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The art of the wheels

Beloved Crankworx photo and film competitions, Deep Summer and Dirt Diaries, make their long-awaited return to Olympic Plaza
DeepSummer_JayFrench
The Deep Summer Photo Challenge returns after a three-year hiatus on Aug. 9.

For the unfamiliar, Whistler would seem a town filled with philistines.

Given its reputation as global mecca for both skiing and mountain biking and its legacy as the alpine host for the 2010 Winter Olympics, if you didn’t know any better, you might think Whistler didn’t give two shakes of a ski pole about the arts. 

You, dear reader, would be wrong.

“It’s not true. We’ve got so much arts and culture and talented people here that do so much more than just ride bikes and ski,” says Jacquie McLean, organizer of two of Crankworx’ most popular and beloved events, the Deep Summer Photo Challenge and the Dirt Diaries Video Competition, presented by SWATCH.

Making their return to the festival lineup for the first time since 2019, you’d be hardpressed to find two other events that better harness the deep well of creativity on display in the worlds of biking and art.

“I think these competitions are great platforms for those creatives to have a space in Crankworx and meld those two communities together. They’re already so well connected but giving a voice to that connection through Crankworx is super important and a big reason why everyone is so excited for the two competitions to come back,” McLean says.

For the uninitiated, here’s how it works. Deep Summer invites five action-sports photographers (and one wildcard) from across the globe to Whistler to compile the most epic downhill slideshow they can in a jam-packed three-day span. When all is said and done, each photographer will screen their slideshow, set to music, under the stars at Olympic Plaza, offering their distinct perspective on riding in mountain biking’s mecca. 

Dirt Diaries takes a similar approach, except on the video side of things. Five filmmakers are invited to produce a four- to six-minute video showcasing a slice of one Crankworx athlete’s diary. Teams must feature the Whistler Valley and world-renowned Whistler Mountain Bike Park in at least a quarter of their video—other than that it’s creative carte blanche.

As in years past, the only given ahead of either competition this month is to expect the unexpected.

“Some people are very visual and like to play with lights. Others have asked about putting drawn images onto their photos. Others have talked about doing something quite funny, other more serious and meaningful,” McLean relays. “We’ve got everything from people thinking about inclusivity to nature to the whole storytelling process. I think we’re really going to see a range of different ideas and projects that come out of it and they’re all going to look visually different, too.”

“Different” is the name of the game for local action-sports photographer Jeremy Allen heading into Deep Summer. Living in the Sea to Sky for the better part of a decade, Allen relishes the chance to wow his hometown crowd at Olympic Plaza along with the thousands expected to watch online.

“It meant the world to me to get selected because when I first moved to Whistler … I remember going to the Deep Winter and Deep Sumer competitions and just being dumbfounded,” he says. “It was one of those dreams of mine: to get up onstage and be a part of the show and demonstrate what I’m really capable of. It’s been a pretty surreal experience.”

Known for his dynamic, high-energy photo shoots, the Red Bull photographer will be taking somewhat of a different approach for the high-profile event, asking a question that hasn’t been far from many-a-Whistlerite’s lips over the years: What does it mean to be local?

“It might take us into a different realm of local, is all I can really say,” he admits. “It’s going to be very different than what people are expecting to come out of my portfolio.”

Unlike Allen, Dirt Diaries competitor Blake Hansen has never actually been to Whistler before, a perspective the Utah-based filmmaker and rider isn’t shying away from.

“I think that’s fun and different and unique. A lot of people have spent a lot of time there and I haven’t, so rather than be said about it, I want to try to make that a central part of the story and then basically have my friends see what kind of things I can get injured on,” she jokes.

As a trans athlete and director, Hansen is used to bringing a fresh view to a sport that still presents numerous barriers to entry for the LGBTQ community, and her final film exemplifies how important representation is in ever-evolving mountain bike scene.

“To me, representation is super important,” she says. “At times it feels very vulnerable to just be so out and open, especially with all the kinds of weird and crazy things that are happening in the world these days. So I try not to centre myself too much in it and let my presence do the talking.”

Highlighting the sport’s growing inclusivity was a major consideration for McLean and the Crankworx team as they were thinking about what they wanted a reimagined Deep Summer and Dirt Diaries to look like. This year’s fields comes close to gender parity, not something you would see even five or 10 years ago, and a new wrinkle in Deep Summer requires photographers to incorporate into their show shavings from Whistler’s Community Reconciliation Canoe, a months-long project at the local Indigenous museum, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, that invites anyone from the community to contribute to the carving of the final canoe.

“They will have the opportunity to weave that element into their Deep Summer Photo Challenge slideshow however they would like,” explains McLean. “Basically the goal is to build connection between Crankworx athletes and creatives with SLCC ambassadors to really facilitate authentic Indigenous storytelling in Whistler. We want to create awareness by capturing this story through their photography and capture these athletes and community in Whistler connecting to the land by engaging in learning and taking a turn at this carving.” 

The Deep Summer Photo Challenge hits Olympic Plaza at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 9, with the winning competitor taking home the $5,000 prize. Check out the whole field at crankworx.com/event/deep-summer-photo-challenge.

Dirt Diaries, meanwhile, comes to Olympic Plaza at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 11. The winning team will earn the $5,000 prize, with $3,000 going to second and $2,000 going to third. Check out the entire field at crankworx.com/event/dirt-diaries.