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I know—it’s just a pow shot. She said it to me just like that. “It’s just a shot of someone skiing powder. The snow is blowing up and you can only see part of the skier.”
Yup, that’s it. But there are some of us who are so passionate about powder skiing, we see differences among pow shots—we see way more than a blur of whiteness. We have floated through it. It has meaning to us. I won’t go as far as saying that looking at a picture can make you feel it, but you sure do start heading that way.
Pow shots are not created equal. The aforementioned lackluster response to my photo proves that all powder-skiing photographs are not necessarily special (although that gal’s remark was most likely trade-show fatigue talking). Yet some photos grab us; they are very special. Some “artists” throw paint around and come up with a blob of nothingness. Jackson Pollock created masterpieces.
A good photograph captures the essence of our ethereal powder-skiing moments, fleeting sensations of oneness that feel so good we want to return to them as often as possible. Moments that create powder junkies, a cult of freaks whose entire lives are governed by the stuff.
The sensation of skiing the deep is one thing. Really nailing a photo may not be the same, but it does bring people back to a run, to an instant, to a face shot, to some transcendent moment they once had. Maybe it was last week or when they were 12.
It can be a faraway shot or a close-up, but certain things have to happen for the magic to be captured. A combination of framing, action, snow dynamics, form, and sometimes light (or lack of it). A beautiful scenic with a lit-up skier on a ridge and the wave of snow he brings into the landscape. An extreme shot that causes you to take a step back, admire the athlete’s sheer skill, and wonder how she could even see a line like that in the first place. A magical explosion of powder and light with just enough of the skier revealed to give it context.
The proof, they say, is in the pudding—avid skiers love to look at pow shots. Sometimes we’ll sit around over beers and flip through a mag, shoving it in each other’s faces and raving. Madly.
Skiing powder becomes a universal tongue that crosses the barrier of actual language like few things can. Like food and music and love. We turn pages in August and September as we wait for the snow to fly again. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Quit talking about it and show me the damn pictures.
Lee Cohen can be found skiing and shooting photos in Alta, Utah…or anywhere else the snow can be measured in feet.