The Teams

PhotographersRiders

Jeff Curtes (U.S.A)with Dave Downing (U.S.A)

Mark Gallup (Canada)with Jason Ford (U.S.A)

Trevor Graves (U.S.A)with Josh Dirksen (U.S.A)

Tony Harrington (New Zealand)with Tim Vlandis (Australia)

Scott Needham (Australia)with Jason Haynes (Australia)

Vincent Skoglund (Sweden)with Jacob Soderquist (Sweden)

Taki Takiguchi (Japan)with Jun Kamata (Japan)

Vianney Tisseau (France)with David Vincent (France)

Roberto Trabucchi (Italy)with Massimo Perotti (Italy)

Richard Walch (Germany)with Martin Rutz (Germany)

In late March, master bildhauer (sculptor) Gottfried Kaschnig stood atop a giant mound of snow near the Berg Schlossl Chalet in St. Anton, Austria. His lift-side perch had been compressed and was ready to be shaped, chiseled, and formed into the central image for an event that’s all about images. Veteran snowboarder Dani Kiwi Meier’s event.

It was spawned a year prior while Dani toiled over an idea for a contest he could believe in and would stand behind.

“I wanted something different that celebrated snowboarding’s farthest reaches,” explains Dani. “Then I realized that everything I’ve done with my snowboarding career has revolved around visual interpretations of the enjoyment you have while snowboarding. When I’m 80, the only things I’ll have–aside from the memories–is printed documentation. And those images will always be beautiful. A turn is a turn forever. In 50 years, it will still be a nice picture.”

With that notion, Dani worked out the framework for a unique event, but still unsure, he showed it to some friends–Reto Lamm, Steve Veytia, Martina Famos, Adrian Guenter, and veteran Euro photographer Peter Mathis–for their insight. The Crystal Awards were born.

Here’s the idea: Ten photographers choose any snowboarder they’d like and fly with them to one of the most expansive lift-serviced regions in the world. They’re given 100 rolls of film and one week to capture five different categories–best turn, best cliff drop, best panoramic, best lifestyle, and best sequence.

Every night they turn in their film, and by the next evening–instant gratification. At the end of the week, each photographer must choose four images and one sequence to be projected on a giant screen in front of 40 judges (including the photographers and riders themselves), who then vote for their favorite images from the week.

But who to invite? Dani polled dozens of snowboard-wise individuals when compiling the final list. With many more worthy photographers than available slots, a talented pool of shooters waits in the wings hoping for an invitation to next year’s event.

Raising money for the inaugural running of such a unique event proved to be a challenge, but Dani and event-manager Martina Famos managed to pull it off, not wanting to waste the best winter in the Arlberg region in 100 years.

But this record winter was in itself a catch-22: the overabundant snowfall triggered massive avalanches that’d been terrorizing snowsliders and flattening towns. Teams entering St. Anton by car and train witnessed old-growth pines snapped in half along the road and a trail of wrecked and ravaged buildings. The extreme danger had passed, but certain exposures were to be avoided in the afternoons, and others altogether, adding an intense factor for teams to consider in their quests to collect images.

On the first morning, Australian-come-New Zealand-resident Tony “Harro” Harrington looked out the window of the Berg Schlossl at the finished ice sculpture–a pair of hands focusing a giant 35mm camera. Harro took his first snowboarding photos he in St. Anton more than a decade before.

“They weren’t too horrible,” he remembered. “A little overexposed, but the action was there. It was definitely the beginning of something.” As a teammate, Harro chose longtime friend Tim Vlandis, the first pro rider he shot regularly back in Oz during his career’s infancy. Chemistry, history, and versatility seem to be the ingredients photographers sought when considering teammates.

As the Crystal Awards got underway–weather changing from fits of snowfall to gray to blue skies–new histories were forged among friends both on and off the hill. It was such a good time, everyone’s goal became the same: Get invited back.

With this in mind, French photographer Vianney Tisseau asked Dani early in the week, “How many judges will there be?”

“Forty,” Dani responded.

Vianney whistled, “That’s a lot of drinks to buy.”

The highlight for many photographers was working with one rider for an entire week. According to Canadian Mark Gallup, “That just doesn’t happen. It’s great because decisions are made more quickly. If something doesn’t work, you can make an exit and move onto something else. You can process the day better, and that’s important when time is limited. Not to mention, you’re just out riding with a friend looking for fun terrain.”

Shifty weather and sporadic snow storms aside, March 24 was predicted to be the best day for shooting. It snowed most of the twenty-third, and in hopes of bringing clear skies many competitors sacrificed their livers, offering up a late night to the bluebird gods, partying like nobody’s business at Club Amadeus and The Drop In.

In an unofficial vote, Gallup/Ford and Harro/Vlandis won the “Dexterity In Partying” category, honorable mention going to Needham/Haynes. Touristing Brits in Oxford collars desperately tried to fend off the Yank foosball prowess of Jason Ford and Josh Dirksen. Shillings ran like water from nearby ATMs.

Countless beers, Vodka Redbulls, Jägermeisters–and in Vianney’s case, tall champagne glasses–were poured down. Nights slurred into mornings well after 3:00 a.m. the entire week. Many a staggering Crystal Awarder wiggled the door knob of our chalet’s kitchen in the wee hours, but it was locked tight after a refrigerator raid led to a ham, cheese, and cracker picnic on the floor of one unnamed team’s room. The following morning, Scott Needham peeked in at the ravaged piece of pork and mutters “Need ham?”

The paparazzi gossip wouldn’t be complete without mention of Tim Vlandis’ evil twin brother, who climbed atop the rim of the village fountain at 4:30 a.m. and belly-flopped into the frigid waters, quickly exited, then staggered across the train tracks, pants around his ankles. Into the darkness, he bellowed “Where’s me trousers?” before disappearing into the night.

All this may seem frivolous, but it was serious training for all future assignments, where rider and photographer had to interact seamlessly in all possible conditions and scenarios.

The crack of dawn found the Germans, Richard Walch and Martin Rutz, driving toward Stuben. Tony Harrington was already saddled up atop a roadside snowdrift shouldering his weapon of choice, a monstrous 600 mm lens. He gave us a thumbs up as we passed. We continued through the massive Arlberg, where 120 lifts and cable cars ascend the mountains with 5,000-vertical-foot descents possible and town-to-town riding optional. Six towns, six resorts, one lift pass, and on this fine morning everything was untracked.

Team Japan met Team Germany in the lift line. Later on, the Italians rolled into place on one powdery field as Richard set up to shoot Martin. Roby yelled down, his voice thick with an Italian accent, “You didn’t get up earleee enough, Richard.” Still, he politely avoided scarring the Germans’ terrain. Crew personas were revealing themselves. The Italians were simply having a good time, treating the contest like any other day of shooting–zero stress and low blood pressure.

“It has something to do with being brought up on red wine,” Richard joked. He represented the other end of the spectrum: German engineering, otherwise known as sheer determination. After working the in-bounds, a three-hour hike deposited Martin atop the cliff he and Richard had scouted. Not a bad price to pay when a nonstop 4,000-vertical-foot descent follows as a reward to end your day on.

Nobody knows for sure which team was getting the goods. One amazing line off a Stuben rock knob was now only fluid tracks in the deep snow. After examining the boot pack that lead to the takeoff, Josh Dirksen yelled to teammate Trevor Graves, “Whoever it was, he’s wearing Airwalks.”

Vianney shot a smooth David Vincent 50/50 on the train tracks of a St. Anton funicular lift with the train coming down behind him. Jeff Curtes commented about it later, and Vianney gravely warns his friend, “You do it, and I’ll kill you.”

Gallup and Ford claimed similar “off limits” spots by carving their names in a quarterpipe wall, warning other competitors, “This jump is done. Go away.” It was all in good fun, but nobody wanted similar photos up on the wall come awards night. Speculation runs rampant.

Also on March 24, Swedish photographer Vincent Skoglund, who missed the first three days of shooting due to severe illness, showed up in the morning set to play underdog. Teammate Jacob Soderquist had been scouting terrain all week and was ready to ride. But on this day, which Jason Ford dubbed “the most photographed day of the winter,” Jacob met with tragedy. While hiking up a small, low-angle gully, an avalanche broke loose. Unable to escape, Jacob was dragged down the gully and into a stand of small trees, pinning his legs and breaking his femur.

As the helicopter flew away, the other teams–oblivious to Jacob’s tragedy, were spread across the Arlberg in a shooting frenzy in which each team exposed an average of twenty rolls of film, producing roughly 6,000 snowboarding images in a single day.

Drained and disillusioned, Vincent sat in a subdued dining room that night at dinner with four rolls of film in front of him. While all those in the group took turns signing a T-shirt for him, Jacob awaited surgery at a nearby hospital. Vincent used a pencil to separate one of the rolls.

“This roll,” he said, “was before the accident. These three, after the accident.” He shook his head, concerned with nothing but the health of his friend, who’d encouraged him to shoot the helicopter rescue and aftermath of the avalanche.

A post-dinner Peter Mathis slide show refocused the teams, inspiring some photographers, stressing out others–those still missing categories this night before the last day of shooting.

On the final day, a 6:00 p.m. deadline was set to turn in final picks; the award ceremony was a few hours away, and the Berg Schlossl was in mayhem. Since photos would look completely different on the wall than on a light table, teams took turns in a room set aside for wall viewing. There was a line. In their rooms, photographers gathered their wits and teams second-guessed their choices.

At 5:58, Gallup yelled, “Please, somebody tell me–what are the categories again?”

Vianney slid into the seat next to me and asked, “Are you a judge?”

I answered, “Yes.”

“What are you drinking?”

Harro wished for one more day so he could reshoot his cliff shot.

“It’s big,” he said. “But I’ent, “You didn’t get up earleee enough, Richard.” Still, he politely avoided scarring the Germans’ terrain. Crew personas were revealing themselves. The Italians were simply having a good time, treating the contest like any other day of shooting–zero stress and low blood pressure.

“It has something to do with being brought up on red wine,” Richard joked. He represented the other end of the spectrum: German engineering, otherwise known as sheer determination. After working the in-bounds, a three-hour hike deposited Martin atop the cliff he and Richard had scouted. Not a bad price to pay when a nonstop 4,000-vertical-foot descent follows as a reward to end your day on.

Nobody knows for sure which team was getting the goods. One amazing line off a Stuben rock knob was now only fluid tracks in the deep snow. After examining the boot pack that lead to the takeoff, Josh Dirksen yelled to teammate Trevor Graves, “Whoever it was, he’s wearing Airwalks.”

Vianney shot a smooth David Vincent 50/50 on the train tracks of a St. Anton funicular lift with the train coming down behind him. Jeff Curtes commented about it later, and Vianney gravely warns his friend, “You do it, and I’ll kill you.”

Gallup and Ford claimed similar “off limits” spots by carving their names in a quarterpipe wall, warning other competitors, “This jump is done. Go away.” It was all in good fun, but nobody wanted similar photos up on the wall come awards night. Speculation runs rampant.

Also on March 24, Swedish photographer Vincent Skoglund, who missed the first three days of shooting due to severe illness, showed up in the morning set to play underdog. Teammate Jacob Soderquist had been scouting terrain all week and was ready to ride. But on this day, which Jason Ford dubbed “the most photographed day of the winter,” Jacob met with tragedy. While hiking up a small, low-angle gully, an avalanche broke loose. Unable to escape, Jacob was dragged down the gully and into a stand of small trees, pinning his legs and breaking his femur.

As the helicopter flew away, the other teams–oblivious to Jacob’s tragedy, were spread across the Arlberg in a shooting frenzy in which each team exposed an average of twenty rolls of film, producing roughly 6,000 snowboarding images in a single day.

Drained and disillusioned, Vincent sat in a subdued dining room that night at dinner with four rolls of film in front of him. While all those in the group took turns signing a T-shirt for him, Jacob awaited surgery at a nearby hospital. Vincent used a pencil to separate one of the rolls.

“This roll,” he said, “was before the accident. These three, after the accident.” He shook his head, concerned with nothing but the health of his friend, who’d encouraged him to shoot the helicopter rescue and aftermath of the avalanche.

A post-dinner Peter Mathis slide show refocused the teams, inspiring some photographers, stressing out others–those still missing categories this night before the last day of shooting.

On the final day, a 6:00 p.m. deadline was set to turn in final picks; the award ceremony was a few hours away, and the Berg Schlossl was in mayhem. Since photos would look completely different on the wall than on a light table, teams took turns in a room set aside for wall viewing. There was a line. In their rooms, photographers gathered their wits and teams second-guessed their choices.

At 5:58, Gallup yelled, “Please, somebody tell me–what are the categories again?”

Vianney slid into the seat next to me and asked, “Are you a judge?”

I answered, “Yes.”

“What are you drinking?”

Harro wished for one more day so he could reshoot his cliff shot.

“It’s big,” he said. “But I’d love to shoot it wide from below.” Taki was reluctant to cast judgment on any of his picks (“It would be better if I didn’t say.”). Jason Haynes was forced to choose Needham’s final picks because he’d left early for a surf trip to Indo. Cursing Needham, Haynes consulted Gallup for some photo-editing suggestions. Likewise, Trevor interjected his opinion on a Richard Walch cliff dilemma. Issues like: “great spray, but too flat” or “big air, but no grab” were discussed in earnest. Coins were flipped.

Somehow, it all came together by 7:00 p.m. for judging. With hair-pulling choices and a consensus that competition was tight, the 40 judges weighed in. Overall winners Americans Jeff Curtes and Dave Downing took both the best turn (a surfy off-the-top slash in a St. Cristoph gully) and the best sequence (a secret-spot jib sequence in surreal snowy conditions off the roofline of a half-buried mountain hut). Tony Harrington and Tim Vlandis won the cliff category (a spectacular 50-footer, Tim silhouetted against the white face of a jagged Austrian peak). No need for that reshoot. Needham, having shot only four-and-a-half rolls all week, claimed the best panorama. Trevor Graves took the best lifestyle award for his moody shot of Josh Dirksen walking the streets of St. Anton in cosmic late afternoon sunlight after a hard day of riding, a fitting closing image for the inaugural Crystal Awards.

***

Dani’s confirmed that next year’s event will be March 18—25 in St. Moritz, Switzerland–yet another massive haven of Alps, lifts, and glacial terrain. Most fortunately, Jacob is recovering and planning trips for this winter

Months after that crazy week in the Arlberg, I pull out a crumpled piece of paper covered with notes–scribbles next to the numbers for each of the photos projected on the wall that judgment day. Each and every shot, 40 photos and ten sequences, spring to life in my memory, retelling vivid stories that give me shivers. I realize that if a camera–or more so a photograph–could write, I’d be out of a job.

Thanks to the companies that committed their complete dedication to this project–Fire and Ice Clothing, Morrow Snowboards, Oakley Eyewear, Pist Design Studios, Ski Arlberg, Tirol Tourism, Honda–and to all the friends who worked endless hours for free. Special thanks to Martina Famos and Werner Dirren, and word out to the ten photographers and riders–without your positive drive, none of this would have gone down.

146;d love to shoot it wide from below.” Taki was reluctant to cast judgment on any of his picks (“It would be better if I didn’t say.”). Jason Haynes was forced to choose Needham’s final picks because he’d left early for a surf trip to Indo. Cursing Needham, Haynes consulted Gallup for some photo-editing suggestions. Likewise, Trevor interjected his opinion on a Richard Walch cliff dilemma. Issues like: “great spray, but too flat” or “big air, but no grab” were discussed in earnest. Coins were flipped.

Somehow, it all came together by 7:00 p.m. for judging. With hair-pulling choices and a consensus that competition was tight, the 40 judges weighed in. Overall winners Americans Jeff Curtes and Dave Downing took both the best turn (a surfy off-the-top slash in a St. Cristoph gully) and the best sequence (a secret-spot jib sequence in surreal snowy conditions off the roofline of a half-buried mountain hut). Tony Harrington and Tim Vlandis won the cliff category (a spectacular 50-footer, Tim silhouetted against the white face of a jagged Austrian peak). No need for that reshoot. Needham, having shot only four-and-a-half rolls all week, claimed the best panorama. Trevor Graves took the best lifestyle award for his moody shot of Josh Dirksen walking the streets of St. Anton in cosmic late afternoon sunlight after a hard day of riding, a fitting closing image for the inaugural Crystal Awards.

***

Dani’s confirmed that next year’s event will be March 18—25 in St. Moritz, Switzerland–yet another massive haven of Alps, lifts, and glacial terrain. Most fortunately, Jacob is recovering and planning trips for this winter

Months after that crazy week in the Arlberg, I pull out a crumpled piece of paper covered with notes–scribbles next to the numbers for each of the photos projected on the wall that judgment day. Each and every shot, 40 photos and ten sequences, spring to life in my memory, retelling vivid stories that give me shivers. I realize that if a camera–or more so a photograph–could write, I’d be out of a job.

Thanks to the companies that committed their complete dedication to this project–Fire and Ice Clothing, Morrow Snowboards, Oakley Eyewear, Pist Design Studios, Ski Arlberg, Tirol Tourism, Honda–and to all the friends who worked endless hours for free. Speciall thanks to Martina Famos and Werner Dirren, and word out to the ten photographers and riders–without your positive drive, none of this would have gone down.