Do the Dew!

What a difference a week makes in the mountains. Last Monday I left a Melbourne warmed by winter sun and made it up to Falls Creek for the usual shenanigans of a Big Cup Monday at The Man Hotel. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent shredding the pristine Falls parks under sunny skies, and snapping a couple of shots of the local boys hitting the new jumps in Ruined Castle. All the forecasts were calling for storms to head our way, and we were fortunate to get a good day of riding in on Wednesday…but by Thursday the cloud, fog and damp had set in and I made a quick trip home to dry out before heading up to Mt Buller on Friday night.

I was back at Buller for the Dew Hut Jam, which was back on busy Bourke Street, but with more invited teams and a new big water tank feature this year. Mt Buller always manages to roll out the welcome mat for the comps…well, yes and no. I had thought that the weather for the 2009 Mtn Dew Hut Jam couldn’t get any worse – but I was wrong! Yep, it was the worst weather I have ever had to shoot in: thick dense fog obscuring the sun during the day, dampness soaking all surfaces, and then by night howling winds knocking over flash stands, seemingly thicker fog and more and more misty rain.

I was up at Buller to shoot for Aust-NZ Snowboarder’s website, and you can check out the Mtn Dew Hut Jam press release with a couple photos from their assigned photog and video here. And to compare the full gallery of shots taken by Rory, who was employed by Mtn Dew for the weekend, take a look here.

I had set up three Canon Speedlight flashes (because they are easier to transport and set up than my huge Elinchrom Ranger, and usually do the job for night shooting) with one behind the main jump, one yellow-cellophaned one to the left by the water tank, and a green one to the right by the rail (I wanted some Mountain Dew-type colours in the photos). But with the cold sapping the power of the 4xAA batteries, and the dampness soaking all electrical surfaces it was a little hit or miss to get all flashes firing at once. However, this actually created some interesting outcomes and some variety to the shots. And for the very brief moments that the fog cleared the photos came out pretty cool I think. But for the last half of the night session there was basically no break in the fog, despite the wind, and I spent more time watching and chatting on the sidelines than shooting. But I’m happy with the results, even if in tough conditions like this it’s easy to miss out on capturing a killer shot of the winning team and riders.

And of course the partying at Buller was second to none – the Hoo Har is always fun, even more so when it’s a chance to catch up with a bunch of snowboard mates you haven’t seen for a while. But the walk back up the hill to my media billet was torture! Mt Buller really is some freak-of-nature microclimate, being the first mountain that the warm, damp Southern Ocean air hits, getting forced up into the cold, high altitude as storms head north east. A storm front was on its way to the Aussie Alps, and every mountain was on the receiving end of some horrible weather on Saturday before the snow started falling that night. However, Buller has a monopoly on being the only place where you can simultaneously be smashed by a tropical-strength monsoonal rain downpour, mixed with some sort of half-ice-half-rain precipitation that somehow falls as liquid yet freezes upon you instantly, as well howling winds, and blinding fog. Walking home was like being caught on some gigantic satanic Slurpee machine. And so the headache I had when I got home was definitely not from the beers, but from the ice freezing my brain!

But I awoke late the next day to a sea of white out the window where a few hours before had been dirt, grass and asphalt! The snow had finally come to the High Country, and as I write it is still continuing…so a trip back to Falls to make the most of it will certainly be on the cards soon.

UPDATE 6/8/10: Transworld Snowboarding have put up some of the photos on their website. It’s not a feature, just a news item, but it’s still nice to get shots published on their site again. Check it here.

Californication

Wow – where has the time gone? The 10 or so days back in California after the whirlwind that was Vancouver 2010 and my side trip to New York have been even more hectic. No rest for the wicked I guess…and I prefer to have projects to work on. It makes me less likely to waste those rare free-ride days by sleeping in.

 A lot of snow has disappeared in Tahoe since early Feb, but Pete Long and Darragh Walsh both found some warm-up features to shoot one night near home. Longy’s air-through-tree-branches to flat was pretty gnarly, but got a little interrupted when some local douchebags came out to heckle him. You’ll see an “atmospheric” shot (ie – only one of the three flashes fired) in the attached gallery.

A couple days later on the Monday we started the long drive south down US Hwy 395 through Carson City, and Mammoth (to pick up Jake McCarthy) all the way to magical Los Angeles. I took the three guys down as part of a magazine trip idea I had had for a while: basically, a surf, snowboard, skate and party trip to the City of Angels. Very few Australians realise that California actually has mountains and skifields, let alone that there are handful of progressive freestyle resorts within 3 hours drive of Hollywood!

I’d organised some cheap rooms at the pimping Hotel Erwin right on the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk, and directly opposite the brand new skatepark, basketball courts (where I got my white-men-can-dunk on) and Muscle Beach (where Darragh, inspired by Mr Muscle Robbie Walker, sparred up against the local hard bodies). Longy was in his element (not least because the hotel restaurant was called “Hash”, and the rooftop bar “High”) as he was surrounded by skaters, surfers, tattoo parlours, cafes…and hot California girls. Ol’ Pete is pretty impressive riding transitions and we got some nice shots in Venice before heading south to the semi-ghetto docks and refineries of San Pedro to an underground community skatepark. The San Pedro skatepark was started illegally on a vacant lot under a freeway overpass, and slowly grew through the work of volunteers into a legit triple-bowl setup that the council had to then recognise and authorise. It was great from a photography point of view as it was quite dark under the freeway and meant the three small Canon Speedlight flashes I had didn’t need to overpower the sun and could be utilised to the maximum. Again Longy shredded concrete, and Jake nailed a nice backside smith grind and frontside crailslide. A local grommet was ripping, and I snapped a couple shots of him (not everyone worked out exactly as I wanted though, but I was happy with the shots of the Aussie crew).

The next day we finally got to hit the snow, checking out of Hotel Erwin and making the Mt Baldy carpark in under 1 hour 30! Mt Baldy reminded of a dodgy Mt Hotham: run-down and haphazard, but great steep terrain, deep gullies and twisting banked trails for jibbing everywhere. Bear Mountain was another great mountain, and lived up to expectations – jib and freestyle city. And I was amazed at how much snow was down in SoCal: so much more than up in Tahoe!

The weather was forecast to roll in, so we high-tailed it back to Hollywood (in under 2 and a half hours) to fulfil the other trip requirement: partying! The others were pretty tired from a few days skating and snowboarding, and low on cash so we headed to the famous rock ‘n’ rollin’ Rainbow Bar and Grill for a few beers…and bumped into Ron Jeremy and his massive package. Man, he looks so seedy in person with his salt and pepper porn mo’. Saturday was for shopping and exploring Fairfax Avenue (and seeing Darragh froth out over a bunch of “exclusive” streetware shop labels I’d never heard of) and a mellow night out again before we hit the road again to Mountain High.

Again we were there within one and a half hours (and without the winding access road that both Baldy and Bear had), and with the West resort all lit up, we had till 10pm to get the goods. We’d been cruisin’ round West Hollywood in 20 degrees and sunshine, and rock ‘n’ roll McCarthy was in jeans, denim jacket, fingerless gloves and sunglasses to shred…shame about the wicked blizzard and fog that rolled in off the Pacific Ocean to ruin his fun. He nearly had a major spaz attack, he was so cold. But after he found some extra layers to rug up with we got some shots and by 8pm were on the road north again. The boys were keen to get back home, but with food and petrol stops we didn’t get back to Mammoth till 2am, and to Tahoe till 5am!. To say we were knackered would be an understatement. But it was a great, action packed 6 days: we got the shots, had a heap of fun, saw a lot of new things (and a few celebrities). You’ll be able to check out the full report in Australian-New Zealand Snowboarder Magazine this winter, but here’s a few shots to whet your appetite.