Erin Hogue's athlete friends are a little jealous.
This year, the Whistler photographer earned an X Games gold medal without competing in any extreme sport.
"I still don't really believe it," Hogue says. "It's the same medal all the athletes get. Some of the riders I've been shooting forever are like, 'You have a gold medal and we don't! It's so crazy!'"
Hogue won top spot in the X Games Zoom contest, a bi-annual photography contest in which the public votes on 10 photos submitted by adventure photographers from around the world. Along with the medal comes a $10,000 prize.
"(I'll use the money) mostly for grown up things," Hogue says, with a laugh. "I want to get a new camera for sure."
The winning photo was three years in the making. The location: a frozen waterfall tucked away in the Whistler backcountry. But because it was up an incline too steep for a snowmobile, it meant recruiting athletes who wouldn't mind hiking for an hour in knee-deep snow — plus an additional 20 minutes after each hit.
"I shot that waterfall once before, but I didn't like the angle I got," Hogue says. "I wasn't able to get that high on that particular day. It was with skiers probably three years ago. Since (then) I've thought about wanting to get higher and get that angle that would make it amazing. No one wanted to hike up there."
That is, until one cloudy day (when the alpine wasn't that appealing) when Olympic snowboarder Charles Reid — along with snowboarder Victor de Le Rue — and a two-person film crew agreed to the trek.
"Charles hit the line four times, but I knew after two I had gotten a photo of each of them," Hogue says.
The winning image features Reid peaking out from behind a lip of snow, the multi-hued frozen waterfall in the forefront and snow-covered tress in the background. Hogue had no idea it would be a winner.
"I really liked the photo a lot," she says. "I had shown it to a couple other people, but I was surprised no one else was that into it."
Despite the lack of enthusiasm from friends, the photo made it to the Zoom contest's finals, making it the second time in as many years that Hogue was a finalist. She now has the double honour of being the only photographer to accomplish that feat — and be the only female to win the contest.
"I would be stoked if there were more (women photographers in the backcountry)," she says. "I don't understand why there's not. Even when I wanted to get into it, a lot of friends were like, 'you're too small. You're never going to be able to drive a sled.'"
Over the last six years she's proved them wrong as she's transformed from a university-trained fine art photographer into an award-winning adventure sports photographer. Hogue says virtually none of the skills she gleaned from school translated to capturing action sports. "That first winter I didn't get any good photos," she says. "I just kept going out there and trying. I just love it. I love being out there and I love a challenge. I suck at quitting."
Every year since her first Whistler winter, she's set a goal for herself and vowed that she'd give up snowboard photography if she didn't meet it. But Snowboard magazine covers turned into Deep Winter competitions turned into her recent big win.
"I love it. When I'm riding, I'm like, 'I wish it was sunny and I was shooting photos," she says.
That passion led her to Aspen, CO the week of Jan. 25 to Jan. 28 to take in the X Games events and shoot. "I had gone not for the (photo) contest, but I know a lot of the contest riders now, so I wanted to go cheer them on," she says. "They went from X Games to Korea (for the Olympics) and I really wanted to shoot one of their contests this year."
However, she discovered her photo had been voted into the top spot, not by X Games officials, but by friends and family back home who had seen the announcement on their TVs.
"I was with two of my good friends and I was walking with them away from the half pipe event and my phone starting blowing up," she says. "But it was awesome. It was awesome being there because I got to meet a lot of amazing people behind the whole event."