Grant shares some of his most epic images he took over the years and talks us through the story behind each shot.
Grant Gunderson: Snow photography with passion
Red Bull Illume semi-finalist Grant Gunderson is one of the world's best-known action photographers and has been shooting outdoor adventures for over 20 years now. His number one sport is skiing and so he follows the snow around the world, from his hometown Bellingham in Washington all the way to Japan, there's almost no ski resort he hasn't photographed in.
How do you prepare for a shoot in the snow and how long does it take you to get ready for it?
After shooting skiing full time for the last 20 years, I have developed a pretty efficient and organized system, where everything has its place. So, from the time I wake up till the time I’m out the door heading to the mountain is only 30 minutes, for international trips I can be fully packed in under an hour, which is important when I spend most of the winter chasing snow.
What does a typical winter season look like for you? Do you have a set schedule?
While the challenges of COVID will make this winter a bit more interesting than usual, my plan is to do the same that I always have, and that’s to remain flexible to follow the conditions. Just like when one place doesn’t have snow, and another does. COVID will probably also dictate a bit of where we go and when we go. Luckily, most of my clients work with me on a seasonal basis so I have the flexibility to take advantage of the conditions instead of having to be at a certain spot on fixed dates.
What are your plans this winter then?
Luckily it is forecasted to be a relatively strong LaNiña this winter, which tends to favor my home resort of Mt. Baker, WA (my first year here was a strong LaNiña and we sent the world record for snowfall that season). So, my plan is to mostly stick around here and then, when conditions are right, head out and shoot at a variety of other ski areas in the US. So, mostly focusing on the US this season, but if the boarders open, I will be ready to take advantage of that and fingers crossed get to Japan, Canada and Europe, but I’m not counting on those trips happening like I have done in previous years.
What’s one winter shooting that stuck in your head for whatever reason?
My first season at Mt. Baker was the 1998-99 season. We got so much snow, due to exhaustion from skiing every day we got to the point where we said, if it doesn’t snow a foot overnight we are not skiing tomorrow, then it would snow a foot the next day and we would go skiing. Then we said we wouldn’t ski unless it snowed 2 feet overnight, and it did, finally we said if it didn’t snow a full meter overnight we wouldn’t go skiing the next day, and then it did. The only two times I saw the sun that season was in late April.
Any essentials you always have with you on a shoot?
Avalanche equipment and good radios are always at the top of the list. These days you will also find a thermos of warm tea, glove liners and hand warmers in the camera bag. The most important thing though, is good company. I always tell the athletes if we are not laughing and having a good time then we are doing it wrong.
How do you manage your gear when you're on a shoot?
When most people lift my camera bag, they tend to think it's pretty heavy, but I have become accustomed to it over the years. I like to carry enough equipment, so I am always prepared to get any shot as the mountain environment is always changing, you never know exactly what you are going to be working with. If we know we are working in certain situations, for example Heliskiing in Alaska, then I tend to bring some additional bigger glass as well as a harness and a setup for shooting doors off of the helicopter.
How do you capture every moment of action and don't miss anything?
When I was younger, I tended to gravitate towards and focus just on the big action moments. However, over the years I’ve gained enough experience that I can now predict when those cool in-between moments are about to happen so I am ready for them. Especially those ones that happen candidly after the athletes think the camera is back in the bag.
What do you have to consider when skiing and shooting in the backcountry?
The most important thing when working in the backcountry is safety. It’s good to stack the odds in your favor and regularly practice your avalanche and rescue skills, hopping that you will never need to use them, but when you need them you are ready. But it’s even more important to make sure that everyone in the crew knows that it is 100% okay to walk away from a terrain feature and that there is never any pressure to push it beyond what they are comfortable with. There is never any reason to push it with avalanche conditions. The mountains will always be there and if you try to force it when it’s not the right time you will eventually end up paying the price for it.
Is skiing your favorite sport to shoot?
Definitely! Skiing has been my passion ever since I could remember. I do love shooting biking as well, but I limit that a bit after shooting skiing full time all winter, I try to keep summer on my bike mostly for my own personal escape.
How did your relationship with photography begin?
I’ve never had any formal training in photography (I was sent to college and graduated with an engineering degree that I have never used). I started out in high school just taking photos of my friends skiing and it just snowballed from there. Luckily most of my friends were quite good skiers so by the time I started college I was already having some success with clients and magazines buying my images, which afforded me the opportunity to go to more exciting locations and slowly build up my arsenal of photographic equipment.
How do you make your images unique?
I am always asking myself, how do I shoot this in a new and different way? Whether it’s trying a new angle or combining photographic techniques in different ways, I’m always trying to experiment with something new to keep it fresh.
What advice would you give to someone who's just starting with outdoor photography?
Stay true to yourself and work on developing your own vision for what you want to capture. From day one I have always told myself that as long as I create images that inspire people to want to go and spend times in the mountains, I will be successful. 20 years later that’s still true and is still my guidance, so don’t overthink it.
Where can we find more of your work?