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The Salt Lake Scene

Dodging a Curve Ball in Salt Lake

2009 Ski Salt Lake ShootoutThis year the Ski Salt Lake Shootout which took place in late February was once again a success. Great imagery was captured and a number of top photographers and athletes alike sampled Salt Lake's Cottonwood Canyons for the first time.

But it didn't go off comletely without a hitch. For photographer Court Leve, who ended up taking home two first place category awards, it was quite the adventure. Court sent us his tale of how the week went for him here in Utah which is good enough to publish here with his two winning photos (below).

Enjoy the read, it's quite the adventure.

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In mid January I was accepted into the Ski Salt Lake City photo-shootout contest that took place from February 22nd-27th. I along with seven other photographers were matched against one-another duking it out for cash prizes and bragging rights. During the four days of shooting I can say with ease that I worked harder than I can recall in recent history. I was paired with some of the worlds top skiers for what what should have been an 'easy' photography contest. Not easy in the sense that the criteria or my competition was to be taken lightly , but easy in the sense that when paired with current, past and up-oncoming legend skiers that call Little and Big Cottonwood Canyons home, it should have been time to simply tee off and capture.

Our mission; to to shoot powder, air, big mountain, city and mountain lifestyle images that would be judged at the end of the week. Six of the photographers including myself were from outside the Salt Lake area ranging from as far away as Canada, Vermont, Idaho, Washington and Colorado. Two local photographers were also thrown into the mix just for good measure as well.
"...But being a subjectively judged competition there is no ultimate right or wrong. The images either spoke to the judges the right way or they didn't. I think part of the competition was to try and get into someone else's head and think what they might like."

Mother nature however threw a last minute curve ball and produced what many locals hailed as the worst snow of the season, some said that our conditions were Utah's worst-simple as that. For the state that boldly claims "The Greatest Snow on Earth" on their licenses plates, temps in the 40's mixed with a touch of rain produced anything but Utah's finest. Not exactly the most motivating or inspiring beginning but photographers and athletes alike put on our game faces and dove in, skiing and shooting photos in conditions that we would normally most likely not even ski, much less lug around camera packs and shoot. But the contest had to go on and we all pushed our limits.

Each photographer would visit four resorts, one each day and we also would work with different athletes at each resort. I started at Brighton with Rob Greener and Jack Nielson and moved to Alta with Daryn Edmunds and Carston Oliver, to Snowbird with Jamie Pierre and Brant Moles and ended at Solitude with Julian Carr and Suzanne Graham. The first two days of shooting consisted of poking around the resorts looking for some good snow, a few rock features to play around with and trying to make small airs look big. Understandably, the athletes weren't too into hucking themselves off anything big given the snow conditions and poor lighting, still 15 and thirty footers were hit-some landings were stuck, others-not so much. There would prove to be pockets of decent snow and good light along the way but timing and luck would come into play for us all.

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My last two days of shooting proved the be the most physically challenging. The second to last day I hiked in the 'White Pine' area out of the gates of Snowbird with Jamie Pierre and Brant Moles. We hiked for roughly two hours. A full photography pack of 30 pounds up steep terrain. Steep enough and long enough that I also needed to throw my skis on my pack, adding another 30 pounds. Did I mention that I am trying to follow two world-class athletes? Sooner than later Brant turned into a dot and was only reachable by hand held radio, luckily the radios have a five mile range. Jamie waited at the crest for me, and was rewarded with a Snickers bar and some beef jerky. We were going for a big mountain shot.

Well, Brant gave it his all and made it to the top of Red Baldy as I hung out across valley with Jamie and talked about everything from religion to the history of the area. It was somewhat of a profound moment as I was physically taxed, and from sweating so much on the hike up I was starting to get cold. I was also dealing with my shin which I bashed into a rock while post-holing on the hike up. With Brant in position we didn't waste much time and he nailed his line in the flattest light you could imagine.

Winner of the 1997 World Extreme comp you could tell he was challenged by the light, or lack thereof due to how cautiously he skied. The terrain was something he could ski with his eyes closed, which was a good thing because he basically did. As a result of the lighting his shot did not wind up placing in the big mountain category. At least it was a line he'd been eying for years so it wasn't a total loss. Our day ended shortly after hitching a ride back to the base of Snowbird and to the Tram Dock bar for some much earned shots and beer, followed by an early bedtime.
"We hiked for roughly two hours. A full photography pack of 30 pounds up steep terrain. Steep enough and long enough that I also needed to throw my skis on my pack, adding another 30 pounds. Did I mention that I am trying to follow two world-class athletes?"

I was feeling up and down about what I had shot over the previous days. At some points I felt I was killing it. At others I felt like I should be embarrassed to be competing against such great talent. The morning of the last day I met up with Julian Carr and Suzanne Graham and we headed to Solitude with one mission in mind-the big mountain shot. I was feeling somewhat flat, and thought we'd at least put our boots on and take a look, and see what we see along the way. At the top of the first and only chair we rode that day Julian pointed out a colouior at the far end of Fantasy Ridge. We knew heading in that the snow would be terrible at best but visually, it worked. The Fantasy Ridge hike is a very challenging ascent. Portions require you to be on all four as you claw your way up the knife edge ridge line-akin to a balancing beam. I was later told by a local that the hike is one of the most technically challenging of all the in-bound hikes in the area-good information to learn on the back end of things. We made it though and Julian stuck his line. And true to his words that we'd win the big mountain category with that line, we would later find that to be true.

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Along the way during the whole competition there were moments I had to ask myself why am I here, what am I doing this for. The light is terrible, the snow is soggy and I'm putting myself in awkward situations-for a picture. In short, I love the mountains, even when your hands are so cold you can't feel anything but the numbing pain and it's hard to tell if you are actually pushing the right buttons because you simply can't feel small sensitivity items like the shutter release. Being around others that are also so passionate about the sport of skiing only fed my drive-and I wouldn't have been able to find the energy to without the enthusiasm from the athletes and my competing photographers-it truly was contagious.  There were times that I thought of stopping and turning back, but being in the company of such hard-core skiers this simply wasn't a viable option-certainly not one I could live down, nor live with. After all, sometimes It ain't work 'til your bleeding.

At the end, I was fortunate to walk away with two first place photos, for Big Mountain and City Lifestyle. I can't recall the last time I was so excited to take second place for anything in my life. I'm sure that those walked away empty handed felt that there may have been some images, theirs or otherwise that should have placed higher, and I think in some cases it would be hard to object. But being a subjectively judged competition there is no ultimate right or wrong. The images either spoke to the judges the right way or they didn't. I think part of the competition was to try and get into someone else's head and think what they might like. As a result, my guess is that there are images that may never see the light of day that are winners-maybe we'll see them published down the road.

-- Check out some of Court's images from the week.

-- Court Leve