The What For – Skiing

The What For – A Labor of Love

April showers bring late season powder days. Kaylin Richardson skiing deep in the spring swing of things, Grizzly Gulch, Wasatch Range, Utah.

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?

MacKenzie Ryan drops into am untouched line in False Breaks, Cedar Canyon, Utah.

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?

Early to bed and early to rise makes getting first tracks easy for Mali Noyes, Wasatch Mountains, Utah.

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.

Lucy Sackbauer and Lani Bruntz boot up the JC Couloir, Sawtooth Range, Idaho.

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.

Luke Hinz on top of Mount Baldy, Alta, Utah, making his way to skiing all the lines mentioned in the book – The Chuting Gallery in a calendar year.

Have I done that?.. Not exactly. That’s why I keep at it year after year.

“This one’s for you.” Chris Hassig mans the backcountry beer chest, Meadow Hut, BC.

See you out there,

 

Louis

 

 

Must Love Powder

This profile appeared in the the November 2016 Family issue of Backcountry Magazine

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The two days before the April 2015 storm had been perfect—sunny skies, stable snow and endless Tordrillo spines. On the third day, the wind began to blow and the skies grew overcast. Spouses Zach and Cindi Grant, along with longtime friend Kelly Gray, went to work, digging a cave and building walls around camp, later taking turns shoveling and listening to avalanches when the snow began to fall.

 

On the sixth day, an aircraft was dispatched to retrieve them, but there was a problem—the soft landing and takeoff conditions required a lighter plane, a Super Cub, with room for only one passenger. And in this case, there was only time for one trip during the break in the weather. At first Kelly insisted Cindi go, but when the bush plane lurched upward into the clouds, Kelly was aboard, leaving Cindi committedly standing beside Zach on the Triumvirate Glacier, hoping the weather would hold.

 

“They’ve been like that ever since the beginning,” says Sheila Roller, Cindi’s mom. In 2001, when Zach and Cindi, met as high-school freshman in the Salt Lake suburbs, Sheila was concerned with how inseparable they were. Over time her concern has faded as she’s realized just how aligned they are. And what started as a friendship became an affair that revolved around snowboarding.

 

The duo began exploring the Brighton and Snowboard sidecountry in high school, but their interest in riding backcountry lines became ignited while attending Salt Lake Community College.

 

One of Zach’s first bigger Wasatch descents was the Northwest Super Couloir on Box Elder Peak, a 2,700-foot, 50-degree line that he brought Cindi to the same season for one of her first tours. “I felt like I had been snowboarding with blinders on,” Cindi recalls. “With a splitboard my peripheral vision opened to all the possibilities.”

 

Over the next few years the couple took avalanche classes, gained experience and ticked off lines in the Wasatch and across the Intermountain West almost always together. Then in 2011, after a 10-year courtship, they tied the knot below the peaks of the northern Wasatch and began dreaming and living bigger, driving from Utah to Alaska the following March to ride around Haines, Valdez and Anchorage. “That trip put the Wasatch in perspective,” Zach shares. “We realized that there’s so much out there and that we needed to travel and explore more.”

 

Back to the Wasatch the couple settled into careers – Cindi as a programs director of a guide service and Zach signed on to a trails and grooming crew at a local resort – that maximized their time on snow. In summer 2012, they purchased a backcountry cabin that was in bad shape and had no running water but was located in a basin surrounded by backcountry terrain. With the help of friends and family, they rebuilt. “Someone once told me that if your marriage can survive a remodel, then you have a solid relationship,” Cindi says. “It was definitely a test,” admits Zach, “that took us back to the fundamentals where we had to focus on communication and working as a team.” Four years later their simple shed-frame home, nestled off unimproved roads, has running water, is filled with natural light and beckons visitors to rethink their city lives.

 

copyright 2016 Louis Arevalo

All About the Powder

One of the things I can’t seem to stop doing is photographing skiing while it storms. Those of you who ski know that some of the best days ever have been storm days. More nuance than exact details the textures of the scene are subtle, but very, very telling. Chris Smith emerges from the white room.larevalo_emmamarch_0316_0012

Winter Backcountry Photography.

Splitboarder Maxwell Morrill boots his way to a wintery summit in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.
Splitboarder Maxwell Morrill boots his way to a wintery summit in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah.

I had an idea about ten years back, “it would be easier to get great ski and snowboard imagery if I just shot the places I was backcountry skiing with friends.” No lift lines, no tracks, no crowds. Simple, just bring the camera along and watch the bank account grow from all the money rolling in from sales of my work…
That’s not exactly what has happened, not even close, but there is something rewarding about getting out into the wild and coming back with something that isn’t recycled.
With each passing winter season in the Wasatch I am always amazed with new discoveries. A different approach, a new zone, a new line I either didn’t know about or hadn’t visited yet. The exploration seems to be never ending…

Powder

On the morning of April 15, 2015 I was up around 430 AM. I couldn’t sleep. Looking out the window I saw that a blanket of fresh snow covered the lawn. I brewed coffee, surfed the daily headlines and tapped my fingers waiting for Snowbird to update it’s overnight storm totals.

24″ and still snowing! I immediatley loaded up the car and met Hannah Follender at Snowbird’s tram. These are a few of the images from throughout the day. When it finally stopped coming down it added up to 40″ in less than 24 hours. Not bad for Tax Day!

Ka-POW!

Winter’s Sunrise.

I have never regretted waking before dawn… Especially in the snowy months.

Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
Split board mission in Wyoming. Day after day of pre 4am wake ups definitely made a mark, but scenes like this one made everyone worthwhile. First light in the Grand Teton National Park.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
March 2013. Wolverine Cirque sunrise mission take two. On our first trip the week prior clouds on the horizon obscured dawn. Second go, not a cloud in sight.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It's been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don't ask me why.
December 2014. The iconic south face of Mount Superior is not a secret. It’s been skied every which way and photographed as much… I sort of avoided shooting it until now… Don’t ask me why.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
January 2015. Morning twilight in the Little Cottonwood ridge line. The warm glow of the coming dawn makes it easy to forget that at the moment of this image temperatures were hovering in the single digits.
April 2014. It's funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. It’s funny how much the Wasatch clears out once spring arrives. Luckily there are friends who take advantage of the deep snow pack and lack of crowds. Sunrise from Flagstaff.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.
April 2014. The idea of connecting the seven ski areas of the Wasatch is not new. Last year there was new life breathed into it. If completed it would consume excellent backcountry terrain. Sunrise from Clayton Peak.

Risk in avalanche terrain. What’s it worth to you?

I recently watched this interview with Utah Avalanche Center’s Bruce Tremper. In it he talks about risk in avalanche terrain. About half way into it something he said stuck with me. Paraphrased, “There are three types of people in the backcountry; those who don’t know they are at risk, those who know and go and anyway and then there are the people how go because there IS risk.”

Kordell Black and Cindi Lou Grant isolate a column of snow in the Wasatch backcountry.
Kordell Black and Cindi Lou Grant isolate a column of snow in the Wasatch backcountry.

Reflecting on time spent in the mountains it’s fair to say I have fallen into all three categories at one time or another. I shudder at the memories of a teenager rambling through the mountains completely ignorant of the dangers. Through my twenties I was trying to prove something and made terrible choices. (What was I trying to prove? I am not sure, but for some reason it felt like time was limited and the need to catch up was great.)

Cindi Lou Grant performs a compression test on a column of snow.
Cindi Lou Grant performs a compression test on a column of snow.

Another note from the interview that hit home was the possibility of having a lifetime in the sport. I like this. Numerous close calls and the accumulation of time in the hills have begun to change the way I approach avalanche terrain. Education, choosing the right partners, patience and having a willingness to walk away have all become part of the process. Don’t get me wrong; I still have my eye on steeper lines it’s just now I am more willing to wait for better conditions. Hopefully this will lead to a long and rewarding outdoor life.

After digging two separate snow pits and evaluating the layers, conducting a stability test and having a frank discussion with his partners Kordell Black boots up a 36 degree couloir in the Wasatch backcountry.
After digging two separate snow pits and evaluating the layers, conducting a stability test and having a frank discussion with his partners Kordell Black boots up a 36 degree couloir in the Wasatch backcountry. Following a one at a time protocol I headed up first stopping below a cleft in the cliff then Kordell followed and continued to the top.
The reward. Cindi Lou rides out of the couloir.
The reward. Cindi Lou rides out of the couloir.

Mountain Mis-step. What mistakes have you survived?

Winter Sunrise in the Wasatch Backcountry.On November 13, 2011 I was involved in a backcountry skiing avalanche. Correction, I was actually avalanched. Throttled, beaten, damaged and at one point completely buried, I somehow managed to limp away. On that same morning 12 other avalanches were reported within the central Wasatch resulting in several close calls, a broken femur and one life lost.
I once heard avalanche specialist Jill Fredston say, ‘snow innately wanted to stay put… but the fact that it was constantly changing made it difficult to predict.’
After taking that 400-foot ride, receiving a broken finger, bruised pelvis, hips, elbows and knees along with some lacerations, her words constantly ran through my head. I knew the danger on that stormy day was on the rise. I’d received snow education and had years of experience, but still went out. Alone at the trailhead I followed a fresh skin track that ascended into steep terrain figuring there would be safety in numbers. At the point of catching the two creators of the track I decided against descending with them and exited from the lee side of the ridge into the wind exposed slopes to carry on and out alone.
Shuffling along my skin-covered skis clattered along snow-dusted talus before coming to a shallow pillow of wind deposited snow, perhaps twelve inches deep. Beneath the new winter deposits the gully held the rotting skeleton of October snows. Fifteen feet wide it terminated into rock rubble thirty feet below. Experience told me that it would slide, but the amount of running snow wouldn’t be much; maybe enough to knock me off my feet, not much more. Unknown at the time was how high the pillow ran above. Its top, obscured by the storm, tipped closer to 40 degrees and twisted to face north. All that was needed to release the wound up spring was me. After three steps onto the surface the snow beneath my skis settled. The echoing whoomph was felt in my chest. One beat of silence followed allowing me to reflect on my mistakes before being tackled by a wall of snow.
Since the avalanche I’ve found that snow, although complex, is not the hard thing to forecast, it’s the people who play on it that are difficult to predict.

Plan B

Cindi Grant hikes along Mocassin Lake, Wind River Range, Wyoming.I just returned from a trip to Wyoming where I had a blast with split-boarders Kordell Black, Zach and Cindi Grant. With rain and snow happening in the Wind River Range for much of the month we waited for the forecast to improve. Unfortunately this also put us a few weeks late to enter the Wind Rivers from the Dickinson Park trail head. Starting at 9500′ we were in the mud and patches of slushy snow. After a few miles we got a view of Baptiste Cirque, nice and snowy, but the rest of our approach looked to be 15 miles of the same muddy and punishing terrain. With the addition of boards, skis and boots on our backs we decided to retreat to the Tetons for plan b.Zach and Cindi Grant and Kordell Black view the Tetons.Down time at Shadow Mountain Camp with Cindi Lou Grant, Tetons.
The fact that we could see plenty of lies from our camp at Shadow Mountain made choosing our objectives easy.
Day one was a four am start that put us 300 feet below the summit of Buck Mountain on its east ridge before turning around, concerned with daytime heating.
Day 2 was a 3 am start leading up the Spoon Couloir and on top of Disappointment Peak in good conditions and great views.
Day 3 We slept in until 330 am and leisurely made our way into Garnet Canyon for a stomp up and down the West Hour Glass Couloir.Dawn Patrol in the Tetons with Zach and Cindi Lou Grant.Kordell Black makes a stream crossing in Stewarts Draw, Tetons.Cindi Lou Grant on The boot track up the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.The boot track up the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.Korrdell Black on the east ridge of Buck Mountain, Tetons.Zach and Cindi Grant booting up Disapointment Peak, Tetons.Zach Grant rides the snowfields of Disapointment Peak, Tetons.Cindi Lou Grant drops the Spoon Couloir in the Tetons.larevalo_wyoski1_0514_0272

Maybe next year we can get into the Winds earlier, but first we’ll need to catch up on some sleep and get back to our summer work…God's light over the Tetons.

Chasing Inouye

Little Cottonwood winter morning skyline.Jared Inouye is known for his speed, endurance and efficiency in the mountains during both winter and summer months. The guy’s a rando-racing veteran, has done massive linkups and set speed records. This ski season I’d put off contacting him for months about the possibility of making photos. At first delaying it was easy. There wasn’t a lot of snow, avalanche conditions were touchy and I was very out of shape. Eventually it did snow, conditions improved, but I still wasn’t in shape. The touring days I’d hoped to put in never really happened. It’s easy to let work, life and play get in the way. Last week I finally reached out to Jared. Secretly I hoped he’d decline, but to my dismay, he didn’t and I suffered.

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“I should have started an hour before you.” I stammered between gasps. I’d finally caught up to Jared and Chad Ambrose on the summit of Dromedary Peak about half past 7. The April sun had crested the Wasatch Mountains and was falling down its canyons painting the snow covered ridges, rocks and trees with its warm light. They laughed then quickly skied down the east-facing slope. It really wasn’t that funny. I’d been serious. They’d floated up the 3,700’ of Tanners Gulch while I drudged my way to the top.Chad Ambrose and Jared Inouye skin toward a ridge in the Wasatch Mountains.

From Dromedary we carved tight turns on firm snow, down climbed a short rocky section and skied more fun snow into the open basin of south Mill B. Patches of dark slate emerged from the snow and a dramatic wall of quartzite loomed as a backdrop. As I put skins back on my skis, Chad told me to follow his track. I clicked in and took notice of our surroundings. Chad and Jared were immediately half a football field ahead. I put one foot in front of the other and wheezed my way upward. Jared waited for me at the Little and Big Cottonwood Canyon divide. From there I could see Chad had already made it halfway down White Pine chute. Huge wet slides had occurred earlier in the week leaving behind boulder-sized avalanche debris. We agreed upon the skeleton of a pine tree as our target among the warzone of winter and spring snow then slide into the chute. After scrambling down a rocky outcrop near the road I looked ahead to see Jared skipping through the final tailings of debris. I totally expected this, he would be way ahead, and I would be lumbering way behindJared Inouye down climbs a cliff band while skiing Whitepine Chute.Avalanche debris forces Jared Inouye to walk the bottom of White Pine Chute.