Words & Photos: Morgan Phillips
When Explore Canada, Travel Alberta, and Arc’teryx approached me to tell the story of ice climbing, skiing and snowboarding in Banff, Alberta I happily obliged. Known as one of the most beautiful places in North America, it has remained a dream location that I have always wanted to photograph: picture mountains with steep faces and jagged peaks, amazing snow patterns and the most beautiful backdrops you could ever imagine.
As a bonus, I’d be traveling with one of my best friends Ravi Vora (@ravivora). We work really well together, helping each other come up with ideas and getting the shots just right. We were sure it would be a great experience.
On the surface, the abundant natural beauty of Banff National Park would seem to make a photographer’s job easy, but I quickly learned there would be some awesome challenges ahead.
I like to think of myself as an “Adventure Photographer.” This means I have to deal with harsh environments on a regular basis. It is common to shoot in sub-zero temperatures, deep snow, or on the side of a mountain with limited options. When Ravi and I arrived in Alberta, I quickly realized I was going to endure these types of terrain and environments. I also realized that the shots that would come from it would be stunning.
This was the first time I had been to Alberta. I was extremely excited to snowboard Sunshine, Norquay, and Lake Louise. I have always heard great things about these mountains and to get the opportunity to ride and take photos of them was definitely on my bucket list. I was immediately impressed with the Big-3 resorts in different ways. Sunshine was sprawling with tons of terrain. Norquay is a challenging steep mountain with amazing views of Banff. Lake Louise had beautiful views from stunning, steep terrain. Getting to ride these mountains was amazing, but shooting winter sports introduced me to challenges I hadn’t experienced.
The first challenge seems obvious, but was more difficult than anticipated. We needed to actually get to the location on the mountain where we had decided to shoot. The best spots are always the untouched areas, which make for a great challenge for us. I found myself navigating through nature’s elements in order to compose the scene as I wanted it. Many times I found myself lying in chest-deep snow trying to get the proper angle.
The other major challenge we were faced with was that the mountains were extremely steep. Obviously this makes for striking photos, but it makes it difficult for the athlete to do multiple passes of the same shot. To ask someone to hike 300 yards up a mountain because you think it could look better is where you run into accessibility issues and time constraints. It takes time to hike, and to hike somewhere else for a second pass at the photo. When you have to get a lot of different content, you have to use your time wisely. That being said, there were a lot of one-attempt “I hope I got it” moments. Not something I am very used to doing when it comes to photography.
Ravi and I had a blast exploring this incredible place and experiencing what winter in Alberta has to offer from air and on the ground. Obviously helicopters are amazing to shoot from and provide a birds-eye view of the landscape, but even from the ground the scenery is just as unreal.
The ice climbing is what impressed me the most, though. It was the first time I had ever ice-climbed, so I had no idea what to expect. I am a pretty avid rock climber so I didn’t think it could be that much different, but I was very wrong. It used muscles I was completely unaware of and because of that, shooting while climbing just wasn’t practical. The approach to the climbs still offered some amazing and inspiring views.
Alberta was full of surprises- great skiing, ice climbing, and hiking through a mountainous landscape that is rivalled by few. I think I can speak for Ravi as well when I say Alberta is a place I must visit annually, and during various seasons.
For more information about these mountains and the best places to Ski in Canada – visit Ski Canada.