Deep Winter 2011 Recap / by Strain

Wow, where to start? Last week, I was one of 6 photographers chasing the title of "King of Storms" in the 5th Annual Deep Winter Photo Challenge at Whistler Blackcomb. Leading up to the contest, it was looking like it might end up being the "Deep Freeze" Photo Challenge: high pressure had settled over the area and the long range forecast was not looking promising. Thankfully, Ullr smiled upon the mountains and conjured up a beast of a storm that hit with impeccable timing: each day of the challenge brought a fresh, deep canvas for the photographers to work with.

The idea behind the Deep Winter Photo Challenge is to showcase Whistler in it's true element: the epic January storm cycle. Everyone loves bluebird shots of a skier making perfect turns on a dream line, but Whistler isn't the kind of mountain where it storms overnight and is bluebird the next day. When we get hit, we get hit - hard. January is typically one massive storm, where locals see the sun about 5% of the time. Not that anyone here minds; we live for these monster storms, and spend our sunny summers yearning for a return to day after day of low visibility and endless pow. The goal of Deep Winter is to document these January days that exemplify the riding experience at Whistler Blackcomb.

For the challenge, I selected a mixed team of skiers and boarders - I ride and shoot with skiers all the time, so it seemed wrong to leave that out of my slideshow. My riders were not only talented athletes, but some of my best friends: skiers Eliel Hindert, Jake Cohn, and Liam Casey, along with snowboarders Braden Dean, Eric Poulin, and Alex Filler. Possibly the best thing about Deep Winter was that it was a contest that allowed us to do what we would have anyways - lap trees, share laughs, and explore our mountains.

Shooting Deep Winter presented a great deal of challenges - predicted and unforseen. It's always difficult keeping pace with athletes, let alone doing it with a 35 pound camera bag strapped to your back. It gets interesting billygoating around the big cliffs that my riders like to send and, sometimes, you have no option but to drop too - with thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment along for the ride. Sometimes shots that everyone puts a lot of effort into just don't work - maybe sometime I'll post my clunker list. My slideshow consisted of 60 images, whittled down from 1600. Most of those 1600 suck.

The environment is always a factor when you shoot snow, but Deep Winter was another level of frustration. It was great to get new snow every day for the comp, but I could've done without the wet snow coating my camera and turning to ice, the constant lens wiping or worse - having every element on all of my lenses coated in fog (that prompted a trip to the bathroom hand dryers and took an hour to fix). Thankfully though, just when it seemed like it couldn't get any worse, it didn't. It was as if every day had a series of major obstacles for us to overcome before we were allowed to get shots.

It was such an honour to have my name alongside guys like Blake, Tim and Scarth - and while I figured Robin and Ilja were good, I didn't really have a feel for their talent until after I'd seen their slideshows. Standing on stage with the rest of the photographers, one thing was very clear to me: this was the strongest field of competition I'd witnessed at the Deep Winter Photo Challenge, and it was a pleasure to watch everyone's unique style and vision unfold on the big screen that night. Robin and Blake were clearly a class above, so that third place announcement was the only one that carried any real suspense. Hearing my name called - ahead of 2 guys I've looked up to since I started shooting snowboarding - was a blur of excitement and relief.

One thing I've heard mentioned a couple times since the show is that snowboarding doesn't really seem to lend itself to the Deep Winter format. Jordan's slideshows have featured a snowboarder in the past, but a snowboarding photographer has never won the contest. Perhaps the shred world is too sled-dependent, while skiers are more used to booting and touring around the mountain? Food for thought, anyways.

I need to give a huge thank you to Ryan Proctor and the Whistler Blackcomb PR team for giving me the chance to compete in the Deep Winter Photo Challenge - my whole team had an incredible time trying to capture what makes Whistler such a special place. Also owed thanks are Ryan Regehr for helping me edit my slideshow and filming behind the scenes footage for Unofficial Networks, all the other photographers for inspiring me over the years and putting on an incredible show on Saturday night, and my beautiful girlfriend Alix for putting up with the days I spend glued to my computer editing or out shooting for 18 hours. I love you.

Enough talk, here's a look at some fun and behind the scenes shots from the contest that didn't make my slideshow. Enjoy.