Julia Mancuso of the USA skis to a bronze medal in the Women’s Alpine Skiing Downhill at Whistler Olympic Park during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics on February 17, 2010 in Whistler, Canada. (Photos by Donald Miralle)
My alarm went off at 6am, popped out of bed, had a bowl of cereal and felt great because I knew today was going to be a beautiful day. American sweetheart and world champion skier Lindsey Vonn was making her debut. After putting on my ski clothes and grabbing my camera backpack, I headed out the door to grab a cab. It was gorgeous outside, by far the best day since I’ve been up in Whistler, and with blue bird skies I hadn’t been this excited to shoot an Alpine event since the downhill at the Torino Olympics four years ago.
When I arrived at the mountain, I went to the photographer locker room where my friend and fellow Newsweek shooter Mike Powell was already ready and waiting. I passed off the on course arm band and lift pass to him, as we only have one and already did the downhill and it was his turn to be inside the course. I had already scoped out an outside the course long-lens shot a couple days prior, so didn’t feel any pressure and knew exactly where I was going to go.
After making a quick pitstop in the media center to pickup a left pass from the always helpful Rick Wilking, the Head Photo Venue Manager at the Alpine Center, I quickly came back down the chair lift and headed up the gondola with photographers Al Bello and Clive Rose. After jumping off the gondy, we had to get on another lift to get to the top of the mountain and ski down to the women’s course. We made a quick pitstop at the large rock monolith that sits atop of Whistler that also serves as the symbol of these games, the inukshuk. After taking some quick turkey shots next to it, we worked our way down the hill and to our positions.
Clive, I and about 20 other photographers set up shot at a gate on the area of the course called Duece, where there was a right hand gate, drop into a hard left downhill turn. It looked like an area that could be great for photos especially since there were dark trees in the background in the shadow and the skier would be backlit. The treck up the hill wasn’t easy; after getting to the access area with your skis, you had to kick them off, put on crampons and hike straight uphill in knee high snow for about 300M. After stopping a couple times to catch my breath, it looked like the spot was definitely worth the hike. I hunkered myself down next to other very friendly photographers, set up shop and sat in the shade waiting for the sun to come out while I waved my arms to the blood flowing through them. After I exhausted my granola bar, and my fingers where starting to get a little numb, the first forerunner shot down the course, I we all knew that this spot was going to be good.
Shooting Ski Racing outside of the fact that it’s physically demanding getting up and down the hill to a spot that may or may not work, is also very technically challenging because of the fact that the skiers are flying right at you at over 80 miles per hour. Most of the time it’s a blind turn and your camera autofocus cannot keep up with them. You have to shoot at a high shutter speed (at least 1250th to 1600th of a second), as well as bump up the f-stop and close down the lens so you get a little more depth of field. I usually tend to do it focus on part of the gate I am shooting or just before it, keep an ear open for fans and cowbells signaling the skier is coming close (sometimes there’s a photographer with a countdown timer for the intervals between racers), and hammer the shutter through the skier’s pass. After the initial couple shots then I hit the back button and try to follow the skier, which seems to work fairly well in getting multiple frames sharp.
Some skiers getting squirrely…
It was really exciting seeing these ladies fly down the hill, especially the Americans Lindsey Vonn and Julie Mancuso, who ended up making history. Vonn became the first American Woman to ever win Gold in the Women’s Downhill at the Olympic Games. I’m sure this alleviated a lot of media pressure and expectations leading into the Olympics, and now she can just enjoy the rest of her races. Mancuso, a gold medalist from Torino, spent most of the time leading up to Vancouver in the shadow of Vonn, but had an unbelievable performance on the biggest stage and that’s what the Games are all about. It was a big day for the USA in Alpine Sports. Tomorrow we’ll be at the Women’s Super Combined Downhill and Slalom, and hope to have another day like today. Please let me a shout out if you’re reading this, want me to continue to write, or if there is something out here in the Olympics you wan to hear about…Thanks!