In photography, as in life, timing is everything.
Doubly so if you're racing against the clock as part of the annual mad dash that is the Deep Winter Photo Challenge, which returns to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler this weekend.
Six of the world's top ski and snowboard photographers have been invited to Whistler to capture athletes in their natural mountain habitat on the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb. Each competitor is given 72 hours to shoot in-bounds and create a winning slideshow of the best images from the three days. The slideshows will be judged by a panel of industry veterans, with the winner going home with $5,000 and the exalted honour of being crowned the King or Queen of Storms.
Whistler Blackcomb's Chris McLeod, who has organized the contest for the past half-decade, says that judges are looking for a fresh perspective on the mountains that loom large over the resort.
"Deep Winter has been going on for 12 years now, so thinking a little bit outside the box is essential," he says. "If you just follow that cookie-cutter slideshow script that people have done in the past, it's not going to be as strong as really being out there and trying to do something different."
Deep Winter has evolved over the years to become one of, if not the premier photography showcase in the world of snow sports. Not only is it a healthy cash prize, it's an effective career launchpad in the competitive landscape of action-sports photography.
"This contest has helped to establish so many photographers," McLeod says. "It really pushes people outside of their comfort zones, and by doing so, I think we see some amazing work."
Another trend that has taken hold at Deep Winter is a move away from the pure ski porn of its earlier years. No longer will slideshows consisting solely of pow-spraying action shots suffice (although there is still plenty of that on offer, of course).
"Definitely your strength of photography is key, but also having that story that pulls all the photography together makes such a difference," McLeod notes. "It goes such a long way with the judges and with the audience."
It's part of the reason why McLeod tries to get a good mix of local and international photographers to compete every year, to attract points of view that differ from what we're used to seeing in the Sea to Sky. This year's lineup is no different, featuring four competitors from the region, and two — Jeremy Bernard and Florian Breitenberger — who will make their way to Whistler from the French Alps and Austria, respectively.
John Entwistle is one of the photographers representing Whistler, moving from the audience to the stage for the first time as a long-time Deep Winter fan.
"I've always enjoyed attending in the past, and for me, it's just really cool to now be a part of it," he says. The still photographer for last year's Whistler Blackcomb film, Magnetic, Entwistle plans to hew close to his visual style and tell a story that will explore "the effect the mountains have on us as the community of Whistler," he says.
"Every photographer has a slightly different style, and what I'm focusing on over the next few days is making sure that I stick to my style and stick to who I am. Not trying to emulate all 11 past years, because that's definitely a trap you can fall into."
Jessika Hunter, a last-minute addition to the contest, intends to take "a fun, light and airy" view of Whistler and the people who make it their home. Splitting her time between the resort and Abbotsford, Hunter has been documenting mountain life since getting her first "three-frames-per-second" camera in high school.
"You're always thinking about timing as a photographer and waiting for those opportune moments and knowing — and feeling, even — when you get the moment. There's a lot of feeling that goes along with the technical side of it," she explains.
"I just want a fun project. I want to make art, I want to create something cool that people will be inspired by."
Rounding out the list of competitors are Winnipeg-born Rob Lemay, senior content creator at King Snow magazine, and Pacific Northwest-based mountain photographer Justin Kious.
Catch all the finalists at the Fairmont on Saturday, Jan. 6. with doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25, available at whistlerblackcomb.com/deepwinter.