By Paddy O'Connell
Photographer Reuben Krabbe is leading skiing’s charge to push the creative limitations of action sports photography into a realm of unbound innovation. The latest episode of Salomon Freeski TV (above) documents Krabbe’s endeavor to create the world’s most brilliant ski photo during a total solar eclipse in Svalbard, Norway. To bring his vison to life he recruited skiers Cody Townsend, Brody Leven, and Chris Rubens. The trio of athletes said yes, not because they thought the photo had even a slight chance of working, but because a dream trip is hard to pass up. Even if said trip is to the Arctic Circle in…March. Which by all accounts is damn near idiotic.
PO: Why did you say yes to this? Did you think the photo was a possibility?
Cody: “I said yes because I wasn’t fully informed. As skiers we went there because we wanted to ski. The eclipse thing was like ‘yeah, whatever.’ I didn’t think it was going to work.”
Brody: “It’s cool to do something that can’t be done again. It was a dream trip for me as an expedition skier…but the Arctic Circle in March? Ugh. I really didn’t know about the photo idea until I got there. I went to ski.”
Chris: “A lot of people were invited on this and said no because of the cold. But I was like, ‘You’re blowing it!’ I wasn’t going to let the cold force me to say no. But I didn’t think for a second we were going to see the eclipse, let alone photograph skiing in it.”
PO: So was this a stupid idea that worked or a brilliant idea that couldn’t fail?
Cody: “All three of us thought it was impossible. I mean, the chance of success was so, so slim. We didn’t have hope of this happening but it did, so, yeah, it was brilliant.”
Brody: “This was a great idea. It had some serious creativity on Reuben’s part. He’s a genius. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the inner workings of the set-up. I just sat back while everyone pulled out their protractors.”
Chris: “It wasn’t reckless. We were dialed, super prepared. We stacked the odds in our favor in a very difficult situation. But it was a crazy amount of work with a high probability of failure. We punched the luck card, but you’ve just got to try.”
Cody: “I mean, it worked out. The athletes were very happily proved wrong. It takes a very strong-willed person to get this done, and it was pretty miserable out there.”
Chris: “As athletes, we are driven by getting those kinds of special shots. I really enjoy everything about it, the teamwork, the process… It was a super fun trip.”
PO: So who is Reuben Krabbe? How could someone dream this up and make it happen?
Cody: “Reuben is the bro-culture antithesis. I mean, he is super smart. He was doing planetary spin calculations. You know, there’s no auto-setting for an eclipse. So much went into this. He was more prepared for a single shot than any photographer I’ve ever seen.”
To read an interview with photographer Reuben Krabbe about what it was like to take his Eclipse shot, check out "Catching Up With Reuben Krabbe."
Brody: “Reuben had laser-beam focus on the shot but he still caught everything else that was happening. He’s a great photographer. Reuben is my friend and I am proud to say that. I have the utmost respect for him. The success of the trip was really on him—and Anthony [Bonello, project manager]. They both have such imaginative vision and insane logistical skills.”
Chris: “Oh, he’s out there, for sure. He’s a genius, a true creative mind, and hyper focused. He and Anthony had a vision from Day 1—this is not your normal ski porn.”
PO: Describe E-Day.
Cody: “It was minus-40 with wind-chill, so not that great. It was the biggest suffer fest, but nothing compares to it because it had the best payoff. It was the coldest day of the trip at that point. We all just gave into the shot. We had a job to do. It was really tough but we all wanted to get it done for Reuben. It was the coldest temps with nuclear wind, and you could get hypothermia in a couple minutes if you started sweating. We all got some kind of frostbite. I couldn’t feel my toes until August. But it was such a special trip—everything, the sites, the skiing, the eclipse, and definitely the people.”
Brody: “It was super cold, dude…like the coldest. But it was amazing. When I watch that part of the episode I get the chills. It was so special to be a part of. I feel lucky.”
Chris: “If it were three degrees colder, camera equipment probably would not have worked. Everything and everyone was right on the edge of not working. It was not the worst but not the best either. Seeing the photos in Banff on the big screen was a holy-shit moment. Pretty incredible and mind blowing.”
PO: And the eclipse?
Cody: “The most surreal thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Everything around me went into sci-fi world. I felt like I was on another planet. The world turned into different waves of light pulsating on the ground. The colors were dancing across the snow. We were losing our minds. It was like being in Star Wars.”
Brody: “It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. It was like there was a projector coming from the sun shooting these quick moving flames all over the snow. Once we got the shot we were told by the film crew to just enjoy it—so we did, together. And we all freaked out. It was awesome.”
Chris: “I didn’t think it was going to happen so I didn’t put much thought into how it would be. I had no real expectations. It blew my mind. I see why the Mayans worshipped eclipses. It was the craziest event of my life. It was light I’ve never seen before—skipping, shimmering light everywhere. It’s the one moment I will remember forever…aside from the skiing. I had an animalistic reaction and started yelling.”
PO: What about the skiing? How was it?
Cody: “The skiing was actually really nice, cool climbing to wind-buff hard pack. But that really wasn’t the best part—it’s who you’re with, where you are, the context of it all. There were waves of extreme stoke and bliss that helped get through the cold. It all paid off. We were really lucky to go on this.”
Brody: “The skiing reminded me of Iceland, everything topped out, plateaued. It wasn’t the steepest or super techy but really, really fun when we had good weather. And a lot of couloirs, I mean a lot. I love the terrain there. I’d probably love it even more in, like, May.”
Chris: “There were insane lines. It was an inspiring place to ski and it was stacked. The Facebook Wall was the icing on the cake. E-Day was not the best skiing, not the cream of the crop but everything else was scratchy dustings and really good shreddable coastal northern.”
Cody: “The Facebook Wall was sweet. That’s why I went on the trip.”
Brody and Chris:
PO: What’s the takeaway from the trip?
Cody: “Why not do absurd things?! Creativity and greatness equal success. There’s a fine line between crazy and genius. It was so fucking rad. I felt bad for the people that didn’t go. The absurd can work out and the suffering can be worth it. The impossible can work and doing it sometimes is a must. I feel lucky, special. It’s a story I’ll remember forever.”
Brody: “I can’t believe we did that but it worked. This showed a great vision for our sport because it was about more than what we do—it wasn’t necessarily about the snow, the steeps, the remotest place. It was about unwavering motivation and creativity. This can appeal to everyone, more than just skiers.”
Chris: “The people are the takeaway. Everyone pitched in to make this happen. It was the ultimate shared experience and team effort. And for me it was the allure of a fantastic opportunity. You never know what your going to get. This was suffering with a remarkable payoff and a great sense of accomplishment. Always go, no matter what, even when things that aren’t 100 percent. That’s how you get unique experiences. You just don’t know until you go. We crave that which is different. We want to tell the crazy unique stories. Skiing, as a medium, to bring us to this is incredible, but this movie transcends skiing. This isn’t a normal idea.”