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As the Freeride World Tour has just reached its adrenaline-fuelled finale at the Xtreme Verbier in Switzerland, we caught up with f-stop Icon Jeremy Bernard to hear what it takes to shoot an event like this. With variable weather conditions, ski and snowboard freeride competitions are challenging events to organize, and the same is true foe the photographers tasked with capturing the amazing riding. Jeremy gives us his pro's insight on the workflow and shooting strategy for a freeride competition...
Whether hanging out of a helicopter or hiking all the way up from the bottom - as he did in Japan for this shot - the riders are not the only ones putting in work! Photo: freerideworldtour.com / Jeremy Bernard
A lot of people enjoy watching the live stream the Freeride World Tour, but are unaware of the work that goes on behind the scenes to make the events happen. What is the reality of a typical "day-in-the-life" for you, when you are shooting on the FWT?
It usually starts very early with a wake up between 4 and 5am, depending on the competition spot. After a quick breakfast, I usually take all my equipment and jump in the car to reach the gondola. From that moment, I stick with the first load of riders, the one dropping first at the comp (it changes every stop between, ski/snowboard and/or men/women). Most of the time, riders take an extra time to check the face a last time on the morning of the event before heading to the starts, hiking.
I then have two options; hiking to the starting gate with the riders, or going to the Heli-zone in order to get ready to shoot from the sky. Both are great, it involves two different approach in my job and risks are not the same. But don’t misunderstand here, there is no easy way to shoot this event and being in the helicopter doesn’t mean it will be easy. Shooting doors off from the side of the chopper is a pain in the ass! It’s cold, you are hanging there for 3 or 4 hours and it feels like being in a washing machine… I often want to throw up when looking too long through my camera. I like them both, it just creates different kind of images.
Riders scoping their lines in the Hakuba valley. Photo: freerideworldtour.com / Jeremy Bernard
Once the comp is over, I head down to the finish line where we hold the prize ceremony. Once it’s done, I go straight to the media center and start editing all the photos from the day. I have to be as fast as possible and deliver a first load of photos - of all the riders that made it onto the podium - within an hour after the end of the competition. Which is tight timing! I shoot between 1500 and 2000 photos per event and at this time of the day, I have to give 12 precise photos plus the shots of the podium.
After that, it’s time to edit a best of from the day that will help FWT to upload news and content on all social media, website, and partners platforms and also access to the photos to the riders. It’s also a data base for all medias who are publishing on the FWT event. I do also have to deliver a wider selection for the FWT media team - the more photos, the better. They often need those shots to document, create and deliver the media requirements for the event partners for the event.
At this time, it’s usually around 7PM and time for a few beers!
Positioning on the face is matter of experience to know where the riders will go big. Photo: freerideworldtour.com / Jeremy Bernard
What are some of the challenges for a photographer when shooting at a competition event like the FWT, compared to shooting skiing in the backcountry?
Challenges on this kind of events are different from a stop to another and also depends on the conditions. But I would say that the most important when I go and shoot this kind of events is to keep me warm. Dressing as much as possible not to be cold so I can be 100% focus on the action.
Then, timing is also a big challenge. From 5am until 7pm, my schedule is tight and all my moves and/or decisions have a repercussion on the rest of the day.
But I guess the most challenging part is taking the photos itself, I have to decide where I’ll be standing on the face to shoot (when not shooting from the helicopter) and this is a key point. On a freeride comp, the riders are skiing a whole mountain, with hundreds of possibilities, so I won’t be able to cover them all. But my goal here is to find the best spot, which is a mix between safety/point of view/number of potential riders skiing by. Compromises have to be made.
Jeremy and crew taking advantage of the benefits of a freeride competition in Japan.
The Loka UL is Jeremy Bernard's pack of choice for lightweight mountain movement, carrying both camera gear and non-camera gear.
What is your camera set up for an event like the Verbier Xtreme on the Bec des Rosses?
All canon equipment for me:
Regarding settings, for an event like this I shoot semi-auto in shuuter speed priority mode. This allows me to be as quick as possible on my snaps not messing everything up with exposure moving quickly between light and shadows. Light is very variable during those events and riders drop very fast.
What are your essential pieces of (non-camera) gear that you have to have in your pack for a day on the mountain?
Water, food, sunscreen, becon, probe, shovel, shades. The typical everyday-life-ski -photographer equipment.
Shooting in shutter priority mode helps when the riders are moving in and out of shadow quickly. Photo: freerideworldtour.com / Jeremy Bernard
We once spent a whole day waiting in a snow storm in Japan. Any tips for shooting in bad weather?
I don't really have a special trick for bad weather. All I know is that it makes it all a lot more complicated! I used to use rain covers to protect from snow storms but these also make it more difficult to use your camera. I would say I just try to keep my camera as much as possible inside my jacket and or backpack so it stays as dry as possible… The good thing is it doesn’t happen much for a FWT competition, as they can’t run a comp when it’s bad weather. Japan is a special stop though!
Capturing the sunny moments like this method from FWT rider Davey Baird often takes hours of waiting in storms. Photo: freerideworldtour.com / Jeremy Bernard
The locations for the Freeride World Tour have spread with stops in Canada and Japan now. Where have been your favorite destinations on the FWT to visit, shoot, and ski?
Alaska. It might sound a bit cheesy, but that place is so unique. The mountains are beautiful and I really love the peacefulness of Haines. It’s majestic. It might not be the best place to ski since they have no lifts (and helicopters are expensive) but it’s always a great experience. When we are there, we are all excited for competition to happen, we wait days and days in Haines and suddenly, we go up. It’s a great reward. For us, as skiers (my first passion before photography), it’s a dream place. I watched footage from Alaska thousands and thousands of times when I was a kid, so it’s just unique to be able to live it myself.
I also love Japan. I love the food there (which is the most important thing for me on a trip!), the culture, the people… On top of that, the pow is all time and we can ride all day while waiting for the competition to happen. Can’t be any better !
Not hard to see why Japan in a favorite stop on the FWT for Jeremy with conditions like this... oh, and the food! Photos: freerideworldtour.com / Jeremy Bernard
The final stop of the Freeride World World went down with some jaw-dropping runs in Verbier this week, at the Xtreme Verbier on the legendary Bec des Rosses face. You can catch all the action again on www.freerideworldtour.com.
We hope this interview gives you a deeper insight into the work of the photographers at events like this, and insires you to head out and shoot challenging events. See more of Jeremy Bernard's work on his website here and his Instagram here.