I hate keeping secrets. So when I picked up a call from an unknown California number sometime in July I knew I was in for a world of hurt. Now don’t get me wrong, the call in and of itself was perhaps the single greatest moment I may ever have as a ski photographer, but the news it left me with was going to torment me for more than 4 months.
No disrespect to all of the great publications being produced today, and there are many, but in the pantheon of ski rags Powder Magazine sits alone at the top. As an avid subscriber for nearly 20 years, and a rabid fan of anything to do with sliding on snow since age 13, Powder has been the source of more dreams than I can recount. In fact, while I credit Retallack with saving my life and forcing me to abandon a cushy career in Chicago for one of far more dubious financial certainty playing in the snow, it was Powder’s November 2000 issue “Mecca: Storming BC’s Interior” that turned me on to Retallack. The issue would become the blueprint for my first jaunt along The Powder Highway, a pilgrimage that has since become an annual event while forming the basis for some of the most meaningful and pivotal friendships in my life.
As a photographer making my bones in this industry photo editor Dave Reddick is the proverbial gatekeeper, so when the reply to my “Hello” is, “Hey Chad, this is Dave Reddick at Powder…” it’s pretty much a cue the clouds parting and angels singing moment. I have no idea what non-sense I muttered but somewhere over the course of the next few surreal minutes Mr. Reddick’s praise for two particular images in my submission put me on a high I don’t know I’ll ever have again. When you think about the imagery that he is bombarded with on a daily basis the notion that he was taking the time to call me simply to tell me how stoked he was on these two clicks of my shutter just about blew my mind. Pretty much the coolest thing ever.
The first image was a shot of the Summit Chair at Solitude and Reddick informed me that he wanted to run it in the Valley BCC feature that was published in the November issue. Score. The second image, and the one that would become the tormenting secret of the past four months was from Winter X Games 15 in Aspen, CO. It was an image that I was dearly in love with and for me it was the defining moment of my first Winter X Games as a credentialed member of the media. Being that it was a contest shot and that it was pushed hard in post to really bring out the massive sun flare and silhouette, I really didn’t think it would find an editorial home, especially not in Powder, much less the Photo Annual. I mean the Photo Annual, Powder’s yearly smorgasbord of the best images from the most talented shooters in the game? Holy crap. Cue the fireworks and marching band in my office.
Somewhere amidst what must have been a plethora of stunned stammering and gibberish coming from my mouth I managed to mention that I’d actually written a few hundred words about the image as a blog post and Dave asked if I could send that over as well. A quick email and the extra point to go with the touchdown was on it’s way. The image and potentially the words to go with it might just make the cut for the Photo Annual. Now I’ve been around just long enough to know that nothing is ever certain until the final layout goes to print, but over the course of the next few months and several emails to and from editor Derek Taylor, who eloquently massaged and reworked my January ramblings into a coherent whole and, well, voila! The Morpheme column in the Photo Annual was complete. The image of Josh Dueck cresting what’s been dubbed “The Freedom Air” during his run to gold in Mono Skier X was enshrined in the holy grail that is the Powder Photo Annual. Full Circle indeed. All I had to do was keep it a secret…until now.
Be sure to check out “The Freedom Chair”, a short film about Josh’s incredibly inspiring story.
Salomon Freeski TV S5 E05 The Freedom Chair
Below is the original image and blog entry from 1/31/11, prior to Powder Editor Derek Taylor’s loving massage.
15? Really? Crap I’m old. Amazing that we’re 15 years deep into Winter X….amazing on so many levels. I didn’t see much of the 1st Winter X because I was living in Durango, CO and didn’t have cable, but Winter X 2 was the start of a lifeline back to the snow as I’d relocated to Chicago and was desperate to cling to the vibe and lifestyle I’d left behind. For more than a decade I was a rabid fan of the spectacle in all it’s glory and ridiculousness because at it’s core was a love for snow sports and an eagerness to welcome all it’s rapidly expanding permutations. The world post Winter X is a decidedly better place for everyone that loves sliding on snow and to find myself as a credentialed member of the media attending Winter X 15 was in many ways a journey come full circle.
I have to be honest here and say that I really don’t love shooting contests. As a photographer, the process of contest imagery is very frustrating as there are so many limitations. There are myriad levels of access granted to various types of media and while grateful to be there at all, it’s very tough to know that there are images out there that you simply can’t shoot because you don’t have the proper color badge or the right sticker. In this sense it can become much more an act of documentation than one of creativity. Such was the case for me this week and because the weather here in Aspen was so stunning, I found myself out on the mountain shooting way more non-X skiing action than covering the events. In fact, Friday was perhaps the best day of photography this season for me and I didn’t shoot a single image at X Games.
My sins now confessed, there was one event that I really wanted to shoot. Mono Skier X is in my mind the greatest gift Winter X has given us. Sure Sean White, Bobby Brown and the rest of the usual suspects never fail to blow our minds with the insanity that they deliver, but ESPN’s willingness to bring adaptive athletes to the forefront is in my opinion the purest expression of what all of this is really about. No other stories are as inspiring and no other performances are as gutsy as the ones put on by these athletes. I had been hoping to be able to shoot a much more in depth series showcasing this event and it’s participants but it just didn’t work out that way as I was shut down at multiple turns due to improper credentials.
Relegated to the media pen in the finish area, I was pretty bummed as all I could see was the final jump into the finish area which was already totally in the shade. Pretty uninspiring stuff from a photo standpoint. As the sun continued to rapidly descend behind the venue on it’s low slung January trajectory toward the west, a single image presented itself. With the sun flirting with lip of the final jump, a very short window of opportunity for a perfect silhouette image presented itself during the prelims. Sadly, by the time the finals got underway the moment was gone but I got my shot of Josh Dueck cresting the final jump as he won his semi final heat. Josh would go on to win the Gold in the finals (video here), but I had the image that captured the essence of what is so wonderful about the insane spectacle that is Winter X. For all the hype and marketing madness, for all the attitude and swagger, there still lives a passion for all things relating to sliding on snow that is the core of Winter X and for that I’m grateful to have been able to come full circle. From fan to modest participant and now back to fan. Long live Winter X.