Assignment: Whistler

May 3rd, 2007

Stern Magazine called upon my return from Southeast Asia. “Oh, you’re home now,” Angelika Hala, my favorite editor said. “I called a few times before but your message said you were out of the country.”

In my absence I had missed some editorial assignments critical to my cash flow. It is Murphy’s Law: whenever I exercise the “freedom” of self employment by taking a weekday off I end up missing an assignment.

What Angelika had to offer this time was a dream job for an outdoor photographer. Last time it was several days on the big stone of documenting a documentary on the Huber brothers. This time it was four days in Whistler to shoot a “travel lifestyle” piece as part of the German magazine’s pre-2010 Olympics coverage.

Things were kind of vague until “all of a sudden” the writer was going to be in Whistler and he needed me up there immediately. Trustingly, which is something I value immensely, Angelika and her fellow editor Sue Lapsien left me with a general request for images and my discretion of how to achieve them. The weather was forecast to be terrible but the writer wanted me up there; I didn’t want to miss something important to his part of the story so off I went.

As forecast, it rained most of the way up the mountain. The second day was broken clouds and beautiful heavy powder on the top; unfortunately the writer and I were vying for time from the athlete who was forming the narrative thread of the story. I wanted off-piste shots in the sun in powder, he wanted to tour the piste. We negotiated a compromise and the athlete, an ever-patient Dana Williams, helped us both.

During the rain and in the evenings I spent time with the locals asking what they thought was the “essential” Whistler and then made the photos. You might be thinking “cool, Tim got to play” but it really is work–fun work–but still work; making pictures of people eating when you’re in need of dinner, unable to dance to the best ’80s mix I’ve heard in years, relax in the hot tub, have that cocktail, or sitting alone at the pub wishing one of my good friends was there.

I still live with the mindset of the impoverished (because I am) so saving money is important–for me and, I feel, for my clients. With a poor forecast I left the writer to finish his trip, returning to Seattle to come back later with a better weather window. But during this wait my friend Lara Kellogg died in a climbing accident in Alaska; just before her husband’s return from China and her funeral the weather opened up at Whistler. I had to go and I wanted to take some friends with me; the hotel had a spare bed, a kitchen, and floor space. It would be cheap for them. But no one could go and so I spent my remaining two days of assignment time enjoying the skiing and atmosphere as best I could with my mind elsewhere.

Still, I must reflect on having an experience at Whistler I have never afforded myself. I have skied the back country, because it’s cheap, but never the lift area; there is some amazing terrain! Village life is also pretty fun in a Disneyland sort of way. It reminded me of my brief time doing resort work in college and that of my friend Marshall’s in Aspen where you have the inside scoop, the cool places, best food, best ski runs, and people you know wandering amongst the “tourists.” This is how I tried to photograph Whistler, with the eyes of a “local” showing off the best the ski town has to offer.

However, one thing was very clear. Like in Seattle, winter weather is fairly unpredictable and you do have to be a local to get the most out of the powder–or bluebird–days.

(Note: You’re not getting the best pics, the magazine gets them first)

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