Finding the balance - ski touring and photography
For years going to the mountains meant taking my snowboard out and hitting up one of the many local resorts. Two years ago, while I was working at Mountain Equipment Coop, I picked up ski touring. The idea of self propelled adventure is exciting, and one of the fundamental reasons why Mountain Equipment Coop exists. After sixteen seasons of snowboarding I was quite used to having both feet attached to the same piece of hardware, so getting used to skis was a bit of a challenge, especially in the back country. Add in a camera and that only complicates things even more, but I've never been one to shy away from a challenge. Since I started ski touring I've only been to a resort once, and I kind of like it that way.
In my first season of ski touring I only ended up taking my camera out once. It was like learning to walk all over again and I wasn't sure I trusted my legs quite yet. This year is already better and I've been out twice to get some new material.
I firmly believe that photography is about passion, talent and sharing your perspective of the world. Taking a camera into the back country is complicated when you consider all of the equipment you're already bringing. Here's a few things I've learned that have made it all easier and more enjoyable.
1) You have to be in good shape. No really, you do. Most back country skiers won't be confused with Iron Man competitors, but still have far above average cardiovascular capacity and endurance. You need to be able to carry all of the avalanche safety gear plus cameras and lenses for several hours up, and then not crash on the way down.
2) Your changeover time is important. Climbing skins are tricky and they stick to just about everything. Get them wet and your day might be ruined. Learn to rip them off without taking off your skis, this means that you'll be able to get down faster and shoot more. It also means you won't post hole in deep snow and waste energy getting out.
3) Learn to pack only what you need. One camera and two lenses weigh a lot. Do you need to bring the second camera body? Probably not. If you can't be bothered to get fit then you're going to have to learn to pack lighter. I've spent the last few months doing both, hoping to maximize the amount of turns and images I get in this season. Below is an image of my camera and safety gear. I use an F-Stop Gear Tilopa BC to carry everything as it gives me good versatility and excellent protection for my camera and lenses.
4) Learn to communicate with the athletes. Missing epic powder shots is frustrating. Try having the athlete throw a snowball to show you where they plan on skiing. Having solid communication will not only improve your photos, but it will keep everyone safe. Consider investing in walkie talkies, but keep in mind that electronics and other things can cause interference with avalanche beacons.
5) Keep your eyes open. You might miss more than photo opportunities; it's easy to get carried away and stop paying attention to obvious signs of danger. Sometimes the candid, unscripted type moments are the best ones, so be ready for those too.
6) Put the camera away and ski. I love capturing images of these fast paced sports because I'm equally passionate about participating in them. Taking a few minutes to enjoy the day keeps it from feeling like a job.
I've really enjoyed getting out skiing, and taking my camera along. The reward of looking down the mountain and realizing that you climbed all that way isn't something that gets old. I'm looking forward to getting out more often, and sharing images from a few trips I've got planned.