Ben Birk is an East Coast transplant who now calls the shores of Lake Tahoe his home. Through his photos he has been able to document a lot of the up and coming snowboarders that have been climbing the ranks in both scenes. Ben has been working with us this past summer in our office down here in Southern California, so we took some time to pick his brain on what it’s like being an East Coast transplant living in Tahoe, what it’s like shooting there and what the main differences between shooting on either of the two coasts are.
You moved from PA to Tahoe right? What drove you to Tahoe? Were you shooting snowboarding on the east coast before?
I didn’t go straight to Tahoe. I grew up shooting snowboarding in the south and central parts of Pennsylvania at places like Ski Roundtop and Big Boulder with a few trips to Mt. Creek. During the spring of my last year in high school I was asked by Neil Korn to come work as the Photo Editor for his magazine, East Coast Snowboarding. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so I said yes and spent the winter of 2007/2008 in Stowe, Vermont. While I was there I was able to learn about the New England Snowboard scene and meet a bunch of really rad snowboarders like Riley Nickerson, Will Bateman, Forest Bailey, Hans and Nils Mindnich Keenan Cawley, Jake Blauvelt, Ralph Kucharek, Lucas Magoon, Niko Cioffi, Tyler Lynch, and Yale Cousino. That winter in Vermont won’t be forgotten. There were a lot of firsts that year. Things like learning to riding powder, digging a friend out of an avalanche, and flipping a car on highway 89.
When summer rolled around, a homie from PA asked me to move to Lake Tahoe with him for the following season and it just happened to be that a lot of my new friends from the North East were moving to Tahoe or some other west coast destination. I thought about it for a while, and with the east coast scene being so small I figured I better make the move and give things a try in an area that draws more riders. So in early January of 2009 I drove coast to coast for the first time to this weird, cold, deep lake, 6000 feet up in the mountains of California.
What do you think the best thing about living and shooting in Tahoe is?
The best things about living in Tahoe are… you’re in the mountains, locals are chill, the lake, summer time, the beach, hippies, festivals, weather, clean air, dirt bike trails, river floating, hikes, casinos, cab rides, and Kings Beach.
The best thing about shooting in Tahoe is the terrain access. There’s no real limits on where you can hike, 13 resorts to chose from, over 10 snowmobile launch zones, and a bunch of huts spread throughout the mountains. All of this I can access by car in 5 minutes to an hour and a half.
Is it really different shooting on the east coast compared to the west coast?
Yeah. For one thing the east coast season is about two to three months shorter of a season. There is also the fact that the area that actually gets snow is smaller, the amount of snowfall is less, and the mountains are smaller.
What has been your favorite trip so far?
I don’t really have one favorite trip, but I can tell you about my favorite rail trip and my favorite backcountry trip. My favorite rail trip was to New York with the Flow Snowboard team on New Years of 2011. The crew consisted of Scot Brown, Nial Romanek, Tim Humphreys, Brandon Reis, and Ian Thorley along with their filmer Drew Satin and hype man Mark Liscak. We were all posted up in this nice hotel by the airport and would load up the car every night to go hit features under the cover of darkness. Scot was on a tear this season and got shots on 4 of the 5 features we hit. Everyone got along really well and no one got hurt. It was a great trip.
The best backcountry trip I've been part of was this past spring when I hiked into the Desolation Wilderness of Tahoe to camp for 3 days and 2 nights with the Airblaster crew of Ben Lynch, Tucker Andrews, Brandon Cocard, Taylor Carlton, Tim Eddy, Hannah Fuller, Leanne Pelosi, Jackson Fowler, Jesse Gouveia, Max Warbington, Alex Horgan, and Cale Meyer with Colton Morgan and Connor Brown filming. We camped around a lake at the base of a mountain and each night slept outside on a huge rock under the stars. Taylor Carlton was the guide and would cook us breakfast each morning before leading us into the mountains to ride for the day. One highlight of the trip was photographing Taylor Carlton, Max Warbington, and Jesse Gouveia ride under a full moon with headlamps. Just about everyone on the trip I had never meet before so it was a blast to experience a new place with new people and create some new photographs.
Who are your favorite people to shoot?
All of my friends who have good style, people who are really motivated, and people with a different point of view.