Photographers' Blog

Skiing nostalgia

Neuastenberg, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

When I was a child and winters were really powerful dropping one or two meters of snow, my four sisters and I used to spend every afternoon after school at the snow-covered cow meadow with our wooden, candle-waxed skis, wearing black leather ski boots with shoelaces. Parallel turn was an unknown expression and if our skis were not waxed well with candles, it was impossible to ski down the hill – one could only walk with them.

Years later when I had my first ski holidays in the Alps with modern ski gear, I did not miss my old equipment. I learned to downhill ski with elegant parallel turns and carve up the snow faster and faster. What progress!

Last Tuesday I went with my family for a day of alpine skiing at the Sauerland ski area complete with 20 lifts and the longest track of about 1200 meters. When I saw a placard announcing a ‘Nostalgic Ski Race’ in the neighboring village, I remembered my own experience with old wooden skis and asked the Berlin pictures desk for permission to go there and cover the event, expecting to get some nice winter features.

I arrived in Neuastenberg early on Sunday morning. There were so many Dutch people, that you could have an impression that Sauerland ski area was part of the Netherlands. I had a feeling I was in another country and should improve my spoken English.

I searched for the ‘Nostalgic Ski Race’, an event held there every two years since 1986, to find only modern ski schools, eight-person chair lifts, neon-colored skis and families sporting high tech ski suits. There was no nostalgia!

Taking the ski path less traveled

Innsbruck, Austria

By Dominic Ebenbichler

The tragedy of Dutch Prince Johan Friso, who was buried in an avalanche while skiing in Austria last February and who has since been in a coma, generated the idea to shoot a story about freeride skiing and how ski professionals are trying to minimize any possible risks.

I’m lucky to have easy access to some of the best European freeride skiers as they are either part of my family or good friends with whom I go skiing with. I asked one of my cousins, Christoph Ebenbichler, who is a professional skier, if he would like to be part of this story. We discussed the riders who we wanted to work with on the story and the basic topics we wanted to cover, and decided to focus on showing the beauty of skiing in the back country combined with showing the professional approach everybody should have when skiing off piste. I contacted the skiers and they were all happy to work with me on the project.

Shooting freeride skiing requires a lot of preparation, organization and flexibility, especially in terms of getting up really early. We had to decide what time, which day and where we would go and of course we had to check the snow conditions and look at all possible avalanche risk reports.

Eagles without wings

Oberstdorf, Germany to Bischofshofen, Austria

By Kai Pfaffenbach

For a German sports photographer covering first division Bundesliga soccer, every week between December and the end of January is actually quite boring. While other major leagues (not only in soccer) continue their season, Bundesliga is “off” for four weeks. Although I would normally tend to miss “my“ weekly fix of soccer, I always look forward to the so-called “winter break”. It gives me time to cover one of the sports events I really love to photograph: the four hills ski jumping tournament.

As a young boy watching it on TV, I could never imagine standing on top of such a ski jump. But it was my 14th time this year traveling from Oberstdorf, Germany’s most southern city, where the opening jumping is traditionally held, to Garmisch-Partenkirchen for the “new-year-jumping” on January 1. After those two jumpings in Germany, the tournament convoy rides to Innsbruck in Austria and then the final “epiphany jumping” in Bischofshofen. Four different cities in nine days. Up to 30,000 spectators cheering their heroes when they soar down.

But it seems ski jumping is not very popular overseas. Besides the strong Japanese team, all the top athletes come from central Europe. The top leading nations this winter are Austria, Norway and Germany. No wonder this year’s tournament was a duel between Austria’s ski jumping super star Gregor Schlierenzauer and Norway’s Anders Jacobsen. As wind, snow and rain are new challenges to the athletes during each jumping, it is a great challenge for a photographer to find new angles and develop ideas for “new” pictures.

Daredevils on Hahnenkamm mountain

By Leonhard Foeger and Lisi Niesner

Imagine a snow-covered mountain, imagine an 85 degree grade at the steepest point, imagine wearing a race suit, goggles and nothing else but a helmet and a back protector for safety. Now clip on your skis and speed straight down at a top speed of 90 miles per hour. Crazy, don’t you think?

We are talking specifically about the 3,312-meter-long “Streif” downhill course on Hahnenkamm mountain in the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbuehel. It is regarded as the most difficult track for racers and the most challenging assignment for photographers on the Alpine Ski World Cup calendar. Several racers have crashed in years past and some were seriously injured, but the winners gained immortality.

Early morning race day, skiers and photographers start to prepare to do their best work. Racers get ready at the starting area close to the top of Hahnenkamm inside a cozy tent next to the start house where they can stay warm and concentrate on their adventure of speed. On the other hand photographers have to carry their gear — which includes cameras, lenses and, of course, skis — up the hill to find a position to shoot action images on the course. They have to establish their positions at least one hour before the race starts. Sometimes the FIS race director moves photographers who could be standing in the way of a crash to a safer spot. Cold temperatures, snow and wind make photographers dress in very warm clothes, thick gloves and ski boots, while ski racers wear a thin race suit like thermal underwear to minimize wind resistance.

A recipe for excitement

Bjorn Heregger of Sweden competes during the Xtreme men’s ski freeride contest on the Bec des Rosses mountain in Verbier March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

Take a 3,223m (10,574 ft) high mountain in Switzerland, “Le Bec-des-Rosses”, blessed with a 500m long north face and inclines of up to 55 degrees, sprinkle with sharp rocks, cover with snow for a few months, blast occasionally with strong winds and then add in a jump-friendly 20m escarpment along with narrow passages for descent.

Now throw into the mix 28 of the best skiers and snowboarders in the world, each of them climbing said mountain to reach their start positions. Add a light garnish of helicopter flights for the accompanying mountain guides, TV crews and photographers and you then have the vital ingredients of the recipe for excitement that is the Freeride World Cup Final 2009, or ‘Xtreme’ – an event held at the Swiss Alps resort of Verbier since 1996.