By Natalie Langmann
In snowboarding and the world of professional photography, there aren't a lot of opportunities like the Arc'teryx's Deep Winter Photo Challenge where a photog is given the opportunity to showcase their perspective of life in the mountains to a sold-out 1,100-person audience at the Fairmont Whistler. For the past nine winters, Whistler Blackcomb has invited photographers from around the world to step up to a 72-hour challenge of creating a three-to five-minute slideshow all shot within the bounds of Whistler Blackcomb Mountains. This year, the lineup of photographers included Ashley Barker, Mike Helfrich, Ben Girardi, Tal Roberts, Adam Barker, and Grant Gunderson (who pulled out at the last minute).
The rules remain strict: don't cross the out-of-bounds signs. No faking pow by using the scraps from the last snowstorm in the slackcountry. Every photo on the hill must be shot within operating hours. The photographers were stacked this year, and on top of everything they were working with temperatures that had warmed since the last snow dump the Sunday prior. Storm or no storm, after beating snow out of hardpack, and blowing the audience out of their seats, Ashley Barker was crowned Queen Of Storms, winning 5,000 dollars.
So what does a photographer need to win? Well, they say it takes three things. First, appeal to the judge's tastes. There are grumblings that this isn't an easy contest to win for a snowboard photographer, because in the past the judges have been predominantly legendary ski photogs. This year the judging panel was made up half snowboarder photographers and half ski photographers. And this year a snowboard photographer shot with only two skiers and won. Go figure.
Second: get creative. There is no arguing that this is exactly what Mike Helfrich did, who took home third place and 1,500 dollars. Being no stranger to the Whistler Blackcomb terrain, and his second time shooting for Deep Winter, he shot Colin D Watt and Lucas Ouellette, theming his slideshow with "a beast that inhabits an abandoned cabin in Whistler and has a taste for humans."
Mike Helfrich’s third place slideshow.
Third: put together the most solid crew of riders you can gather because not only will you need them to get gnarly at the drop of an f-stop, but more than anything else you will need to ride these mountains like a true local. So if you find yourself squirreling throughout hidden stashes just off the main runs, while chasing some hell-bent rider with a Heaven's Devils patch on his jacket, wielding a mini-chainsaw, hacking his way through overgrown shrubbery searching for pow, consider yourself winning - in the memory bank at least. And style, make sure someone on your crew is oozing with style like second-place winner Tal Roberts did by working with Logan Short, or how Helfrich had Ouellette chucking a backie off an out-of-bounds sign into rock gnar.
Winning or not, perhaps the real story of Deep Winter is the camaraderie, what goes on behind the scenes, and how much a crew bonds after three days of working together. Prime example being Ben Girardi, who came north from Salt Lake City, Utah, not knowing his crew of Joel Loverin, Phil Nicholl, Jake Bauer, and Jen McGoldrick beforehand and had them riding parts of the mountain that are considered gnarly on a pow day, like straight-lining down The Coffin, a line off Whistlers' Peak Chair that requires total commitment. For these riders to step it up for a photographer they had never met or worked with before goes to show how much trust a rider and photographer put into each other.
Regardless of the outcome of the evening, it's pretty rad to sit in such a large audience of like-minded mountain folk and watch first hand how a photographer brings it all together, with their vision, story, editing, timing and music.
Arc'teryx Deep Winter Photo Challenge 2015 Winners
1. Ashley Barker
2. Tal Roberts
3. Mike Helfrich