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‘This is like my Super Bowl’: Tyler Ravelle wins WSSF Photographer Challenge

Jeremy Allen’s slideshow was the People’s Choice winner at the Westin on Wednesday night
Whistler photographer Tyler Ravelle, left, accepts the $3,000 grand prize from host Chad Chomlack after winning Best in Show at WSSF's Sea to Sky Photographer Challenge on Wednesday, April 12.

Tyler Ravelle hasn't missed a World Ski and Snowboard Festival (WSSF) Pro Photographer Showdown in the 12 years he's called Whistler home. Each April—aside from the last three, when in-person WSSF events were on hiatus due to the pandemic—he'd sit in the audience, soaking up inspiration from some of the world’s top action sports photographers and dreaming about seeing his work beside theirs.

“It's really amazing to finally get my chance to have my images on the screen now,” he told the crowd gathered in the Westin Resort and Spa’s ballroom on April 12. “This is like my f—ing Super Bowl every year … it's surreal.”

Call him a Super Bowl champion. Wednesday night was Ravelle’s turn to stand on stage and hoist the big cheque, after judges named his entry “Best in Show” at WSSF’s 2023 Sea to Sky Photographer Challenge. That title came with a $3,000 grand prize.

“I'm honestly freaking speechless,” Ravelle said after the win.

“This isn't about me, it's about relationships and the relationships a camera can harbor—when you take a photo of someone, it’s an intimate moment,” he added. “Thank you guys.” 

Ravelle was the last of six Sea to Sky photographers to present his work at WSSF Wednesday. His five-minute slideshow, which kicked off to the strains of “My Tears Are Becoming a Sea” by M83, earned some of the loudest cheers of the evening for awe-inspiring shots of a dirt biker turning downslope underneath a jagged peak, a park rider soaring through the air with the city of Vancouver in the background, and others where Ravelle's use of light and perspective highlighted the vastness of the terrain his subjects were riding, from steep, snow-covered slopes to sharp-ridged sand dunes.

Ravelle’s slideshow was intended to be a "thank you to all the people in my life— the athletes, the mentors, the friends, the family—it's all you,” he said before the images started rolling. "The places this freakin’ thing can bring you,” Ravelle added, gesturing to his camera, “is honestly insane. This is just the visual representation of all that diversity.”

Squamish-based photographer Jeremy Allen took home the People’s Choice award, earning a $250 Gibbons gift card on top of the $500 awarded to each of the five runner-ups, for his slideshow packed with bright, compelling shots. One frame featuring an overhead view of a slackliner suspended high above the Squamish valley and another of a mountain biker flying over the iconic Pemberton train gap were a couple of crowd favourites. 

“I moved here eight years ago, and people here are wild, man,” Allen told the audience. “People will literally get a storage locker to do seven different sports." His slideshow “is the culmination of everything I've seen over the past eight years,” he explained. “We don't just rock climb, we don’t just kite board, we do it all. So this is kind of like an ode to everybody.”

Unlike WSSF’s Intersection and 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown, competing photographers weren’t restricted to any tight shooting windows or location limits. Instead, the six photographers were invited to share career-spanning slideshows featuring their all-time favourite images “capturing sport, culture and the human spirit.”

Most of the images included in Allen's show were shot within the last three to five years, he told Pique. "It was extremely difficult to choose which photos," he said, but "overall it was such a great experience and all these photos just mean the world to me, so I'm pretty stoked." 

The Challenge replaces the popular Pro Photographer Showdown, which brought in photographers from around the world to showcase their skills in Whistler each year up until the last in-person WSSF in 2019. This time around, with WSSF now owned and operated by Gibbons, the contest exclusively featured local talent.

“The feedback we got is, ‘We have so much talent here in the Sea to Sky, can we showcase the talent here?’” Gibbons Whistler strategic director Brittia Thompson told Pique ahead of the festival

Turns out, they can. In addition to Ravelle and Allen, Wednesday’s lineup of photographers  included Pemberton local Ben Girardi; Squamish’s Spencer Watson; U.K. born, Whistler-based Rob Perry; and, the sole woman in the field, born-and-raised Whistlerite Jessica Braidwood. 

Their work was judged by a panel full of heavy-hitting local photography legends: Abby Cooper, Anastasia Chomlack, Blake Jorgenson, Mason Mashon and Scott Serfas. 

Snowboard photographer Chad Chomlack served as host for the evening. He recalled his own experience attending a WSSF Pro Photographer Showdown for the first time, a couple of decades back. “I thought, ‘Shit, this is so good, maybe one day, I'll show something up there,’” he told the crowd. “That inspired me to pursue photography at a level that I hadn't in my life, and I know that story resides in many.

“On top of that, not just for the individuals and the artists that are presenting tonight, it's good to be together as a community. And that's why we do this.” 

It was the second of WSSF’s three main events celebrating the abundance of creativity packed into a tight-knit, outdoors-obsessed corridor. It all kicked off with the 72-Hour Filmmaker Showdown Tuesday, before wrapping up with Intersection on Thursday night, April 13. 

- With files from Alyssa Noel