words: Mary Walsh

Last weekend the Eighth Annual Arc’Teryx Deep Winter Photo Challenge took over the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb. The premise: six photographers have three days to traverse the inbounds areas of Whistler Blackcomb with a hand-selected crew of both skiers and snowboarders and are tasked with creating a three to five minute slideshow of photos–this equates to about 50-60 images per photog–that celebrate both Whistler’s vast terrain as well as the people that call the mountain home. At the end of the allotted shooting time, the slideshows are presented at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. This year, both the time limit and Ullr’s whims challenged the competitors, who experienced a solid storm the weekend before Deep Winter and spring-like conditions during the contest itself. The picturesque, though less-wintery weather didn’t slow any of the teams down and when the slideshows began in front of a packed house on Saturday night, the current depth of winter was definitely in the eyes of the photographers.

For me, it was my first time in Whister. I had never been to any part of British Columbia, but experiences in Eastern Canada had fostered my love of poutine and I hadn’t had a Caesar in years. Nevermind the sheer quantity of videos and photos that emerge from this location, all of which are impressive and a sufficient siren’s song to plan a trip. Suffice to say I was excited. On the first day of my long-weekend trip, as I headed up on the Whistler gondola, we broke through the inversion layer of clouds that covered the village and were met with bluebird skies and acres and acres of accessible runs. The groomed trails and sunny day made for epic laps, though a contrast to the typical weather Whistler receives this time of year. This season, like the Northwestern US, Whistler has received less than its average share of snowfall. While a powder day during Deep Winter would have been welcome, even when Whistler hasn’t gotten its requisite meters of snowfall (of course there’s still plenty of season left), there is still tons of snow and those two mountains provided some of the most amazing inbounds snowboarding I’ve had the pleasure of partaking in.

The Deep Winter experience for myself and fellow Whistler tourists, Susie Floros of Snowboard Magazine and John Davies of Powder Magazine, was all about packing in as much Whistler as possible even before the actual event began. Whistler Blackcomb is enormous and so our first day on hill, Whistler PR crew Chris McCleod and Jill Young and well as Whistler Team Rider Chris Rasman toured us around groomers, steeps, hit runs, bowls, and more. As a resort rookie, I was blown away at every turn of the trail at the sight of yet another gorgeous view. Whistler is strikingly beautiful. During the weekend, we also made sure to catch both a sunset and a sunrise while riding, lighting that served to only enhance the already epic-turns we were making.

Of course the on hill portion is only part of a weekend in Whistler; snowboarding was followed by poutine and Caesars. The US really needs to catch on to both of those things. While in town, we also made a requisite stop at Sushi Village and were not disappointed by the saki margaritas, spicy agadashi tofu, or any of the rolls that emerged from the kitchen. In the two days prior to Deep Winter’s showcase on Saturday evening, our crew took in as much of Whistler as possible and in reality didn’t even make a large dent in either the myriad of trails or the bustling nightlife–there’s just so much to do there. For a first-timer, this resort necessitates a trip back.

By the time Saturday evening rolled around, I was stoked to check out the labors of the photographers. As a compliment to the videography that is ubiquitous in our sport, Deep Winter creates a unique channel for a refreshing medium of photographic storytelling. The excitement for the event was palpable in the village and the scene at the Fairmont was impressive. The crowd was welcoming, humble, and stoked. Kokanee was flowing and Smirnoff was pouring drinks through a giant ice sculpture. Marie-France Roy, who had spent a day shooting for the contest, joined us and we found our seats.

The lights dimmed, gregarious host Feet Banks stepped onto the stage, and the slideshows commenced. Erin Hogue, an up-and-coming Whistler photographer presented first and set the tone for the evening when she was immediately iced in front of the crowd. Her slideshow, “Tracks of Time” (a few of the photos are in the above gallery) celebrated the multiple generations of people that share a passion for Whistler Blackcomb. The slideshows that followed from Nicolas Teichrob, Cameron Hunter, Jason Hummel, and Zoya Lynch included images of an all-female team; stark-contrast, red-hued images; and a variety of thoughtful portraits, beautiful landscapes, and inbounds riding shots that didn’t look inbounds at all. Former pro snowboarder, Chris Brown utilized some Whistler legends in his presentation, including Kale Stephens, Iikka Backstrom, and Devun Walsh, to parallel two young groms who are growing up below the peaks of this massive mountain.

All of the slideshow submissions were deserving of the title. The judges had their work cut out for them. But, it was the creative theme displayed by Zoya Lynch that captured the judges’ votes. Zoya had selected three Whistler-based artists, a potter, a painter, and a graffiti artist, and her slideshow followed her subjects on hill, as well as when honing their crafts offhill through intimate images of each person making art. Zoya was rewarded with $5,000 and the title of Queen of Storms, the second woman to be crowned champion of Deep Winter in the event’s history. Deep Summer 2013 winner, Nicolas Teichrob earned second place, and Jason Hummel came in third.

Filing out of the venue and heading to Merlin’s to celebrate with the photographers and their teams, I was given a few moments to reflect on the previous few days. After watching countless video parts that have been filmed at Whistler Blackcomb and it’s surrounding backcountry (most recently the Get Outta Town series, of course), experiencing the resort, both on hill and off, finally allowed me to find out firsthand the draw this place has for so many snowboarders and to go from Whistler rookie to Whistler-novice-who’s-been-there-and-is-already-planning-on-going-back. This mountain makes a compelling argument that packing your belongings and driving west to spend the winter (or more) as a transplant is a fantastic idea, from the first morning tracks to the post-shred Caesar at the GLC. I can’t wait to go back.

A huge thank you to the crew at Whistler Blackcomb, Chris McCleod, Lauren Everest, Michelle Leroux, Jill Young, Tourism Whistler, and everyone that made the Deep Winter weekend one for the books.

For more from Whister, follow here:
Twitter: @WhistlerBlckcmb and @goWhistler
Instagram: @WhistlerBlackcomb and @goWhistler