Two days of mountain biking in the mountains of northern New Mexico.
Fat Tires in the Land of Enchantment
July 2019 saw me teaming up with fat tire power duo Syd and Macky for the second time. Our first collaboration had taken place in the Wasatch near my home, this time we met up on Macky’s home turf, Taos, New Mexico.
Ingredients for this project:
Two locations in mountains/forest
Miles and miles of single-track trails
A plethora of scenic views
Two psyched and capable riders
And one person with a camera who hopefully can keep up
Place all items in brown bag then shake until completely saturated. Enjoy!
Osprey Packs had asked for new imagery of the Siskin/Salida and Savu/Seral packs in action. We considered a few locations before agreeing on the Sangre de Cristo Range of northern New Mexico. Then in the weeks leading up to the dates wild fires broke out and rapidly spread. In response the Forest Service closed most public trailheads. Luckily Syd and Macky have friends in high places and they called in a favor to two. One to the land owner of Northside at Taos Ski Valley, Roger Patterson, and another to Kailah Tucker at Angel Fire Resort.
On day one we shot the Salida/Siskin packs at Northside at Taos Ski Valley. Having only visited Taos in the winter I was excited to soak it up during the warmer season. Single track climbing above 12,000 feet, moody skies, constant laughter, and views for days without another soul in sight. This was a treat. We raced the weather shooting for several hours before making it back to the van just as the skies opened up. Soaking wet we met up with Roger at Tim’s Stray Dog Cantina. Brisket tacos, yum!
Day two arrived with cloudy skies hanging over Angel Fire Resort. We switched the focus to the Savuand Seralhip/lumbar packs rode the lift. The rumors are true. There’s a reason Angel Fire has been voted best in the southwest for five years in a row. 2000 vertical feet, 60-plus miles of well engineered trails. Flow, super chunk, and jump lines led to fast and fun times ending with a little sprint session on the town trails, but not before mowing down a huge taco salad at El Jefe.
The two fun filled days flew by were the conversation wandered easily from wedding plans, training, travel, making ends meet, and a whole lot of bike talk. Thanks Syd and Macky for the solid good times.
I was asked recently about the first camera I owned and it made me think about the journey to where I am today.
Here are the cameras I have owned/operated over the last 30 years or so. Enjoy!
Kellog’s 110 film keychain camera maybe 6 box tops. 1987?
Kodak single use 35mm cameras – 90’s
Nikon FM SLR 35mm film camera with 50mm lens – 95-96
Canon 35mm film water proof Sure Shot camera – 96 on (purchase with Marlboro miles!)
Pentax ZX-50 SLR 35mm film camera – 96-07 This was the camera I used throughout college and on.
Nikon Coolpix p7000 digital camera – 04-on First digital camera, but I had no clue on how to store, process, etc.
Canon Rebel digital camera – 06 First used DSLR, still no clue how to process, organize, etc. and derailed shutter within the first few months in my procession!
Canon 20d dslr – 07-12 This camera also marked the time when I bought Michael Clark’s “A Professional Photographer’s Workflow” ebook. Or as I call it, “The Bible of digital photography management.” Do yourself a favor and buy this book.
Do you have a desire to give back?
Last summer I bumped into Nikki McGee, founder of EMG, Elevated Mountain Guides, while shooting an event in Salt Lake City. I quickly learned that she and a few others were headed to Peru in November to teach a wilderness medicine course at a school in Huaraz. I told her I would love to help.
Don’t get me wrong, photographing action and adventure is a blast, but recently I’ve been looking for ways to get involved with organizations that give back to the outdoor community and working with EMG fit that bill. And beside, our passions go beyond the outdoor activities we participate in. Right?… Or maybe it’s just my restlessness that has me constantly on the move.
So a few emails and phone calls later I was on a plane to Lima and then a bus to Huaraz. This project was a departure from the norm. Instead of focusing on an objective like a summit, climb, trail, etc., and creating shiny picture-perfect images, I had the opportunity to slow down and absorb things as they came. Fear and self doubt were ever present as I opened up to others and developed relationships, but as you probably already know, this world is filled with amazing people. So by the end of our short time there I’d gotten to know the vibrant outdoor community of Huaraz, made several new friends, and realized how lucky we all are to live in this stunning world we call home. The chifa, ceviche, lomo saltado, mountains, lakes, taxis, car horns, rooster calls, and markets left a lasting impression. And it was beautiful. So much so that I’m headed back with my entire family this June.
Elevated Mountain Guides (https://www.elevatedmountainguides.org) , EMG, is a nonprofit helping underserved communities access the outdoors.
It began as gathering and delivering used climbing gear to the technical institute in Huaraz and has now blossomed into teaching wilderness medicine in South America and developing youth after-school-outdoor programs in the United States.
My task was to come back with both still and motion pictures. The still images will be used for websites, printed brochures, social media, and to spread their message. The motion clips are used as the back drop to a voice-over taken from a few interviews conducted over the last four months.
Click the video below to watch this six minute piece, which is part profile, part event documentation, and 100% gorilla-style, going fast and light.
*Indoor climbing footage courtesy of Nicole Passeri.
Over the winters I’ve gone to Cody, Wyoming for the ice climbing in the South Fork of the Shoshone River. Each of these trips consisted of arriving to Cody well after dark, driving up the canyon before sunrise, whacking ice all day, returning to town late, eating one pot meals off a single burner stove in a motel room, sleeping, then repeating the process until I was too tired to continue. The trips always ended with a bleary-eyed drive home to Salt Lake City without ever exploring the town and its surroundings. This February I fell into an opportunity to fix all that.
Travel Wyoming had put together a Wild West Wyoming Winter Tour through the northwest corner of the state. Two days in and around Cody and one day in Thermopolis. Through luck, persistence, and perhaps a lack of oversight from Travel Wyoming, I managed to get an invite and before they could rescind or catch their error I was on the road rolling north through the sage plains of central Wyoming.
Below the eastern slopes of the Absaroka Mountains near the banks of the Shoshone River is the town of Cody. The main drag through town, Sheridan Avenue, runs east/west and is lined with western themed hotels, cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops, all tipping their hats to the area’s frontier past.
The tour began by meeting the rest of the crew of Brandon Eckroth, Courtney Steeves, Jenna Spesard, and Tia Troy at the Yellowstone Regional Airport then heading down Sheridan Ave to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. At first glance you could easily write the center off as a tourist trap, but that would be wrong. Within its walls are five museums. And when I say five, I mean that each of them could easily be stand-alone destinations in any metropolitan area. The Cody Firearms Museum houses the largest collection of American-made firearms in the world. The Whitney Museum of Western Art is a fascinating look at the western United States through the eyes of numerous artists and mediums. The Plains Indian Museum is a comprehensive look into the evolving lives of the Plains Indians. The Buffalo Bill Museum is focused on the life of guide, scout, frontiersman, actor, showman, and founder of Cody who became an American icon. The Draper Natural History Museum is an in-depth journey that takes you deep into greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Our entire group agreed that there are so many things to see and study at the Center of the West that one visit is definitely not enough. Luckily, a pass to the center is actually good for two days. I will definitely go back.
After having my mind blown at the Center of the West we drove down the avenue to the Cody Firearm Experience. The owner Paul Brock, a former curator for the Cody Firearms Museum, had the brilliant idea of combining the history of firearms in America with a gun range, giving visitors a one-of-a-kind interactive experience. A prominent display of replica firearms at the entrance shows the history and evolution of the guns in the West. Visitors have their choice of which firearms to use, ranging from way back up to the latest makes and models. Under Paul’s supervision we were allowed to squeeze off a few rounds. Our group settled on a Colt Walker Conversion revolver (cowboy gun) and a Winchester Colt 45 Rifle. Paul offered up a Gatling gun to test out, but none of us had the nerve.
Day two began in the dark with a predawn drive up the North Fork Highway, not too different from my previous visits to Cody. But for this early start we were rewarded with a technicolor light show above the Shoshone River. After a quick photo snapping session, we met Terry Dolan from Gary Fales Outfitting in the tiny town of Wapiti then headed west to where they stopped plowing U.S. Highway 14. Terry would be guiding us on a snowmobile tour of Yellowstone. We suited up as he ran us through the operations of the sleds and the do’s and do nots of a winter tour in the park. Stay on the road, single file, obey the speed limit, and pull over as far as possible when we stop.
Under cloudy skies we hummed into the park via the east entrance. Up to Sylvan Pass we wound our way along the snow-covered road and witnessed the scenery open up into swaths of evergreens, steep canyons, and stark ghost forests – loud reminders of wildfires from the recent past. Descending to Yellowstone Lake the horizon opened to an undefinable expanse layered with subtle hues of winter. Along the way Terry pointed out land marks and wildlife. Snowy bison, a lethargic coyote, trumpeter swans, and birds of prey. We stopped to eat lunch at the Fishing Bridge Warming Hut while Ranger Miller give us an update on the winter happening in Yellowstone. After lunch we made our way to the jaw dropping views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I’ve never really considered taking a snowmobile tour of the park before this trip but having experienced the undeniable beauty of Yellowstone in winter, without the crowds, the pressure, and expectations, I have to say that it’s something I won’t forget. If you have the opportunity I highly recommend it.
The temperature plummeted going into the third day of our trip making it the perfect time to head to Hot Springs County. A short 85-mile drive through snowy pronghorn country landed us in the energy and tourism town of Thermopolis. Surrounded by mountains and sitting just north of the dramatic Wind River Canyon, Themop, as the locals call it, is home to one of the world’s largest natural hot springs and dinosaurs. That’s right, dinosaur remains were discovered in the area in the 1990’s and soon after the Wyoming Dinosaur Center was created. This paleontological gem is filled with life-size replicas, prehistoric skeletons, and numerous dioramas, a visit to the center is an awesome look back to a land before time and makes for a perfect pre-hot springs outing.
Water from the Big Horn Spring flows over beautiful mineral colored terraces into the river at the north end of Thermopolis. This spring, which has been used by native Americans for millennia, was sold to the government from the Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes through a treaty in 1896 with the condition they remain free to the public. Hot Springs State Park with it trails, swinging bridge, flower gardens, boat launches, bison herd, parks, picnic areas, and free public bathhouse is the result.
Full disclosure; I’ve been to Thermopolis several times during summer climbing and camping trips to Ten Sleep Canyon. At only sixty miles away the free bathhouse offered a great rest day recovery activity with the added bonus of a free shower! But, soaking in the public bathhouse’s outdoor pool in the middle of winter, with a water temperature near 104 degrees and an air temperature in the teens, was more refreshing than can be described. Doing it alone on Super Bowl Sunday, when everyone had gone home to watch the game, was more priceless than the admission.
After having a good long soak, I opted for a quiet walk in the park while the rest of the crew headed into the Wind River Canyon. Watching the steam rise over Smoking Water Park is as amazing as the ice formations that cling to the mineral terraces. Making my way across the swinging bridge, over the Big Horn River I was given a fabulous vantage point of the entire park.
The final morning of our trip was spent with Barb and Merlin Heinze at their place in Thermopolis. The visit was an incredible look inside the handcrafted fur and leather clothing trade. Merlin’s Hideout is a tannery, sewing studio, and custom clothing retail shop with a reputation for buffalo fur coats. Quick trivia: Merlin made eight buffalo coats for Kurt Russell’s character in the Quentin Tarantino movie “The Hateful Eight”. Stopping in and being shown around opened my eyes to a world I knew very little about and hearing Merlin’s story of making a pair of beaver gaiters for himself that quickly led to making a whole line of fur products for others was incredible. We concluded the visit with trying on a few of their jackets, being blown away by their warmth and comfort, and then promptly being turned down when asked if they would be willing to trade one for my nappy jacket.
And just like that the trip was ending. Back in Cody after loading up the car and waving good bye I asked myself “why”. Why come to the northwest corner of Wyoming in the dead of winter? By default I’d be coming back for the ice climbing, but would I return for the history of the Wild West, Yellowstone, paleontology, or the hot springs? Or might I come again to meet and be inspired by folks living their very own American dream? While these thoughts ran through my head I recalled a quiet moment from the first day of the trip.
Before meeting the rest of the crew, I’d walked east along Sheridan Avenue leaving the shops and restaurants behind. At the top of a short hill I looked west over town to the Absaroka Mountains then turned my gaze north to Heart Mountain. Soaking up the scene I was startled by a prairie falcon sitting on a fence post not 20 feet from where I stood. At first the bird gazed at me with one eye then rotated its head and looked at me with the other. It repeated this a few times shaking its head before taking flight.
I’ll definitely be coming back to Cody and Thermopolis for the climbing and so much more. And next time it’ll be for a lot longer.
Portrait : a painting, drawing, photograph, or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders.
“Louis, you shoot portraits?” It was late October and I was looking for an assistant to help with an upcoming editorial portrait shoot. My prospective candidate – a talented portrait and wedding photographer – was serious when he asked me the above question. In fact, it’s not the first time someone has been surprised that I photograph things other than adventure/action sequences.
Barron’s Magazine, November 27, 2017. Photos.
After receiving the request to create an environmental portrait of Daniel Chace I paid a visit to his office. I scoped different spots then noted what lighting equipment would be necessary. Next I visited the Bonneville Shoreline Trail located only two blocks from the office and scouted the possibilities. The direction given was to focus on an outside look, but if weather forced us inside the office would be our back up. The day arrived with cloud covered skies, but no precipitation. Just to be safe we set up a lighting rig in a conference room before meeting Dan and heading up to the trail. Once outside we spoke about children, skiing, running, investing and how life has a way of unfolding. We shot on the trail and near the Museum of Natural History then returned to the office with time to spare. So we shot there too.
Backcountry Magazine, December 2017. Photos and Words.
McKenna Peterson had been in my thoughts frequently this past summer. She was in the middle of her first season skippering a fishing boat off the Alaska coast when I reached out. I was hoping she could share some insights on fishing, backcountry skiing, being an professional athlete, her family and the lose of her father to an avalanche. Luckily, she said yes and the result is a piece titled, “Eyes Wide Open.”
Backcountry Magazine, November 2017. Photos.
Local writer Erme Catino reached out last ski season to see if I could help create photos for his piece on Luke Hinz’s attempt to ski all the lines listed in the Wasatch’s steep skiing guide, “The Chuting Gallery”. Luke was trying to tick all of them in one season while raising funds and awareness for local nonprofits. We caught up to Luke one cloudy morning in April as he hiked and skied the runs on Mount Baldy.
Outside, December 18, 2017. Photos.
In response to the question, “Louis, you shoot portraits?”, I chuckled then shared the details of the shoot.
We met Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski at a nature park that set the city skyline as the background. For forty minutes we chatted with the mayor and snapped away… You can see the article by Jimmy Tobias here.
Someone once told me that lifestyle photography can be some of the most difficult to pull off and I happen to agree.
In July I received an email from Dan Holz, the photo editor at Osprey, asking if I could create new images of their Tropos and Talia packs in an urban setting. Street cars, city streets, and coffee shops? Find a male and female to play the part? And have it done in a week? – Sure thing! I replied and then felt my stomach drop.
Turned out I have a friend who owns a coffee house located not far from a streetcar stop in the Sugarhouse neighborhood of Salt Lake City. Check. The week prior to the email, local skier/marketing guru Rob Aseltine happened to reach out asking to shoot some lifestyle images to add to his portfolio. Check. And Rob told me his friend, an Osprey ambassador and endurance athlete, Kelly Halpin was coming to town in a few days and was totally down. Check, and check! That was hard. Next up was “The Plan”.
My approach to lifestyle is fairly simple. Create a reason for the people to be where they are or make it look like they are actually doing what they are doing and hope that everything works out. The basic storyline was two people commuting to a work meeting/or to remotely work at Sugar House Coffee. I reasoned that if we gave everyone a purpose we just might find that quiet, and believable moment. Luckily, both Kelly and Rob had actually done that exact thing at Sugar House Coffee so it wasn’t such a stretch… All I had to do was push a button.
Over the last 6 years I have been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Osprey Packs. In addition to making quality products, their team is filled with incredibly talented, patient, and giving people who keep offering me a place to expand and explore. Here are a few selects from that day.
Since November I’ve shot more than 30,000 frames of skiing and snowboarding. Of the countless days only three were paid and the rest were done on speculation. This season a dozen images made in previous years were published in magazines and online, half a dozen were used in advertising campaigns, and the rest remain on a hard drive or two… After all the early mornings, late evenings, travel, sleeping on floors, ingesting cheap food, and bad coffee you’re probably wondering – Why shoot skiing and snowboarding?
The simple answer is the snow sports industry, brands, and corresponding magazines need new imagery each and every season depicting the latest gear, destinations, and characters. Why do they need new imagery each season depicting the latest? To help drive their sales, push profits up, pay employees, contribute to the economy, etc. The more interesting question is the What For? or what’s the reason I keep doing this?
I’ve focused on shooting snow for the past decade. The first time money was involved came six years ago when I was given the opportunity to work with a brand and their ambassadors (the athletes totally saved me). Since then it’s been a roller coaster ride. Rising high by landing magazine covers, taking on editorial assignments, traveling with a production company, and being hired to create the next season’s print campaign for other brands. Then dropping low by going a full year without a single ski image published, no assignments given, and not one inquiry from a commercial client. In spite of this and operating at a loss each season I can’t seem to help myself from going out there to create more.
Twelve years ago when I chose to cart a camera along my goal was NOT to replicate the polished and predictable images we had been inundated with. I set out to capture a more aspirational side of traveling through snow covered mountains, to come home with something you could see yourself participating in, and ultimately, share an experience that relates and resonates a quiet stillness with us all.
Have I done that?.. Not exactly. That’s why I keep at it year after year.
There was a three to four-year period in my life where I spent about 30 hours a week on a bike. In addition to racing at the amateur level I worked and went to school full time. I didn’t do well at any of it so eventually I eased back from the wheels and stopped shaving my legs.
A few weeks ago Osprey Packs called and asked if I would be able to create some new imagery with two of their enduro mountain bike ambassadors, Syd Schulz and Macky Franklin. As luck would have it Syd and Macky were heading through the Wasatch on their way to a race in Sun Valley. So I offered them our spare bedroom and omelets for breakfast and they were keen.
We planned for two rides. One afternoon would be the Crest Trail, a Wasatch classic, and the second would be a few laps riding lifts at Deer Valley Resort. This would be ample time to make the images needed.
I’ve been fortunate to meet through life and work people who are talented and psyched to be doing what they love. It’s worth noting that yes, they are paid to participate in their sport, but that’s only part of the picture. As with most the athletes I know the “doing of the sport” is only half of their job. Syd and Macky are no exception and are not afraid to work. As we waited for afternoon to arrive and better light Syd and Macky were busy making calls, writing blog posts, building newsletters, making travel arrangements, and sitting down with local sponsors before we finally drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon and began pedaling at 5PM.
The Crest Trail runs at high elevations and until recently had snow drifts covering large sections. Our timing was near perfect as we ran into only a couple of snow patches and the rest of the trail was free and flowy. Syd and Macky went from work mode into full-on fun mode. 25 miles and about 1,000 feet of climbing later we were enjoying burritos at the house. Smiles all around.
Before now I’ve never really given much thought to how things may have turned out had I continued riding my bike like a fiend, but now that I have I’m sure I wouldn’t get to share as many cool experiences with great people doing amazing things in wild and wide open spaces.One more note on the work ethic of athletes. The day after the Crest ride we hit the trails at Deer Valley for a few hot laps before I set Syd and Macky free to ride at their own pace for an hour or so. They had a videographer to meet that afternoon and were scheduled to shoot some clips for an upcoming edit… Obviously it’s never ending.