BEHIND THE SHOT: 2012 Ski Digital Catalog Cover
Bold, authentic and inspirational images have been a cornerstone of Black Diamond culture since day one. The pictures that fill our catalogs, website, ads and posters aren't just a portal for visual storytelling, they are the essence of what Black Diamond is all about. In this ongoing series, we'll take a look at some of Black Diamond's most powerful and inspiring images, both old and new, and get the stories behind the shots from the photographers and athletes who made them happen.
For this feature's first installment, we caught up with photographer Jay Beyer and Black Diamond athlete Zack Giffin to get the story behind Jay's incredible photo of Zack hucking over a massive ice cave in Glacier Bay, Alaska last spring—a photo that made the cover of our 2012 Ski Digital Catalog. Accompanying their story is a great POV video Zack put together that gives a glimpse into his perspective of the drop.
Jay: From the second we landed the ski plane I was scanning my memory to the last time I was here. I couldn't recall a huge ice cave even though we would have skinned right by it. But a feature like that doesn't just appear on a glacier. It had to have been there.
Zack: It took us two days to complete the six or seven flights from Haines to our camp in Glacier Bay National Park. We had a scheduled pick up nearly three weeks later and a sat phone was our only option for emergency assistance. It was a constant balance of conducting a filming agenda while respecting the very real possibility of a multi-day evacuation if things went wrong.
Jay: We harnessed up and skinned over to check out the feasibility of skiing near this otherworldly feature. To Zack and Carston, it looked like a doable air, but not at the beginning of a 3-week ski trip. Days passed, and we skied and skinned by it multiple times while capturing stills and footage for an upcoming Sweetgrass Productions movie.
Zack: Of course, after time in one place you become more comfortable and faraway lines start to seem attainable; airs, and climbs, possible. Although the gravity of the circumstance never changes, inevitably we all learn the folly of expecting self-restraint to keep us safe. With each passing day the general feeling of unease is exchanged for confidence. It is just a matter of time before your standing on top of something that, at the beginning of your trip, was suggested as a joke.
Jay: The crew slowly got used to living on a glacier and the lines looked smaller and more doable from camp the longer we were there. One day our shoot got shut down by clouds, so we went over to the cave to scout it all out. The tranny was super small, but if you hit it right, it could work. The cave faced perfectly east so it would get light first thing in the morning. The skin to the top was pretty chill and the snow in the landing was just barely enough to drop this huge air. That night we had a discussion about if we should do it or not. Safety was a big deal because it would take at least a day or more to get medical help if something went wrong. We decided that we would give it a shot the next morning.
Zack: It was in this fashion that I found myself gearing up above a massive ice cave, waiting for the first rays of light to edge their way towards me and the gap below. Observing the calm of an unbelievably perfect morning, I had plenty of time to reflect on what we were about to do. Hiking past the massive hole in the dark had not been reassuring. The blue ice turned black, making it seem deeper, like the mouth of some fantastic Star Wars monster. A few days earlier we had all climbed inside to check angles and marvel at the ice flakes that formed the roof of the cavern. Even with light, it had certainly felt like the open jaws of a beast. Now, I imagined Jay and Ben deep within and how uncomfortable a place it would be in the darkness.
Jay: Waking up at 5am when it's 20 below zero outside kinda sucks. But when you're excited, as I normally am, it's a bit easier. We ate some food, had some coffee and started skinning in the black toward the cave. We got all set up and waited for the sun to poke its face over the mountains. Ben and I chose to shoot it from way inside the cave looking out, with the hopes of Zack flying over the opening of the cave in the morning light. We waited in silence, and the cave would periodically make thundering booms as the glacial ice shifted. We both had a weird feeling about our surroundings. I kept thinking about the whole cave falling down and getting trapped in there until I froze to death. Then the sun just slightly poked out. Finally it was time.
Zack: Day after day we had skinned passed the cave on our way the ridge above. I had been able to observe it from many angles and after a while, no matter how many excuses I tried to invent, I couldn't get past the fact that the gap was good-to-go. But in the dawn glow it had been impossible to see definition in the snow, the landing looked even more flat than I remembered. The snow was not as deep. Clicked in above a large air, it is typical to have these feelings. To question the decisions that led you to that position. The real question I had to ask myself was: who is that person that looked from the bottom and said, ‘Yes, there is a little landing there. I can do that.' Am I still that same person? If the answer is yes, then my decision had already been made. Being so far out on a glacier and having to talk through the risks, justifying things to the group the night before, forced me to vocalize opinions I normally keep internal. Arguing on the side of legitimacy made me better understand my real fears. I was afraid of missing my window and going home knowing what could have been.
Jay: I slowly counted down the numbers as if I was 5 again. Then in between shutter fires, I saw Zack at the perfect spot in the cave opening with the sun rising in the background. My new favorite shot was captured.
Zack: In the end, the process of evaluation and follow through proved true once again. The landing was just as possible as I knew it would be and the impact was right on the margin of tolerable. I am happy with most of my choices in Alaska and happy knowing that I pushed past a lot of self-doubt and unnecessary fear while I was there. A big part of my motivation for this trip came from the opportunity to work with Sweetgrass Productions, but a big piece of the confidence I had in our group's ability to stay safe in such an unsafe place came from Jay Beyer. Besides being a superb mountaineer, Jay is a superb photographer. To me, the photo Jay took from that ice cave speaks perfectly to my experience there-the unrelenting vulnerability you feel on a glacier, the absolute isolation of our camp in the distance, and unending options of the heavenly peaks surrounding us, that, like the ice cave are only terrifying because of what they make possible. I'm really looking forward to reliving these moments while watching the Sweetgrass film next fall. However, if all that came home with me was my health and this photo, I would count myself blessed, to have been part of something remarkable.