Monday, November 1, 2010

FIS Alpine World Cup races Soelden Oct 2010

So the first races of the season are done and dusted, the women's race on Saturday being one by Viktoria Rebensburg from Germany and the men's race on sunday being cancelled after the first run due to thick fog.
I had been in Soelden for most of the week, doing some training, mainly training how to ski with a huge heavy back pack!! When it comes to skiing with my equipment I tend to be a little cautious, after all it can weigh in excess of 30kgs and costs in excess of £20000.

This week I had wanted to try out an on ski camera, however the rig would not work out due to the soft snow conditions, this will be something I will look at fixing before I meet up with the teams again in December. In the world of sports photography you constantly have to try something different, be it a different angle or shot. When it comes to shooting the races, and especially in Soelden, there are the regular shots, which get covered every year by the agencies. This is both a good thing and a bad thing, it's good because whilst the agency boys and girls are churning out the same old shots, I get to experiment and try something different, but it is also bad because if a paper or magazine wants the main shot, then they will obviously go with one of the agencies, with whom they have deals to reduce costs. This year there would be no blue sky shot on either of the races.
I walked up and down a large part of the course trying to find an angle that no body else had either seen or wanted. Eventually I settled for a slightly side on view with a clean background of a mountain, this required me to be very low almost laying on the snow on a very steep section, so I could clear an advertising board. People often think I am crazy laying on the snow, but once they see the difference in a photograph from a standing position they soon realise why. Like most sports these days alpine racing gets it's fair share of bankers, teachers etc that come and take photos. I often wish I had the balls to go into their workplace and do their job for a day or two!! Especially when you find out that they have given their photos away to people, or newspapers. It makes it even harder to make a living out of covering sport.

Sometimes you see things on the hill that are different to other races, and Soelden I saw one of the forerunners wearing a weird device on his helmet...
Putting it off as some new funky head cam I forgot about it until I was chatting with one of the FIS officials Hans Pieren when I mentioned it. Apparently in an effort to reduce injuries scientifc tests will be carried out on both a forerunner wearing a biometric scanning device and also along the course at various spots the snow consistency will be tested... He did go on a bit and as I was cold and in need of a pee I glazed over and didnt pay much attention!!!!!! However it looks like I shot myself in the foot over that as none of the journos seemed to be aware of the tests not even the FIS journalist.. so this may well be an exclusive on breaking news....

Saturdays Race the ladies.

So anyway back to the nitty gritty of the races. As always the main agencies head off to their usual positions to get the same shots as they do every year, generally a nice shot but no thought or effort involved. On Saturday for the ladies race I trot up and down a slightly steep mountain trying to find something no one else has seen or wants to cover for the difficulty!! I found myself a nice spot, and as it was a cloudy day I decided on a mountain background with a slightly side on shot so the skier and gate would be in the same frame (hopefully)

I was fairly happy with my position, and as I looked down the hill I could see batches of photographers huddled together getting the same pictures!!

I covered all the racers on the first run. Then sat on the slope and started editing images whilst they prepared the course for the second run.

This year I had an assistant working with me covering the finish area shots so I did not have to go back down and do that, leaving me almost alone on the hill for the second run. Generally on the second run you get slightly better action shots as the racers attack a gate trying to reduce their run time and get the win.

I got myself a fairly nice position with a face on shot.

After the race finished its a case of pack up the gear and get down the mountain as soon as possible to wire the images to agencies, newspapers magazines etc etc. My assistant Christina covered the prize giving ceremony for me and I went through her images and picked out relevant ones to add to the stuff I was wiring.

Generally a race day for me starts at 6am and will finish about 9pm or even later if international clients email asking for images of their skiers.. Long tiring days, but it's the best job I have ever had and would not swap it for anything else.

Sundays race the men

Sunday in Soelden is the mens race day, We set off up the mountain at 6.45 as I needed to get a shot of the guys doing their pre race course inspection and especially needed a shot of Bode Miller with his new helmet. When I got up the hill and whilst waiting for the racers to come down I did a quick check of the online editions of some newspapers to see which images have been used from the previous day. I found that USA Today had used my image of Viktoria Rebensburg the race winner so I felt happy and justified that my choice of position had been correct.

The racers come down for the inspection and I got the shots I needed, most guys say hi or stop for a brief chat with me which is always nice. I did a few shots with Tim Jitloff from the USA ski team as he was wearing a specially designed helmet for the race to raise awareness of breast cancer. (Cancer charities are always close to my heart so I told Jit that when he auctioned off the helmet they could also get one of my photos of him wearing it) I am not a fan of photographers that give away their photos especially if its to an event organiser just so they can get a free entrance. But as I know Jit and know the story behind him wearing the helmet I made an exception.

After the guys inspected I did my usual walk up and down to find a nice spot, the weather was not that great and the sky was cloudy, this time I settled on standing on a steep pitch so I could get a shot of the guys as they attacked a gate at the same point as the slope dropped away, normally this shot would not be possible as I would have been shooting directly into the sun but as their were big ugly clouds in the sky I new all I would get was a white background. With alpine races you have to be in position an hour before the race starts and then the FIS officials and head photographer ski down and check your position is safe and if not they move you. One of the advantages of being on your own on the hill in position is that it makes a smaller target should a racer crash out and come hurtling toward you.. I was allowed to stay in my position which to be honest did surprise me but I guess they thought I have been doing this long enough now to know what is and isn't safe! (I have never been hit by a racer or their equipment when they have crashed... But I have hit some with my gear when I have crashed and as my American colleagues call it have a yard sale, for us that speak normal English that means your kits goes everywhere!)
The main problem I had with my position was the sheer steepness I was wearing crampons on my ski boots and constantly having to dig them into the snow and ice for grip, when you follow a racer with your camera going from right to left (we call it panning) your balance and weight is always shifting and sometimes you get the sensation that you are falling. After 2 and a half hours of standing in this position I was knackered (tired) if you can imagine standing on one of thos giant balance balls that athletes train on for 2 and a half hours you can imagine how I was feeling, but again I was happy with my shots and worth the suffering, especially when guys who have been doing this a long time compliment me on the shot.

Christina was again covering the finish area for me so I could stay up on the hill for the second run, I sat down again and started editing my images and chatting to a friend about if we were likely to get a 2nd run as the fog had moved up the valley, after about 30 mins I could barely make him out and he was sitting about 10 feet away from me. I knew it was not going to happen so I packed up and went down to wait for the inevitable cancelation.
So the weekend finished in a slight downer with the cancellation. But I was happy with my work and hopefully so were the picture buyers for the newspapers!!

I always like to try and get something different, so here is a shot of a guy who trod on my assistants foot and failed to apologise....

This will teach you how to say sorry, as I can capture you looking like you do not even know how to ski!!!

My images can be found at
If you would like a print of your favourite skier for your office / bedroom etc wall, please email with the image details.

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