A Stunning Ski Photo That Was Years in the Making

Action photographer Christian Pondella on patience, persistence, and getting the perfect photo.
Bernard Rosow skis through Mammoth's Hole in the Wall
Bernard Rosow skis Mammoth's Hole in the Wall © Christian Pondella/Red Bull
By Christian Pondella

One of my favorite photos I’ve taken is on a run called “Hole in the Wall” at Mammoth Mountain, California, where you actually ski through a cave in the mountain. I’ve skied this run many times and photographed it once or twice over the years, but never really thought that the photos did it justice. One day the light went off in my head and I figured out how to really showcase this run with a creative photo.

Photographers are always trying to visualize a creative idea for that next great shot. Often this idea will be driven by a location or a few different photos that have inspired you -- and you want to put your own twist to it. It can be an amazing photo of a completely different sport that helps you figure out an imaginative way to apply that idea to your own work.

...a natural avalanche of fresh powder released from above and flushed through the cave right in front of us.

I’ve visualized photos in my head that have taken years to realize, while searching for the opportunity to make them happen. Often it’s a location that needs the perfect light and conditions and Mother Nature just does not cooperate. The bottom line is that you need to have persistence, determination, patience -- and often a lot of luck -- on your side.

My idea for the “Hole in the Wall” photo was to light up the cave in the early evening with a strobe (powerful flash) and shoot it with a fisheye lens so I could be in the cave, showcasing the beauty of this run. I obviously wanted to have perfect powder snow for the picture, which would take a big winter storm since the run gets a lot of sunlight and it’s often very icy in the cave.

As luck would have it, after having this vision in my head for quite a while the opportunity finally presented itself. Mammoth got pounded with several feet of snow and off I went with Bernard Rosow to try to get the shot. As we hiked closer to the cave, the snow was almost waist-deep, making it impossible to not leave our hiking track where we wanted to take the photo.

As we got into position and Bernard was hiking to the edge of the cave, a natural avalanche of fresh powder released from above and flushed through the cave right in front of us. Combined with the strong winds, the run had just been perfectly smoothed out for us to get the shot.

We only had one attempt before the snow would be tracked up, and since I was shooting with a strobe I could only take one picture, so our timing had to be perfect. Fortunately, Bernard nailed his turn in the right spot and I fired the trigger at the perfect moment. I was very fortunate and lucky to get the shot I always wanted!

Stay tuned for more of Christian Pondella's "Behind the Photo" features on RedBull.com.

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