firm snow, and it’s equally miserable to lug around a 30+ lb. pack under cloudy skies with less than ideal light.

Jared Allen puts down the landing gear at Solitude Mtn. Resort

Jared Allen puts down the landing gear at Solitude Mtn. Resort

I can say confidently that their hard work paid off. It was obvious in the end which photographers wanted to win the most. Creative vision was pushed to the limit, and the photographers that were able to bend without breaking this week came out victorious. You can check out the winning images and video from the Shootout here.

Ben Wheeler turns this white canvas into an instant classic in the Alta Backcountry

Ben Wheeler turns this white canvas into an instant classic in the Alta Backcountry

Success in Excess: 13 Resorts in One Day

For anyone that has ever skied in Utah, I would imagine one of the prime reasons for visiting was either its snow or its accessibility. Most people are well aware of Utah’s claim to have “The Greatest Snow on Earth”. Few, however, are aware that it has 11 resorts within an hour’s drive of the airport. And fewer still know of the two additional resorts lying within four hours of the airport.

Brian Schott Not Minding Fresh Cord at The Canyons

Brian Schott Not Minding Fresh Cord at The Canyons

So…man has walked on the moon, created electricity, invented the iPhone, and flown around the world. Why, then, hasn’t anyone ever attempted to ski all 13 Utah resorts in one day? Most people will tell you it’s absurd, excessive and just plain ridiculous. I would argue that they have been scared off by the prospect of hopeless defeat in the wee hours of morning or the waning hours of evening.

Jake Bogoch having a "moment" at Powder Mtn.

Jake Bogoch having a "moment" at Powder Mtn.

Alright. Let’s be honest. We weren’t saving the world, learning rocket science or converting water to gas. We were pretty much having a riot of a time proving to anyone who would watch or listen that it can be done, and Utah is just the place to do it.

Victory at Beaver Mountain!!

Victory at Beaver Mountain!!

We had an awesome group–everyone remained enthusiastic and energized throughout the adventure. Check out the video below to experience the journey for yourself!

Video: Ski Utah 13 Resorts in One Day

Resorts (in the order they were skied)

1. Brian Head

2. Sundance

3. Deer Valley Resort

4. Park City Mountain Resort

5. The Canyons

6. Snowbird

7. Alta

8. Brighton

9. Solitude

10. Snowbasin

11. Wolf Mountain

12. Powder Mountain

13. Beaver Mountain

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