Monday, December 17, 2012

A great weekend to be working with the US Ski Team

Ok so its blog time again, now that the craziness of a weekend in Sud Tirol is over, I have been shooting at probably my favourite ski resort, Val Gardena in italy, or Groeden as the Germans and Austrians know it by, it's in the dolomite mountains just inside Italy, I am not that sure about the history, but basically it was once Austria and is now Italy. I try and get by with my Gerglish, and Engtalian and seem to muddle on ok.

The day I arrived here it was a bit nippy, about -16 at 7pm, after collecting my accreditation and stuff and catching up with emails and boring stuff I hit the motorhome for some zzzzzs in the morning when I woke up everything had frozen, I am guessing it had got to -20 or colder, I tried lighting my gas fire but the type of gas I have is a load of steaming poop in cold conditions, so for the time being the touring and staying in a motorhome is on hold.

The races in Val Gardena are a Downhill and a SuperG (Downhill) is where they go as fast as possible from the top of a mountain to the bottom, with lots of jumps and bumps, (SuperG) is a slightly shorter course and more technical with more turns. (ski racing dumbed down there)

We had two training runs on the downhill course which allows us photographers to get to play and experiment with positions, well those photographers that are not on a mission to churn out the same old stuff every time they come to this race. On the first training run I shot a small ridge where I hoped to get some nice action I then had a second shot of the skiers in the air after the Saslong jump. Neither shot worked out quite as I had hoped but I was moderately happy.
A bit too much of a blokes arse in Spandex for my liking.
 This would have been ok if it had been sunny and a nice blue sky background.
 A super tough Norwegian skiing with a face mask so he does not ruin his beautiful face!!
You can retire from ski racing, but the pull of the mountain will always get you. Didier Cuche now working as a "consultant" with his Swiss team.

For the second training run I shot the first jump, only about 100mtrs or so from the start, but the background would have been blue sky if the weather had been ok but instead cloud and mountain, it was quite a nnice shot but bloomin hard work getting it, as I was standing on a very steep section for a couple of hours, which would be like trying to stand on one of those big exercise ball for a couple of hours you are constantly having to shift to stop yourself slipping, by the end of the session I was knackered and played safe walking down to a flat area before I put my skis on..

 Canadian skier and top bloke Jan Hudec taking off.
 Travis Ganong with a nice mountain view.
 A view of other photographers waiting for the race on a relatively flat section
 My office for the 2nd training run, steep and hard work, but the photos were worth the hard work.
At first I thought it was a Canadian coach being a ski biff, turns out the guy had blown out his knee but rather than get off the hill and get it fixed he skied down into his position to work, a true professional.

Friday was SuperG day, I had a couple of shots in mind, but in the end I settled on shooting a gate on a steep slope, which was a blind shot (I had no way of knowing when the skiers were coming) the action was not great but it was a nice challenge for me to practice and improve my timing, by trying to listen to the sound of skis gliding over ice, however the piste cleaners, gate keepers etc never seemed to shut up, it's quite a social occasion for these guys (I dont think they get out much) so if you add that to the fact that Italians like the sound of their own voices you get a peed off photographer, that jsut wants to shout "SHUT THE F%*K up" 

Travis Ganong coming down a steep section in the fog.... He didn't even recall their being fog.
 Ted Ligety speeding down the Super G course, not my greatest shoot but if you experiment sometimes they do not workout. Cest la Vie

Saturday was the Downhill race day, but the weather was awful, it was snowing hard, and also foggy, I decided that I would save the classic Val Gardena shot the Ciaslat bend for this day, so after skiing down to position after chatting to a couple of guys from the team, we had to wait, and wait and wait for the race to eventually start, at one stage I was convinced it would not happen and nearly skied off the hill, some guys did but after 5 hours of standing around in the snow they raced with no food or drink brought to us, they started a race which after a few racers was then put on hold for a short while because of fog.
Our equipment about 2 1/2 hours into a 5 hour wait for the race to start, 20 minutes before the race we had to almost dig it out, and after the race finding skis was a bit of a nightmare
A racers view from the start of the downhill course, picture was taken on the day of the 2nd training session.

Mr nice guy Steven Nyman who's promotion for sponsorship for the last Olympics had the tag #believeinsteven, believes he can fly (crap now I have the R Kelly song in my head)
My boss Doug Haney, alpine team press officer chats with Steven Nyman before the award ceremony.
Hear the mighty lion roar with pride.
It may be only one guy that crosses the finish line to win, but it takes a team effort to get him there. Coaching staff, fellow racers, physiotherapists, physical training instructors, doctors, ski technicians, chefs, friends etc etc all working behind the scenes for this moment of glory.

I was really happy to hear that a guy I am proud to call a friend one the race, Steven Nyman from the US team, who had won here in 2006 but since then has been virtually stuck with one injury or another. Of course with a guy from the team I am working with winning that means I need to get down the piste after the last racer pretty sharpish to shoot the presentation ceremony, I met up part of the way down with head Coach Sasha Rearick, and coach and ex ski racer TJ Lanning and after congratulating them on the win I tried to ski down with them to the finish... Now I may be a little mad but blimey that was a stupid thing for me to attempt carrying my camera gear after a bit of the way I suddenly came to my senses, and slowed down a bit, well after stopping to change my underpants after a little scared accident!! I made it down in time.. briefly congratulated Steven on the win and then fought my way into a decent spot for the presentation.

After editing and sending images to both the US Ski team and Getty Images it was a case of jump in a friends car and get over the pass to collect accreditations piste access brazzards and find out bed and breakfast.

Sunday was a giant slalom race in Alta Badia just over the mountain from Val Gardena, Alta Badia is notorious for being icy, I have shot here a few times, and once it was so cold the metal toe catch on my crampons snapped off, this year after the previous days snow it was not too bad, but I had left my skis in Val Gardena as there was no room in the car for them plus I was expecting another icey steep piste. So I walked down (with extra strong crampons) to a decent position, I was joined shortly before the race by one of the team coaches and the team doctor so for the first time in ages I would actually know what was happening in a race, it was also interesting to hear the conversations about how a certain ski brand seems to be better at handling the icy pitch than others, Ted Ligety murdered the first run, and was over 2 seconds faster than the 2nd placed racer, which if you think he missed out on a podium in a race recently by 1/100th of a second that was some margin.After the last racer I walked down the hill to find a position near the finish area, I had hoped to get a decent shot of Ted celebrating in front of the crowds, but alas that gamble didn't pay off, the photo looked crap so I didnt send it in the end. So with wins for Ted and Steven it' been a good weekend, long and hard but also fun. I am taking a few days off then I shall go and cover a skier cross event which I am looking forward to.
Ted getting nasty as the Americans say, he blitzed the first run.
Even on one ski he kicks arse.
The great thing about being with the team is you can get to capture moments others can't Ted getting congratulated by the head of the technical team Mike Day, and my fellow brit and the team conditioning coach Mark Dixon. Ted even found time to verbally abuse this poor little photographer as he stepped up to the TV stage for an interview. Wow I am so honoured............
Marcel Hirscher and Ted on the podium. These two guys will have a great GS battle all season long and I look forward to capturing more of the pair of them.
I created a comparison for the coaching staff of various skiers and how they each attack the same control gate, they all video the race, but its fast and you cant see the angles truly like you can in still images.

As a photographer I love Tim Jitloffs image, (bottom right) wiping his bum on the floor is much cheaper than buying Andrex toilet tissue.

Technical stuff

The equipment I use is:
Canon 1d mk4 camera
Canon 1d mk3 camera
Canon 5d camera
Canon 400mm f2.8 lens (mk1) big heavy bugger but works a treat
Canon 100-400mm great for technical races where you need different focal lengths
Canon 17-40mm nice for the wide angle shots and my office view shots
Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 I did have the Canon version but lost it years ago in a crevice on a mountain

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