Powder, sun, and fresh slopes – freeride scenes depict the stuff of dreams, but how much work is involved? Sebastian Huber writes about the perfect day of freeriding and work-life balance with athlete Nico Zacek.
It’s been almost 15 years since Nico and I have known each other from the first days hanging out at fun parks donning baggy pants. Now we’re adults (at least on paper), colleagues and fathers. We still like to play in the snow, though – even if we prefer more powdery conditions and clad functional wear. In soft powder, the landings are gentler and don’t take such an extreme toll on our old bones, and the appropriate membranes make trudging through deep snow a little simpler than in cotton hoodies.
But seriously, you get older. And with time, our preferences have gone more backcountry – to the powder, untarnished slopes and isolated areas. So obviously I was immediately on board when Nico called and asked if I had time to go to a shoot somewhere near Innsbruck with photographer Klaus Polzer and videographer Seppi Schilcher. A few appointments had to be moved and the right location found, but in no time, the alarm was ringing at 5:50am, well before any of the kids had even dreamed about waking up and pulling me out of bed.
Command down, train defectWe met at the designated bakery at 6:30am and wanted to continue on up with the employee lift in order to be on the mountain by 7am, as we should do/could do/wanted to. But then Klaus’ phone rang: command down, train defect, no chance of early bird skiing at daybreak. Well, if there wasn’t anything to be done, then why not have a second cappuccino and wait for normal operating hours and the chairlift? Despite the late start, the next two days were very good to us. The sun shone brightly from blue skies, it was neither too cold nor too hot and we only heard the faint whistle of the infamous foehn up on the ridge. It didn’t remotely get in the way of us enjoying the powder.
Now on to pure skiing joySo far so good, now we could enjoy some real skiing. Almost. Ultimately, we had a mission: to take photos and shoot video. And with just that task, a perfect day in the mountains manages to feel like real work. No, you can’t complain if your “normal” workday amounts to jumping around in snow, instead of sitting in an office. But if you think that Nico and I just carved line after line in the snow, whilst two men behind cameras just needed to keep up, here’s a behind-the-scenes look into this kind of shoot:
The perfect picture
Capturing action shots has become technically easier now that digital cameras have replaced their analogue versions. After all, you can immediately check if the picture is okay without waiting for the film to develop. But before any skiing can commence, it should be clear what needs to happen and what kind of composition the photographer has in mind: what should be in the background? where’s the sun? how’s the light? is the snow okay? does the rider understand what the photographer wants? The list goes on…
A certain special praise for the inventor of the radio should be mentioned here - those little things are extremely helpful when communicating in the mountains. But even then, when everyone is ready and the rider starts, things can go wrong. Freeriders have a name for those hidden rocks, thinly veiled in snow – sharks, we call them. You only discover them after they’ve bitten into your coating. Then of course there’s the failed swing, the scratched ski and the search for the next spot. Even Nico and I had to rule out one or the other spot, after we heard the crunching noises on the first attempt – safety first. But we found enough. Just look at these beautiful photos:
Capturing video is neither easier nor harder than photos. The videographer has to know which line the rider will choose and has to find a spot where the rider will always be in the shot. Pictures only show one moment of the descent, but videos are not forgiving. Every second of the line can be seen and the rider can’t allow for any mistakes - the shot is then useless. Or it’s relegated to the crash portion of the video.
Ok, honestly, it isn’t so bad. It’s actually really fun. What could be better than having the chance to produce the best possible photos and videos on a particular day doing the sport that you’re most passionate about? All of the picture planning, endless radioing, searching for the best spots and lines, and the sweaty trudge to the start at whatever ridge: all of that leads to the reward – to be able to see the work in photo or film, and (warning: cheese alert) to have these captured moments forever.