Skiing and Photographing on a Powder Day in the Sierra

After a slow start to winter, 395 Weather finally announced some good news at the beginning of March. The sky opened up and it started to dump. Driving up the 203 as the storm hit with windshield wipers at full speed – the anticipation was intense.

Get Up Early

Sleeping in is nice and all, but when Ski Patrol’s pre-dawn avalanche bombs start going off it’s motivation enough to get you out of bed to double check the camera bag, dig the car out of the snow, scrape the windshield, and head up to The Mountain.

On storm days we head up to Canyon Lodge – destination: Lincoln Mountain, since it’s unlikely the top will open while it’s dumping snow.  When we arrive at 8:00 a.m. people are lining up at the lifts – all smiles, chatter, and excitedly waiting for the lifts to start loading.

Divide the Day into Skiing and Photographing

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The mood is light. With more than 3,600 acres of skiable terrain, you can find fairly untouched powder in the trees for most of the day, and tracks that are made are filled in pretty quickly by the falling snow. All you need is to explore a bit and find those lines.

Knowing that the snow would last, I chose to split the powder day between skiing and shooting photos – skiing first, of course! And then capturing some images.

Use your iPhone too!

Shooting on a powder day (or in any kind of weather) can be difficult if you don’t plan it out right.  Some say the best camera is the one you have, but why not have two?  It’s dicey to try and manage a camera, its loose parts, and your ski poles while sitting on the lift with cold hands – so the camera stays in the pack on the way up and the phone comes out to take a few snap shots. Aside from the classic group photo at the top, taking photographs at the Mountain during a busy weekend isn’t the easiest.

Handle the Two Most Common Issues

Common issues include numerous skiers and snowboarders cluttering your shot, and your subject-athlete not entering the frame where you expected.

There are a couple of ways to handle this. Take your time and scout your line.

Take Your Time

If you are solo, consider approaching the situation like you would for landscape photography. Take your time to set up a scenic shot and let the skiers and snowboarders enter your frame (a small tripod could help here). Plan on hanging out for a while for the weather and the action align. I like to bring hand warmers and pack some tea.

Scout Your Line

If you’re with friends and family and want to take an action shot, discuss the plan to scope a photo you’re hoping to get, ski down together to the spot you’ll shoot from, take a quick shot and show them the frame so they have an understanding of what you’re looking for.  Then head back to the lift, ski back to your spot, set up, have your subject wait for a lull in the crowd-action, and hopefully get the shot you pre-visualized.

Where are your favorite places to shoot on Mammoth Mountain? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you!

John Vallejo

John Vallejo is a photographer addicted to climbing and skiing, and living the dream based in the East Side of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. His interest in photography grows as a natural extension to his experience as an adventure athlete, and as a creative outlet to his other life in the office.

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