Six years ago Whistler Blackcomb launched the Deep Winter Photo Challenge. Each January, a handful of photographers are invited to spend three days shooting at the resort. The competition culminates with slideshow presentations of their work to the public, with judges awarding $8,500 in prize money to the top three.
Mother Nature threw a wrench in the works this year, serving up bluebird skis and hardpack during the competition window. But Robin O’Neill found inspiration in the Whistler community, snapping longtime locals and young pros alike to earn the title of Queen of Storms. From a 65-year-old who recently recorded the largest descent of his ski mountaineering career, to a twenty-something pro still rattled from a recent avalanche accident, the portraits O’Neill captured tell the story of Whistler. Here’s her take.
It was challenging. It takes a lot of snow for athletes to create dynamic images that inspire skiers. Having hardpack and sunny conditions—to us, it’s less than ideal and almost unworkable. It’s a tough thing to ask of your athletes. They were pros and came through for me.
The people I invited to work with me have lifetime commitments to skiing: Younger pro athletes, but also older contributors to the community.
Even having local athletes was not super-helpful. Most of my athletes don’t ski the mountain regularly. They’re away on film shoots, and what they’d normally do on the mountain was not available to us.
I’m always inspired by people. I want to learn about them.
I really want to know all these guys that are out here every day, doing research, making phone calls—the older members of the community that have been hardcore for many years. Whistler’s often criticized for not having a lot of depth or history in mountain culture. I wanted to show that’s not the case.
There’s a lot of pressure to create good images. Having tough competition and incredible photographers present pushes you to create more interesting work. —Olivia Dwyer
If you didn’t make it to Whistler, don’t worry, you can still participate in the Deep Winter Photo Challenge. Click here to cast your vote in the contest for People’s Choice.
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