The second stop in our series of great locations for action and adventure sports photography: Alaska.
With its rugged terrain and breathtaking mountains, Alaska not only is America’s last frontier, but also a Mecca for backcountry skiing and snowboarding. It attracts some of the world’s best riders and with them some of the best action sports photographers trying to get that perfect shot.
Famed for some of the longest lines and extremely steep terrain, the 49th American state is a playground for experienced winter sports athletes. It has a superb reputation for heli-skiing, hiking, and backcountry snow sports and also for some outrageously dangerous descents such as Vitek Ludvik’s photo of Tommy Brunner in Haines, which was a finalist in the Playground category in 2007’s Image Quest.
Although Alaska has the odd ski resorts like Valdez, Alyeska, Mount Eyak or Mount Aurora, the areas are not yet heavily commercialized and still feature untouched backcountry descents. This doesn’t only mean that lift lines aren’t much of an issue, but also that there is plenty of space to ride and shoot in untracked powder.
With an average snowfall of more than 631 inches a year, Alaska’s winter have snow in abundance, something that is neither a given in the ski resorts of the USA or Europe, so the region is a pretty safe bet for shooting winter sports.
However, it’s not just the high snowfall that makes Alaska’s mountains a great spot for shooting, but also its consistency. The far-north coastal location and relatively mild temperatures give Alaska a unique kind of maritime snow, which is slightly wetter than the powder found elsewhere. The special quality of this snow makes it stick more easily to very steep dropoffs, making extreme terrain accessible on skis.
It’s northerly latitude provides for relatively long winters starting in mid-November and continuing until April and sometimes even longer.
However, the region does have some drawbacks. First of all, it’s not easy to get there. With airlines usually cutting daily trips to the major airports by as much as a third in winter, flights are often expensive and have to be booked well ahead. And once there it can be difficult to reach the best shooting locations, helicopters being the best way to get around.
Another disadvantage for photographers is that in winter Alaska doesn’t have much daylight. Often this means that shooting is limited from about 10:30 in the morning to 16:00 in the afternoon, when the sun goes down.
In addition, the great climate that makes for the special sticky snow can also have a downside, with warmer coastal weather fronts often bringing rain that wipes out the latest snowfall.
So for photographers seeking the ultimate winter playground: book a ticket to Alaska and pack some thermals!
Alaska – Quick facts
Most visitors to Alaska fly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Alaska Airlines has direct flights to Anchorage from Seattle, Chicago and many West Coast cities. A few flights arrive in Anchorage from Japan, Korea, or Germany, but the vast majority of travelers arrive in the U.S. and take a domestic flight to Anchorage. Within the state, Alaska Airlines serves many towns, while ‘bush planes’ can be chartered to the most remote areas.