Homeward bound…but where is home again?

To paraphrase the Michael Buble hit: Another winters day has come, And gone away, In even Reno and LA, And I wanna go Home, Let me go home. (And no, I’m NOT gay – I bought the CD for my Mum!) I didn’t really want to go home, but as I had finished my last photo shoot at June Mountain and I felt my shooting season was done I started to think about getting home to enjoy my first big family easter in five years in a little place in central Victoria called Tarnagulla. The more I thought about it, the more I began to miss home and started to plan all the final steps: packing the bags, cleaning the apartment, getting the landlord inspection, driving the crew to the airport, finding a place to store the car for several months…and finally running the gauntlet of check-in chicks with my excess baggage. Then of course there is the three actual flights and 17 hours or so of sitting on my arse from Reno, via LAX and Sydney, to Melbourne. Why can’t heading home just be easy? I guess any big move is always a pain.

Things were winding down at our place as we all thought about home, but although I wanted to pack it away, the camera couldn’t quite go in the camera bag yet. A couple of candid “lifestyle” portrait shots needed to be taken, and it was down to the wire to get a shot of Cohen Davies. A huge snow-dumping storm had rolled into Tahoe on the last couple of days making all our outdoor locations a bust, and with his lack of mobile phone credit, he was lucky to catch me still at home before I busted a move back down to Reno (I had aleady made a trip down and back to drop Darragh off at the airport early that morning…only seeing 4 wrecked cars on the side of the road in the blizzard!) Evil Editor has the shot and it will come out in issue 1, but not the frame I preferred as somehow Cohen was reading the newspaper upside down. I swear I thought he was actually reading the paper as I fucked around getting the lighting right – he must have upside-down eyes, or didn’t notice as a result of the previous night’s action?

We filled our last few days in Tahoe on a little bit of a party train – unfortunately everyone else in town was winding down and the party ended up basically being 20 bored guys around a dowstairs pool table. We had to find ways to amuse ourselves. The highlight for Darragh was his packet of peanut M&M’s (he’s mad for the things!) and the 3 buck McLovin fake ID he bought in 7-11!

More fun was to be had on my last night in Reno. I booked into the awesomely rad 30 buck-a-night Terrible’s Sands Regency (Terribles is actually a chain based out of Vegas – not merely capitalised adjective as you might think – but has the added benefit of running petrol stations around Nevada so you can cash your “Terribles Bucks” for gas on the way out of town. Awesome.) I was rooming with Longy, who was down to his last 10 bucks (in fact he had to borrow $5 off me to pay for his $10.99 all-you-can-eat at The Eldorado Casino) and couldn’t eat again till late the next evening when he got aboard the V Australia flight home. In fact, now that I think about it, Longy never paid me back for that 5 bucks!

It was Tim’s birthday, and the last night in the States for 3 of us as Ben was flying out to London on the Wednesday too, so the three of us not-totally-skint-guys (ie, not Longy) hit the town. It was an adventure, to say the least, but a lot of fun. Sort of like a trashy Vegas. But not bad for a Tuesday night. However, now I know why The Man in Black sang ” But I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die”: he was putting the guy out of his misery!

I had a reasonably late arvo flight, and despite the gods of time and scheduled lunchbreaks working against me, I managed to store the car away, check in and get my bags checked through all the way to Sydney (even if I had to secretly stuff some gear back into my board bag behind the pillar before I dropped it off at the Oversize Baggage section). I was confused when I saw the destination for my Horizon flight flash up as Mammoth – apparently, weather depending, that flight makes a short stop on the way to LAX in Mammoth Lakes. The flying scaredy cat, Longy, would have hated the swirling and turbulent landing, but it was worth it for the amazing snow stormy views out the door. Longy had taken an earlier flight to LAX, but would join me on the V Australia flight to Oz (one of the only times I have shared a flight with a mate in a long, long time. It was a welcome change…and I got my revenge for the missing $5 by freaking him out pointing out every mysterious plane noise, bang and bump on the 14 hour flight home!) As I took off from Mammoth, I turned around to see Falls/Hotham rider Lauren Smith a few rows back – while I had spent the day ferrying crew to the airport, running round Reno and waiting for my flight, she had been cuting laps in knee-deep Mammoth pow before she threw everything in a bag and made the 5.30 flight to LA and onto Oz. I wish my last day was so simple.

Girl on girl action

A couple months ago Evil Editor hit me up about shooting a girls trip – I was initially hesitant as I had heard from various photographers about how different, and in someways difficult and frustrating, it is to organise and shoot a banger female snowboard trip for publication. For the last few years I’ve just been shooting a bunch of guys, most of whom were my friends before I was a “Senior Photographer”. But when I heard that I wouldn’t even have to travel outside of home-base Lake Tahoe to shoot Nitro/3CS’s Jess Rich and Roxy’s CP (Courtney Phillipson), I started to warm to the challenge and opportunity to have some pretty faces to look at instead of Ben’s heinous red beard.

And when CP rolled up ready to rock: quickly buying a plane ticket from Colorado, booking a motel, hiring a car, and bringing her own shovel even, it was a welcome change from some of the penny-pinching guys I’ve had to shoot over the last few years. Too bad Jess was holed up at Squaw Valley, with only the hourly TART local bus to get in around vast Lake Tahoe…but we’d find a way to work around that.

Just as CP was flying in, a major storm had just dumped a foot of snow in town, and with blue Saturday morning skies we jumped in the black panther Chevy Tahoe and headed up the road to Donner Pass. It was epic! Perfect sunshine, but crisp, cold conditions (rare for mid-March) keeping the foot and a half of light dry powder in perfect shape. Darragh, Longy and Ben came along for the ride, and helped set up a couple of jumps (which were left over by others from previous storms, just needing a reshaping) so the girls could just save their energy for the numerous hikes back to the drop-in zone. Not only was this Jess’ first proper photo shoot, but her first time in the backcountry, first time hitting a hand-made jump…and first attempts (and stomps) in powder! It was a great first day, getting to know the girls better, being impressed by their strong riding and “can-do, will-stomp-it” attitudes. And to round out the day I managed to snap a couple shots of the boys and even get to hit one of the jumps myself (for a change). (And thanks to Ben for some of the shots I stole from his blog)

The girls were here to shoot for four days only, and so I revisited some rails around the lake (finding one chained up and unhittable…unless we went to buy some bolt cutters), and had a day at Northstar to round out the article with some park shots. And another first for Jess: her first urban rail, first attempt at a backside 50-50…which she nailed first go! I think seasoned vet, CP, was a little stunned.

Before the girls arrived I was trying to come up with some sort of concept, or at least a “visual hook” to try and make the article look different, and to make it relevant to a two-girl photo shoot. I like to have a theme, or concept to all my magazine trips just to give me something beyond the regular to try and focus on. So I started to think about Jess vs CP, and Snow White’s “Mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the fairest of them all?” refrain. Mirrors, two good-looking girls, doing their makeup in front of the mirrow, one regular, one goofy-footer etc etc…with the idea that I would try and shoot all the features from opposite, but equal sort of angles (where possible) so that if the photos were side by side, they would almost look like mirror images. This also gave me a theme for some “lifestyle” photos to accompany the action based on legendary (and slightly creepy) Australian-German Vogue photographer, Helmut Newton, who must have drawn some influence from Velazquez’ Baroque masterpiece (click in the hypertect links to see these visual references). But I can tell you that you won’t see any Newtonesque naked shots of CP and Jess in Australian-NZ Snowboarder…I saved those for my personal collection!

After all said and done, I was really pleased how the four days panned out: the girls threw down, impressed me greatly with their riding skills, weathed the bumps and bruises, and they were always positive and smiling (and only failed on one super-gnarly rock-exposed rail that had me shit-scared just looking at it, and only because they lacked the speed to get onto it properly).  So feeling like we had pretty much got all the shots we wanted (and enought to keep Evil Editor happy), it was nice the next few days to be able to get back to just shredding The Star with the (somewhat-uglier-to-look-at) boys and celebrate Darragh’s 24th Birthday co-inciding with St Patrick’s Day down at Stateline. Tomorrow we’re off to June mountain for a night or two for my last session of photo-taking for the season…it’ll be nice to pack the camera in the bag at the end of it and know that I’m done for 2009-2010 publication shooting season.

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.