Backcountry Ski Photography
I crawl out of my warm bed and into my base-layer clothing of wool and polypropylene that will keep me warm and dry for the day. drips and eggs fry as I load my skis, boots, and backcountry pack into my pickup truck. The snow is deep, so I put the truck in four-wheel drive and head out to pick up my ski partner, Gary. A few miles later, we park at the trailhead and gear up. We are not at a ski area. There are no chairlifts, no , no groomed no ropes to tell you where you can and can’t ski, no opening or closing time. It’s simply you, your partners, your gear and the knowledge and skill to travel safely and comfortably through the mountains seeking light and snow while surrounded by endless alpine photo opportunities—the perfect conditions for ski photography.
We ascend in pre-dawn light, racing to get to a spot I scouted earlier in the week. It’s icy cold, just about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but my body warms fast, hauling a heavy pack up the steep. We hike about halfway up a large northeast-facing bowl, and I stop to set up my shot while my partner continues up. I pull out my camera with a 24-70mm attached and compose an image. It’s a bit tight, so I decide to go a bit wider and switch over to my 14-24mm. Perfect.
Gary double checks his boots fastens all his pack straps, and then yells, “Dropping!” He accelerates quickly through 8 inches of perfect powder snow. My lens is focused on the spot where he will make his turn. As he comes into the viewfinder making his turn, the pink-orange snow flies through the air, standing in stark contrast to the dark mountainside in the background as the sun splinters into shards of light as it crests a distant ridge. I press and hold the shutter, a dozen or so frames per second until his turn is finished and the moment is captured.
The first and most important skill you will need to learn is how to ski and travel safely in avalanche. The safety gear that every backcountry skier and snowboarder will have with them every day includes an avalanche transceiver, shovel and avalanche probe—and the knowledge of how to use the gear. There are numerous programs that can provide this training. Check out the website to find a course near you. Once you complete your training (usually a three-day course), be sure to stay on top of current avalanche conditions by visiting the avalanche forecasting website in your state. For me, that means checking the website each morning before I head out. Here, I can get the latest info on snowfall, wind, temperature, and avalanche conditions from its team of forecasters.
Photo Gear For Ski Photography
There is no shortage of options when it comes to choosing a ski photography kit. When choosing your camera, put an emphasis on continuous shooting speeds and autofocus capabilities. I think 10 fps is a good mark to aim for, and many cameras shoot even faster than that nowadays. I have shot both full frame and crop sensor cameras, and either is fine for shooting outdoor action sports.
Another factor for camera choice is going to be weather sealing. I often shoot during heavy snowfall, and having camera gear that can handle the elements is critical. Of course, if you know it’s going to be snowy, it’s a good idea to bring a waterproof covering.
When selecting lenses, you will want to cover everything from wide angle to telephoto. Again, you want your lenses to be reasonably well sealed and also be able to autofocus fast and accurately. I have shot a lot of different camera and lens combinations over the years, including nine different bodies (starting with film bodies) and a dozen different lenses.