The Fifth Element

As complex as this world is, science has managed to break down everything we know into only four elements that sustain life here on what we call the third rock from the sun. Wind, fire, water, and earth are the fibers from which life is woven, allowing us to exist without floating out into space. But it seems that science has overlooked one more element that is just as unique as the other four here on planet Earth … snow. In fact, snow is so unique that not one flake is the same. Some say that wind and water create snow, but those of us who know better know that snow is both very complex and yet very simple at the same time. It could only be sent from the heavens.

The following is a photo essay on how only snow can change our environment so drastically that humankind would even dare explore, with the snowboard, regions that we would otherwise consider off limits. The summer photos were all taken in one day that involved ten hours of hiking into the remote grizzly bear-infested Lizard Range, also known as Island Lake Lodge. Unfortunately, I didn’t see a bear that day.

Armed only with one camera, one tripod, one loupe, and a slide box of original photos, I ran into one unforeseen problem. In the winter I was standing on a snowpack that sometimes reached five and six meters deep approximately sixteen feet. This obviously changed the perspective a little. The element of snow is so unique, it’s worth considering for a moment, pondering what it would be like if it wasn’t there.

Opener: The rock of the Lizard Range acts like a sponge. Old rock erodes and new rock remains strong creating knife-edge peaks. Near this jump known as the Ride Hit, a hole in one of the soft, older layers is venting sulfuric gases from deep within the earth. At this point, Emanuel Krebs probably doesn’t give a shit about geology.

Second Spread: This chute has been looked at by many but has been ridden by none. In April 1998, the elements allowed Jason Ford to enter an otherwise forbidden piste. But before he’d completed his drop elements sent a warning to Jason. The open slope near the top slid on Jason’s third turn, dragging him toward the cliff. Using his surfing instincts, Jason had no choice but to duck under the avalanche and hold on. Like a wave, the snow rolled over him and fell 300 meters approximately 1,000 feet over the cliff without taking Jason with it. Jason later named it “Duck Dive Chute.”

Third Spread: The rock of the Lizard Range is known as karst-older rock ends up on top of newer rock. It is considered to be a geological window telling ancient stories of erosion and even violence. Winter elements have allowed Craig Kelly to write another chapter in the history books on this run only known as The Backside of Papa Bear.

Fourth Spread: It is amazing how sunlight and shadows are almost identical in both of these photos, almost as if it never changes. Like water drained out of a pool, it appears that Jason Ford and all the snow are being sucked down the drain, ending the last full winter of the millennium.

Fifth Spread: When this summer photo was taken, mountain goats grazed near by, working their way up the mountain for better food. There were droppings from a resident grizzly bear, and an eagle soared off the thermals generated from the cliff shown-probably a scene that has been going on for thousands of years in this very same spot. In the winter of 1998, Craig Kelly’s frontside air probably lasted about three seconds.