As the Telus World Ski & Snowboard Festival celebrates its decade anniversary this year much has been made of the wealth of arts and mountain culture events that have sprouted up.
But before there was a film contest or an art show or a collective novel or a storytelling night there was the Pro Photographer Showdown the festivals mother of all arts and culture events.
An invitational contest featuring renowned action/sport shooters going head to head with slide shows set to music, the Showdown is not quite as old as the festival, having debuted in 1998.
Its roots date back to the 1997 festival. A well-received solo slide show by Whistler photographer Eric Berger depicting a snowboarding trip to Iran led festival organizers to believe such an event was worth a go.
For a group of artists confined to a medium of 8x10 glossy magazine pages, the Showdowns 10-minute slide show format was received as a rare and welcome opportunity. The participants revelled in the expression of creative vision and personality in music choice, composition and alternative content such as portraits, lifestyle and art photography the stuff not usually sought by photo editors and advertising clients.
The festival audience also responded enthusiastically. Berger was judged the inaugural Best of Show winner at the 1998 event and the Showdown secured its place in the festival for years to come.
The Pro Photographer Search contest was introduced in 1999 to give a wild card contestant the chance to prove themselves alongside the three illustrious invited pros.
The two events continued in tandem over the next five years. In 2001 25-year-old Whistler resident Blake Jorgenson took the Pro Showdown title after earning a spot as the Search winner. It hasnt been done since and its something that those in attendance still talk about. Boosted by the recognition from the event Jorgenson went on to become one of the most respected photographers working in the industry. He considers the win a benchmark in his career.
Besides Berger and Jorgenson, the Best Of Show winners roster includes Aaron Chang (1999), J. Grant Brittain (2000) and Jon Humphries (2003), as well as Dave Heath (2002) and Jason Childs (2004), all heavyweights from the snow, surf and skateboard publishing scenes.
Rather than reprising the contest format this year, the festival invited the past winners back for an encore showcase. All past winners are confirmed attendees with the exception of surf photographer Childs, who has made a zero hour withdrawal due to recent natural disasters in his home base of Indonesia.
The element of competition is another notable absence in 2005.The photographers, for the most part, dont seem to mind. The sentiment being that with or without judges, the event represents the rare and much-appreciated chance to present their work in a unique setting a raucous packed house with booming tunes and big screens. Something more important than a trophy will be on the line: creative pride.