Location Girdwood, Alaska
Skier Michelle Parker
Photo Kate Lozancich
There have been many strange exchanges between Fall Line and various photographers over the years. Sometimes the language barrier is to blame; on other occasions a file number or similar is transposed, leading to conversation chaos. “Do you want the resorty one, or a frame or two further on with a more backcountry feel?” they’ll ask. To which (for this Incredible Ski Shots section at least) I’ll reply something like: Well, ‘resorty’ sounds nice while shredding the side of an abandoned tanker in Kamchatka, but I think we may have our wires crossed over the image in question…
But on this occasion, the blame is solely mine. Because as I look at this Katie Lo (everyone shortens it, don’t worry) banger, I can’t help but ask her: Do all those shapes/spines/runnels remind you of a whale’s underside?
“Woah!” is the simple, probably sensible, lay-off-the-Frozen-Planet-viewing reply. With the Sacramento-raised photographer – making her Fall Line debut here – mentioning over email that the scene was actually a lot closer to “looking at an abstract painting that had come to life on a mountain”.
As to more prosaic matters, like actually skiing this beautifully lit beast, athlete Michelle Parker simply says the size and precipitous nature of the face, plus potential issues with loose snow, made her very nervous. “But then I realised you could exit the line without a sluff race,” she says (i.e. it was ‘clean’ in big mountain terms), making things a whole lot safer, easier and possible.
The result was that “dropping in felt both surreal and like a dream,” says the AK veteran. Appropriate, because for most, this face remains just that, a fantasy, because it’s so rarely in condition. “It’s legendary,” says snapper Katie, who formed an unprecedented all-female crew for this trip (as part of the Nexus film project). “Nicknamed ‘velvet curtain’, the zone is incredibly steep and iconic for its otherworldly snow tunnels,” she says. Adding that it hadn’t been skied in “something like 10 years” before Michelle (with Brooklyn Bell for company) showed up in optimum weather, snowpack and stability.
You won’t be surprised to hear the line (considered by Red Bull and Arc’teryx-sponsored Miss Parker to be one of her top five ever descents) was not just a hop and a skip from some Alaskan high-speed quad. Instead a lift from the Chugach Powder Guides heli was required, together with some nifty flying.
In terms of the pressure that inevitably comes on when expensive equipment and aviation fuel is added to the mix, Katie’s honest enough to acknowledge the burden. “I knew it (the image featured here) would be a once-in-a-lifetime shot, and if I messed it up, there would be no re-do,” she says. “So with that pressure weighing on me, I couldn’t process straight away whether it was a banger or not. But I remember reviewing the photos and having this wave of relief when I saw everything was tack sharp and in focus.”
“The mountains can be so fickle,” (in terms of weather) confirms our girl with the 400mm long lens. “You can put so much energy into an idea and then get it shut down… so when everything comes together just right, it feels extraordinary.”
“Pure joy,” adds Michelle; while when pressed even Katie admits in a world of always seeking better, this is pretty much as good as it gets. “I typically nitpick my photos with hopes of making them better,” she says, “but this is one of the few where I’m 100% content.” Us too.
Londoners, to watch Nexus on the big screen see below for tickets showing details. For the rest of you, check out our article on the best ski films of Winter ’23 and where to watch ’em.