Historically the Lake Tahoe (California, USA) region is blessed with 400 inches (1066 cms) of snowfall every winter, which is plenty of fresh to cure those much needed powder days throughout the cold winter months. However, during the 2013 winter season in Tahoe, you could say snowfall was teetering towards the ‘lean side’ of the scale, aka well below average. Coverage put aside, I set out on a five-day mission with snowboarder Danny Davis to make the best of a lean winter season by creating a set of images with him atop Donner Summit.
Donner Summit is gifted with amazing rock formations laden with prehistoric-like trees, combined with beautiful blue skies and easy access to the backcountry, an area that practically begs to be photographed, snow or no snow.
Our plan was simple; arrive at Donner Summit each day, put our boots on, grab the snowboards and start hiking until we located something worthwhile we could manipulate with our shovels into the perfect photo opportunity. Creating snowboard terrain on non-powder days requires a vision in seeing the potential of a select area, the dedication to shoveling snow until it’s ready and experimenting with your photo equipment until the shot is prepared. This philosophy is true with any subject matter you choose to photograph, as you need to visualize the image, prepare the subject, adjust the camera, lens and lights and take the picture.
Each morning we located a ‘feature’ fairly quickly, and then made a plan to best utilize our energy moving snow, because Danny would still something left in the tank to do the snowboarding. As with most photo opportunities in the snow, spreading out the work between the crew is the only way to complete the labor involved in setting up a shot; we refer to it as ‘team work.’
Trekking safely in and out of the snowy backcountry requires knowledge of the snowpack, an avalanche beacon and training, shovel, food, water and your camera gear. Since we were strictly on foot, one backpack would need to house all of my equipment, so I opted for a DSLR body, four lenses, two flashes and two Manfrotto 190CXPro3 tripods. Would I have liked to bring more equipment? Definitely, but you need to be smart about what you can handle physically on any given mission.
Everyday was an exploration into the unknown, hiking until a rock, a tree or even a cave excited our creative senses, allowing us to visualize what could be with a bit of labor. We had all day to execute each feature, allowing us to enjoy our surroundings, take a break from shoveling, and as the photographer, I could size up all sorts of angles, compositions and lighting techniques to best fulfill what was possible given the situation.
When it was all said and done, Danny and I accomplished exactly what we set out to do; enjoy the great outdoors, create some unique snowboarding opportunities, snap some solid photos and not be put down by subpar snowpack. Mission accomplished.
Dean Blotto Gray
Principal Photographer Burton Snowboards