WTF?! Here’s a look at one the world’s most incredible ski shots and how it was captured
Location Mammoth Mountain, California
Words Jonny Richards
Skier Tucker Keating
Photo Christian Pondella
“Cornices close to 20ft overtaking sidewalks, an 80ft snowbank by the main lodge – last season was the winter of winters and the town and mountain were buried,” says Christian Pondella, who’s seen it all over three decades living in Mammoth, and experienced the previous record-breaking season of 1982-83 thanks to a family ski holiday via the resort’s Mountain Inn, when “we could reach out of our third-floor hotel window and touch the snow!”
With 220-inches (over 5.5m) dropping during the month of January alone, the longtime ski photographer was once again transported back four decades to a vista of buried buildings, roads reduced to single-lane narrow passages (with plows running out of room to push the snow) and some of the “deepest, lightest days I’ve ever experienced at Mammoth”.
This particular snow-mageddon image of Tucker Keating’s tips peeking through the powder was captured on day three of the new year, during a rare pause in the storms (known as ARs, or atmospheric rivers) that last winter tracked off the Pacific before dumping on the Sierra Nevada mountains again and again.
“Blue skies were accompanied by strong winds and blowing snow everywhere,” says the award-winning Fall Line, National Geographic, Powder, and Climbing magazine veteran. “And in those conditions this particular spot, on Lincoln Mountain, via a run called Grizzlies, can be more like surfing the North Shore of Hawaii. And because it’s a ridge/wave run, get it right in deep snow and it can look and feel more like getting barrelled.”
“Always thrilling,” confirms Line, Le Bent, Helly Hansen and Arma Sport-sponsored Tucker, regarding his white-room manoeuvres, before admitting that despite growing up in Southern California, he’s never actually surfed a barrel. “I hope it would feel as good as this turn!” the former racer tells FL over email, amidst a wider chat about days per season skied (120-150), his favourite skier (Candide Thovex), style (aggressive, fast and ready to attack) and the key to this photo (attacking the spine just right, and knowing where to find the ultimate goods when the famous Mammoth Mountain wind gets up).
“I’ve been skiing for 25 years,” says the Big Bear Lake (300 miles south of Mammoth) born shredder, “and seeing this picture instantly takes me back to one of the greatest winters of my life. It really was a ‘best day of winter’ every single day, and this was just one of thousands of face shots I’ll never forget… I can’t forget about the 600-plus inches of snow we had to shovel at the house to get through winter too, ha-ha!”