After an epic bluebird day up the mountains following a 43-centimetre dump of powder, Guy Fattal is feeling happy.
"Hoo! It doesn't get much better than that!" the Israeli photographer and 2016 Deep Winter competitor says.
"I feel like I haven't been skiing for quite a while, I've just been taking photos every day. But not today, it was too crowded to take photos. It's tough on days like this, trying to shoot, but it's the best day for skiing! It takes time to build a good shot, and everyone is so hungry to taste powder!"
Fattal is one of six competitors at the 11th Samsung Deep Winter Photo Challenge taking place on Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.
He discovered Whistler for the first time just a year ago, when he was asked to compete in last year's Deep Winter competition. He had won the King of the Dolomites competition in Italy the previous year and was offered a spot off the back of it.
"King of the Dolomites was a great experience, but I feel that the Deep Winter show offers way more depth for the photographer," Fattal says.
"In the King of the Dolomites, you have 48 hours to find one photo and I got an amazing shot that time and won it. But I feel that Deep Winter shows more of the photographer."
In the end, he lost 2016 Deep Winter's first prize to Whistler wildcard Chad Chomlack, but took home the People's Choice Award. After seeing what Whistler and the region could offer, he came out this winter for the start of the ski season.
He and the other competitors have 72 hours this week to take the thousands of shots needed to edit together a five-minute slideshow.
Competing for total prize money of $10,000 alongside Fattal are Swedish photographer Alric Ljunghager, a member of The Bunch ski crew, recent winner Photo of the Year at the 17th Annual Powder Magazine Awards; Colin Wiseman from Bellingham, Wash.; Shannon Skouras from Naches, Wash.; Whistler-born Michael Overbeck; and Vancouverite Ilanna Barkusky, who was named "one of five female ski photographers to follow" by Freeskier Magazine.
The People's Choice Award also returns, with online voting, and a chance for the snappers to vie for $1,000 and a trip for two with Whistler Heli Skiing.
So what made Fattal decide to spend the whole season here? It wasn't the skiing per se, he says.
"I realized super quickly when I was here last year, I spent a month here, this is the place for me to be," he adds.
"The people I met, the manner of shots I was getting done and producing. I realized that the heart of the industry was here right here and not where I was (Fattal had previously lived in France).
"So it was a pretty easy call. It is the right place for me to develop as much as I can as a professional photographer."
And Fattal is taking what he learned last year into the competition this time.
"I know the mountain of effort that is needed to put everything together. It pushes me (way) outside my comfort zone — physically, mentally and professionally. It is so much work, it brings out the best in me," he says.
Thinking of Israel (Fattal is from just outside Jerusalem), sports photography in snowy conditions is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind.
"I've been shooting since I was a teenager and I used to photograph a lot of nature and landscapes, markets and skiing was a hobby. When I turned 21... I spent a season in Andorra with friends and started to shoot riders then. I built my portfolio for two years and decided that is how I wanted to spend my life," Fattal says.
This career has taken him to spectacular locations.
"I recently followed a 72-year-old mountain guide in the Rila Mountain range in Bulgaria and that was fascinating. I took so much inspiration from this guide who still lives this lifestyle and is so excited to get out there every day to ski, hike and climb. An amazing experience," he says.
Tickets to Deep Winter are $25 and available at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/deepwinter or by calling 1-800-766-0449.