The most pragmatic, exclusive, and intense adventure of my 2015-16 season was the Klim Backcountry Team ride. The marketing team at Klim had decided to bring together a group of their sponsored athletes, representing some of the best backcountry riders in North America, and had invited me to help capture the week. It was a week I will never forget, based out of Chris Burandt’s Backcountry Adventures in Buena Vista, Colorado. For this episode, I will keep things somewhat brief, because I have a short novel in to SledHeads. So, if you like what you see here, I’d head over to Harris Publishing and pick up a copy of the 2016 Photo Annual!
Nestled deep in the Rockies, away from any ski traffic, lies the town of Buena Vista. It is primarily a summer destination, and self-proclaimed whitewater rafting capitol of the world, home of the headwaters of the Colorado River. It is a quaint community, completely asleep during the winter, except whatever tourism Burandt and his crew bring in, but most of that appears to be hidden from the rest of the area’s residents, many of them vacating Buena Vista for the winter. It’s the perfect cover for a meetup like this turned out to be.
During a lunch break, Phil Yribar pulled some of the group aside to film a commercial for Polaris. It actually worked out well, since most of their top-level sponsored backcountry athletes were in attendance. As I was shooting this shot, I didn’t realize that Dan was holding up the Klim F3 helmet, new for this season. I botched the framing, but, luckily, the graphic artists at Klim fixed my mistake with some selective cropping and borders.
Also from the same instance, I caught a candid pose of Burandt. Just out of frame sits Matt Entz, Keith Curtis, Cole Willford and Dan Adams. I think you can see the back of Ross Robinson’s head in Burandt’s glasses. Burandt was intently listening to instruction coming from Yribar, as they prepared their lines.
This shot was just after we had all regrouped. I was exploring and ducked into a tree well to get out of the wind while I put my camera gear away. I looked up and this shot caught my eye. I radio’ed down to the group, asking for anyone to come get this shot. I tried to explain what I wanted, but the view from the top is so different from the bottom. I couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t see me. The enthusiasm wasn’t really there; nobody else could see what I was talking about. I begged. Cole Willford, always the most eager to take advantage of any situation, responded to the call. It didn’t turn out as good as I had hoped, especially since I had to walk down the hill-side to help guide Cole to where I wanted him, and I hate when I have footprints in a shot. But still, I love this.
Another example of working for it, this is one of my favorite shots of the year. We had completed a very exhausting day of riding, and everyone was ready to go home, knowing we had a three-hour drive ahead of us. Phil Yribar and I thought we were at the back of the pack. In unison, we looked to our left, noticing the sunset and the dilapidated mine. We joked, in frustration, that this would have been the perfect shot; the rest of the group was out of radio range. To our surprise, Willford, Robinson and Sessions pulled up from behind us. Willford, ablaze with excitement, asked “Whatcha lookin’ at over there”. Yribar and I scrambled to get setup before the light faded. We hoped to catch some action around the building, looking across to the valley. Willford darted around the structure, out of sight. Over the radio, he said he thought he could make it through the door. It was almost dark, and I missed the shot of his skis almost tapping the top of the door-way. Cole is such an incredible athlete, and his always-willingness to get the shot makes him one of my favorites to work with.
I don’t remember the exact series of events leading up to this shot, but someone was stuck, and Burandt and Keith Curtis went to help. By the time they arrived, whomever was stuck had freed themselves, leaving Burandt and Curtis to their own devices. Inching towards the edge, trying to get a view of his line, Curtis got a little over-committed. By the time he could see his line, he was beyond the point of no return. At that point, I was sure he’d ride it out, and knew if he tried, he was going to give me an epic scorpion. As his sled rolled over the edge, he bailed. His sled stuck in the snow, straight vertical, past the spindles. Curtis had to scale the wall to help Burandt. In this photo, Burandt is looking to make sure that Curtis and his sled were OK, just before refusing help. Burandt was adamant that he wasn’t stuck and was going to ride this out. Burandt had to make a couple of ski adjustments (not allowing us to call them a ski-tug), but managed to pull it off. Needless to say, I was robbed of two scorpions in a matter of minutes. Ha.
Just like riding with any of my buddies, everyone has to get the best line. Burandt, though, was looking ahead, and had something a little better in store than just a high mark in a ravine.
Just after a successful rally up a series of drainages, there was a large boulder, covered in snow. The run-in was nearly impossible, and the landing was even worse. However, each athlete took their turn at the jump. I was amazed that no one got bucked off. These guys are good.
Unaware that I was snapping pictures, Julie-Ann was racing through the trees. The Team was spread along the hill-side, everyone having made it to the top. Each member took their own line down and across, so I setup in the middle and waited. Julie-Ann was the first to reach me, and I caught this just as she emerged from the shadows.
Less than a hundred yards downhill from the previous shot, Adams had overshot the meeting place (indiscriminately determined by Sid as the first meadow we came to). He radio’ed, asking where we were, and we instructed him to come uphill. I think, just after this shot, Adams hopped over, throwing his sled on its side and sprayed the rest of us with sticky spring powder, providing another few minutes of entertainment and laughter.