Guest post by Chris Garrison
Red Bull Double Pipe in Aspen, Colorado was a very special event for me. For those of you who saw my Instagram photos, it was not special for the “Aspen Lifestyle,” but because it marked the end of one of my longest absences in the snow. It was also an event that was put together extremely fast, pushed the boundaries of Snow Park Technologies’ pipe building and gave the athletes a whole new plate of tricks to work with on a course twice the size of what they were used to.
If you have been in a cave or on the moon for the past few weeks I will catch you up on the layout of Red Bull Double Pipe. For the past few years the pipe competitions have become predictable and all about how many times you can spin in a row. The Red Bull Double Pipe was set up to completely change the way pipe competitions are looked at. Snow Park Technologies was charged with the task of building two side-by-side 22-foot-high super pipes with a 4-foot transitional wall in between them. The first problem with the build is that a super pipe is usually dug into the ground and shaped that way all season. The decision was made to level the large jump line right next to the usual Aspen Super pipe and fill it in with the snow. After the ditch was filled they had to produce enough snow to form the massive structure on top of where the pipe normally sits. The resulting structure was one of the largest snow structures ever created.
The format of the completion was also set up for more creativity and flow. Initially the athletes had a three-day practice before what was suppose to be the qualifying day. This way they could get used to the features in the pipe and the transitional lines they could take. When it came to the completion day it was set up as a jam session. The athletes were to have a three-hour window to ride as much as they could. When they were ready they could tell the announcer and signal the judges ready for one of three judged runs, and they would use only their top score. When it came into the finals they were only allowed three runs total and the top score was taken for placement.
As with every Red Bull event I have to cover, there is a pretty large shot list that has to be taken care of outside of the usual action. I had to get a headshot of every athlete that was going to be in the completion for the coverage on NBC. This could be done only on the first day during the sign in and release process without setting up and breaking down lights way too many times. We had to show up at 6:30 in the morning to get set up before the athletes would show up around 8 a.m. I brought all the gear in with my assistant, Alex, and left him behind to start the initial set-up while I shot some shots of the course before the fresh corduroy was tracked up. When I came back we finished the setup and had a two-hour window to track down the 24 athletes and get the headshots done.
I always consider the headshots to be the hardest part to get done. I am never set up by the registration and have to constantly find all the athletes around the grounds to finish up the shots after we got the list checked off we had to break down the entire setup and get up to the pipes for the first day of practice.
I planned on shooting close fisheye action the first day because I would not have that same access during the live completion, or even be allowed to use the flashes. I also wanted to wait for the more “double pipe” looking shots and creative runs that come after they have had a few days to practice. I had limited time the first day and set up at the top for the “usual” pipe shots to get a few of those checked off the list. I shot fisheyes for the close and also kept a second camera on me with a 70-200mm to get a few from the wall ride and rails just down the pipes. I had my assistant, Alex, roaming around shooting the behind-the-scenes and lifestyle shots at the drop in and base areas of the pipes. By the end of the day I had a pretty solid idea of what runs each athlete was doing and where they were the strongest for shots.
On the second day I wanted to get a few more “normal “ pipe shots in with the fisheye as the athletes warmed up in the pipe. I did the same setup at the top of the pipe and shot directly into the sun until I got a few of the shots I was looking for. I then moved off the deck of the pipe to get some low-level, on-the-ground shots of the four walls with the action from the athletes blasting off the hip or center of the pipes wall. I used the two Elinchrom Rangers to fill light a little against the sun in these shots as well.
I then started to work my way down the pipes and out of the venue area shooting shots from a few separate angles that really showed off the size and walls of the pipes. I realized I wanted to save these for the completion day so I could get some of the crowd in the shot. So I worked my way to the base of the pipe to get a few shots showing the wall rides and rails from below or the spectator view.
Towards the end of the day the athletes started to have a little fun and ride together. Louie Vito and Scotty Lago provided some of the best shots of the day when they dropped into the pipes together on the opposite sides and hit the spine in the middle at the same time. I had Alex up on the deck set up two Elinchrom Rangers at full power to give me a little fill light against the sun. I managed to run up and get the shot of both Scotty and Louie just in time before they closed the course for the day.
At the end of the day I grabbed a few of the Red Bull athletes to get some light lifestyle-like shots at the base of the pipes. I used a single Elinchrom Ranger with the Westcott Apollo Orb as the min light. I had only about 10 seconds with each guy as they were all trying to get off the course so they could clean the pipe.
Day 3 was supposed to be the first day of the completion with a jam session. A storm had moved in in the morning and it was expected to snow a few inches and be overly cloudy all day. After pushing the completion a few times they decided to shut it down and have the completion all in one day. The snowstorm managed to produce an awesome opportunity to get the shots we need of Snow Park Technology grooming and cutting the pipe.
I got the phone call that I had less than an hour to get shots of them cutting the pipe just around sunset. It was a hectic scramble from the hot tub to the room to pack the gear and get into the snow gear. We got up to the mountain a few minutes later and got a few fun shots and an amazing sunset with the machines responsible for the
The competition day had finally arrived and I was more than excited. I knew I had a pretty heavy shot list to get done, but the previous days of shooting action made it easy. I wanted to concentrate mainly on the lifestyle side at the beginning of the jam session, and move into crowd shots towards the end. I then wanted to work more on sequence shots on the athlete’s last runs when they would be throwing the best tricks.
I began first with setting up a single remote camera on a fisheye in the spine of the pipe. I was told the night before that it had to be completely white so it would blend in with the pipe. My only option was some medical tape and gauze I found at a local CVS. The camera looked like something out of “Star Wars” or a mummy. It probably ended up saving the camera in the end as one of the athletes gave it an accidental tail tap in the competition.
I spent the first hour or so shooting the athletes interacting with each other, dropping in and all the behind-the-scenes shots most people never see. This provides a pretty unique perspective of the event and really shows how close all the athletes are to each other.
I then worked my way down the pipes shooting different action and close up riding shots. I concentrated on getting a few shots from the other side of the pipes I had not shot yet. This gave me the chance to get a few more action shots of the athletes that had been working a little more on that side.
Once I got to the bottom of the pipes I worked my way outside of the completion and shot through the crowd. I wanted to show the amount of people in attendance and also show the event from their perspective. I shot for about a half an hour in various areas until I got the few shots I needed including the sequence of Greg Bretz doing a transitional trick at the lower portion of the pipes.
I then worked around the base of the pipes for the last part of the event. I wanted to get some shots with the athletes watching their runs on the Megatron and crowd interaction. I also had a good vantage for some action as they came down the pipes. This was also a perfect position to be ready for the podium shots after they announced the winners.
I had Alex set up the Elinchrom Ranger again so I could shoot directly into the sun for a unique podium shot. I also was able to shoot a few shots of the winner Taylor Gold just after the event at the base of the pipes.
We then had to run back to the media room to download all the shots. We have to edit the shots, add metadata, keywords, descriptive writers, and titles, and upload them the same day for editorial use.
Day 5 came up pretty fast. We had a later start to the day because most of the riders were recovering from the competition. There were also only a few guys left to shoot because a lot of them had to fly out that morning to other events. A few of the athletes that were supposed to stay were also injured, so we had a limited amount of people.
This was one of my favorite days because the competition was over and the athletes got to ride the pipes for fun. I set up mainly on the spine and worked with the winner Taylor Gold and Benji Farrow. I had an Elinchrom Rnager set up directly behind me for a fill light when I shot directly into the sun again. Once I got a few the wind ended up picking up and no one really wanted to blast out of the pipe.
I moved over to the wall ride to work with Benji Farrow doing a hand plant. This was a super scary shoot for him because he basically had to come about 10 feet out of the 22-foot night wall and do a flip and drop his hand along the wall. Usually with a hand plant you almost stop during the trick when you plant your hand. The wall was super slick so Benji was mainly just gliding across the wall when he dropped his hand. We shot a few times and he was slowly getting higher and higher to the top of the wall. On the last hit he went about as high as you could on the wall and then we had the shot!
Jeff Brockmeyer had the other four athletes working on a quadruple hand plant shot on both walls of the pipe. This is probably one of the hardest shots to get because the timing for the athletes is ridiculous. Two of the athletes have to drop in on opposite sides of the double pipe and come up the center walls and perform a hand plant with a grab at the exact time. They also have to be within a few square foot area for the image to work. I shot the secondary angle and Jeff shot a more straight on stacked up angle.
Day 6 of Red Bull Double Pipe was only a half day for me because I had to fly out of Aspen by 2. We had the shoot set up from 12 to 2 with a lot of the younger guys I did not get to work with yet. The first athlete I worked with was Nik Biden, and he was not in the completion. He is a Red Bull athlete on the park riding side of snowboarding. After shooting him and a few other guys for a while I started to work with Taylor Gold and Benji Farrow again. I really wanted a mirrored-like shot of their different styles with the same trick. They ended up doing some big tuck-knee sevens on either side of the spine in the Pipes. After we decided we got the shot I had to run out and get packed for the flight out.
Red Bull Double Pipe was one of the most memorable events I have ever been to. Nothing can explain how rad it was to sit on the spine and watch the athletes drop in and blast over me while I shot photos. This was also the first time it was done in snowboarding so it was amazing to be a part of that history. I hope this course helps push the shape of Half Pipe competitions to come.