Deep Winter Photo Challenge returns 

Six photographers tell story of WB's terrain

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These 72 hours can be the most stressful in a photographer's career.

For that is all they have to capture the very essence of skiing or boarding Whistler Blackcomb, a mecca for snow-seekers and one that won't disappoint this year.

Though the sun and the azure skies she illuminates will cast a new light on the images this year — the competition usually takes place during January snowstorms — the competition for the most evocative shot will be just as fierce.

The premise of this competition has always been that the sunny blue skies you see in ski magazines are not always a true representation of Whistler's climate — particularly in January. Usually the skies are thick with falling snow, the powder is deep and the athletes and photographers retreat into the trees. This year might be a little different though the blue skies are not forecasted to last for the three days of the shoot.

Now in its sixth year, the Deep Winter Photo Challenge seeks to crown the 2012 King (or Queen) of Storms. All six invited photographers — Robin O'Neill, Mason Mashon, Jussi Grznar, Steve Lloyd, Mark Gribbon and Reuben Krabbe — have 72 hours to plan, shoot and edit their work, presenting their slideshow of images in front of a live audience on January 14. They must also shoot all their images within the boundaries of Whistler Blackcomb.

This is where the photographers will utilize the wealth of mountain knowledge and experience from their chosen team of skiers and riders. The winning slideshow will not just have unique images, but will tell a story.

"Culture and environment have always intrigued me and photography allowed me a way to explore that," says O'Neill, who will be vying to become the very first Queen of Storms.

"I'm always fascinated by people and cultures and their stories. Capturing the essence of a moment and allowing my images to tell that story is what drives me."

O'Neill is feeling the pressure coming off her strong performances in 2011, having placed second in last year's Deep Winter (Blake Jorgensen was the victor) and winning the Deep Summer Photo Challenge during the 2011 Crankworx Festival. She said that as a commercial photographer, pressure to complete good work in a short time is a familiar challenge, though there are always more nerves involved with a competition.

"Presenting my work in front of a large audience, especially my friends and peers, certainly keeps me on my toes," she says.

Deep Winter will often select some up-and-coming photographers as well. Krabbe is just 21 years old and is well aware of the challenges ahead of him this week.

"There's your plan and then there's Mother Nature's plan and then there's athlete influence," says Krabbe.

"I like to have things as planned out as they can be, but when it comes to the time of executing it, rarely does it happen the way you all envisioned it," he says.

Thinking like an athlete can also give you the edge as a photographer. Mashon has spent plenty of time on the other side of the lens, allowing him to coach his athletes into situations that will have visual appeal, all while anticipating the dynamic of the shot.

"The communication is a lot more clear when you both have a strong understanding of what you're trying to achieve," says Mashon.

"I think people respect that when they're working with me," he says.

The 2012 Deep Winter Photo Challenge is being held at the Fairmont Chateau on Saturday Jan. 14. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are sold out.

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