Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Val D'Isere France, the Men's FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup Races

After packing up my motorhome with everything to survive for 4 months in the Alps, I departed London, and headed to the first set of races I would be covering in Val D'Isere France. This would be the first time in my 4 seasons of covering the world cup that I would be shooting a race in France My original plan was to go to St Moritz for the women's races then on to Val Gardena for the men's, however this season my budget is not as great as it has been in the past so I decided that with 3 races in France it would be cheaper to cover them.

I arrived in Val D'Isere about 2.30am on Thurs 9th Dec, after strange drive up from Geneva, having picked up a colleague on the way, and the first thing that struck me was the roads were a bit icy!! in fact you could probably skate on them!! On a couple of occasions the back of my van attempted to overtake the front, but eventually I got used to driving a rear wheel drive vehicle on the ice! I found a place to park up, next to a well known racer who often travels in a motorhome!! The following morning accreditations had to be picked up, lift passes arranged, and other boring bits that we have to do so we can cover these events.
I had a chat with a few of the racers about the course and decided that I would not risk going down it on skis as it was very slippery due to the injection process, and I did not have the confidence to ski down with a 30-40kg backpack with all my camera gear and laptop, as I had no chance of getting some runs in to get my confidence up on the skis. I may be a little crazy at times but breaking a leg or my gear on the first race would just be stupid, damn I must be getting old and sensible now!!

For the day of the first race which was a giant slalom race, I was in the press centre for 7am so I could reserve a spot in the finish area photographers position in the finish area so I could shoot the second run there and hopefully get some emotion shots! As with all races photographers have to be in their position on the course one hour before the start so that the Chief of the Race, can check it to ensure you are in a safe position. I have my usually problem covering a race of having to try to find a decent position that none of the other main agencies have seen. For Val D'Isere the best shot is a blue sky shot like this.
Image by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

however with 4 of the main 5 agencies covering this shot it would be absolutely pointless me getting the same shot as it would not be able to get it used in newspapers etc. So after walking up and down a large section of the course I eventually found this shot
(shot on a wide angle lens) that I quite liked, and no other agency around me meant I would have a unique image on the market. Which often means that newspapers looking for something other newspapers do not have will use the image... well that is the theory! The Chief of the Race allowed me to stay in the position, even though it was a little bit on the fall line, probably because I was alone and also the fact I have shot enough races to know when to move quickly to avoid a wayward racer!

For the race I decided to use a zoom lens rather than my usual fixed focus 400mm lens (The Big Boy) so I opted for a Canon 100-400mm pro series lens, which would then give me an extra option of trying different shots during the race.

After shooting most of the racers I made my way back down to the press centre to edit caption and distribute them before heading to the finish area for the 2nd run. I hate doing finish area shots but sometimes you can get some great emotion from the skiers.

Eventually the race was won by Ted Ligety from the US which is good for me as my main sales come through a US agency so I hoped that I would get at least 1 picture in a paper over there.

The following morning it was time for the men's slalom race, I do enjoy covering slaloms as you can get some fantastic action images and catch ski's or control gates bending into strange shapes in that split second when we press the trigger!!

I got the chairlift up with Mike Janyk the Canadian slalom specialist, and on the way up we discussed the course, it's always interesting hearing a racers view of a course which is entirely different from our view, for starters they face down the hill so are looking for turn locations, we are faced up the hill looking to avoid ugly backgrounds as well as looking for a gate that will give a good action shot. As per yesterday it was a case of find a position that no body else wanted or had seen. So I stuck myself on the steepest part of the slope (read my last blog about standing on the steep) which gave me 3 good gates,

after the chief of the race confirmed I could stay in position another photographer walked down to my position as he had been moved, it turned out he was from one of the big agencies so bummer I fear no sales from the slalom... I did manage to capture a nice shot of Austrian racer Manfred Pranger as he crashed out.

After shooting all the racers it was a case of run down the hill, edit caption and distribute before the 2nd run.. Not helped by the fact the internet connection went down in the middle of an image upload!! For the 2nd run I was in the finish area we had a raised platform but I also stood on my Peli case which is an almost indestructible camera case, I like the extra elevation because sometimes it can get you a cleaner shot avoiding the advertising that is plastered all around the finish area! Although it did not quite work at this race.

The race was won by Marcel Hirscher from Austria,

but the man of the day has to be Steve Missillier from France who on his birthday jumped from 26th position to 3rd by killing the 2nd run.

The ladies arrive later in the week for 3 events, so I will blog about them after.

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