Mike Weyerhaeuser’s Best Winter Olympic Photographs | My Life In Pictures
The adventure photographer talks us through the best five pictures he's taken at the Games...
Mike Weyerhaeuser is a legendary snowboard photographer who has been shooting on snow for over 20 years and has photographed three Winter Olympic Games to date.
Born in Missouri, he left for Colorado when he was 18 years old to settle in the mountains. After college he ended up in Winter Park, where he became a published photographer. He was sent to Chamonix on assignment in 1999/2000 right after the Mont Blanc Tunnel fire and Montroc avalanche. Two weeks later, he moved there. Onboard had just re-located from Austria, so it was perfect timing, and Weyerhaeuser used the move as a platform to fulfil his ambitions of establishing himself in snowboarding photography.
I used to work in television but couldn't stand somebody telling me where to point the camera, so I quit. Luck landed me a job shooting rafters on the upper Colorado river from a whitewater kayak and I split my time between the mountains and the rapids. I learned my way around a camera (it was a Canon A2E with eye-controlled focus) and learned I could build a career around my passion. I shot like crazy, read every book I could find on technique and built my contact list. My first publication was a local mag in Winter Park, but that turned to kayak mags, and eventually snowboarding.
"When I work with a young rider or photographer who's serious about his or her direction, I shine"
I still love to shoot freeride trips and heli-based riding, but as a father of a young child, I'm not travelling as much as before. In my early career, I'd move around a lot and write/shoot travel feature packages for various magazines. This melded into more competitive halfpipe and slopestyle coverage, but really, it's all about the people you're with and the passion they have for what they're doing. I like getting to know the people I shoot to work the long story - it's a lot more interesting. Nowadays, I'm more prone to shoot for charities like worldbicyclerelief.org than I am to follow FIS events around the planet.
Shared experiences drive me. They remind us we're all in it together. When I work with a young rider or photographer who's serious about his or her direction, I shine. To see potential become reality through hard work makes me giggle like a French school girl. That feeling of collective energy is what inspires me.
I love magazines. I miss them a lot. I used to pour over Transworld and then dove headfirst into magazines when I moved to Europe. Shooters like Scalp, Vincent Skoglund, Blotto, Eric Berger and Dan Milner were all guys whose work I envied when I started out. Dan I got to know well in Chamonix and he was a true mentor for me. He's my hero. And Pat Vermullen's artistic brain is a wondrously diverse place. Since then, I've seen some great talent move up the ranks. Sam Mellish, a British shooter, is in South Korea at the Games with Team GB - he's doing the job I did for two Olympics, embedded with the team and promoting their athletes.
"They gave me access to every venue in the Games, including the rafters of the stadium where the snipers hung out"
I was among the voices of dissent in the early days of snowboarding in the Olympics (in Nagano & Salt Lake), but seeing Danny Kass ride the FIS format and nail a silver medal in Salt Lake helped change that - for a lot of us, I think. I was more on the TTR (World Snowboard Tour) tip until the riders I knew started working towards the 2006 Turin Games.
That threw me under the FIS bus, but truly, I came to appreciate the dedication and effort put forth by most of the riders there. The money machine may turn around them, but the nucleus is still a strong riding culture and for many, the Olympics are their pinnacle. I support that ethos. Plus the general vibe at the Games show us we can put our differences aside and share a common passion in sport. It's a powerful thing.
I might pick up a technique or angle from another photographer, as people sometimes do from me, but my experience will lead me to hear and see something totally different. At the Vancouver 2010 Games, I found a tree to shoot the Snowboard cross (SBX) upper section that was ace. Towards the end of Qualis, an AP photographer corralled in a shooter's pen down-course spotted me. "Why don't I get to be there? I'm AP! If I can't be there, he can't be there, either!" Prick. I was good friends with Marcel Looze, FIS Course Director at the time. He'd turned a blind eye to my tree-time, but dick-head forced Marcel's hand and security dragged me out the tree. I respect other's ability to climb their own trees and find their voice in photography. Diversity makes us strong!
While editing photos one night in the Bardonecchia Press Center at the 2006 Winter Olympics, the Photo Manager approached me with a sideline job. Turns out I was asked by the US State Department to photograph their security operation in venues around the Turin Olympic Winter Games, and supply them with general beauty shots so they didn't have to pay Getty Images. Cash job, so I said yes. Of course, there's no record of this, but they gave me access to every venue in the Games, including the rafters of the stadium where the snipers hung out. This shot was the night before Closing Ceremonies for a dress rehearsal during one of these security jobs.
I'd photographed Shaun White at Vans Triple Crowns and met him in 2001 when he first visited Europe to film in Tignes summercamp with his mom. He was a glimpse into the future, at a time when we were all geared pro-TTR and anti-FIS. Yet Danny Kass burst into Salt Lake in the 2002 Winter Olympics and took silver. He helped us understand that being assimilated by FIS judging doesn't have to kill style.
Shaun's entry to the Olympic fold in Turin in 2006 showed the world what precision and style looked like. He was geared to win everything and fit well into the 'bigger-is-better' FIS box; after all, bigger looks better on TV, right? Shaun had been blowing minds from a young age and here, in his final run, his signature stalefish poked rodeo five - smooth like butter and landed like a floaty comedown - proved spinning-to-win was bullshit.
I've printed posters of this shot for young rippers in my life to give them a point of reference.
Vancouver was to be the ultimate location for the Games. The halfpipe was mostly built of hay bales, snow was helicoptered from adjacent peaks to complete the SBX course and Getty shooters crowded the first hit of the pipe to take crappy no-grab shots of the world's best - but regardless, it was a killer experience.
Here's Finland's Peetu Piiroinen, still one of the world's top multi-dimensional riders. You can see the construction of the pipe and the composition's a bit of a junkshow, but I love this one of Peetu. The stage was certainly set for him to grab a silver medal, just behind Shaun. Camera-wise, you could also now shoot at over 1200 ISO, which opened loads of possibilities.
I was screaming at the top of my lungs when Iouri (i-Pod) Podladchikov laid down his winning run for Switzerland. An hour later, he was atop the podium with two very young Japanese rippers at his side, Ayumu Hirano and Taku Hiraoka, and Shaun White was just off the podium in fourth position. I've another shot of the judges booth after Shaun's last run, where tensions were very high. And yet another shot of a dejected Shaun grabbing the Poma lift and leaving the venue after this disappointment. But the positive side was that I-Pod had earned his spot on the podium. I love the emotion.
When I first started shooting, I was sent to Chamonix for the Cham-Jam in early 2000. I stayed at Niel McNab's place and met people I still call some of my closest friends. Jenny was an intrinsic part of those days. I shot her backflips that summer at Les 2 Alpes summer camp and I watched her progress to seasons in Whistler and eventually to move from coaching to riding for Team GB.
I was shooting the ladies' slopestyle final from the stands with this amazing new lens that allowed me to photograph the entire course with relative precision. The 1D-IV's smaller sensor magnified the image further still, so I could see everything through my lens. Jenny nailed her final run well enough to go into first place. I couldn't focus well on her ride-out to the reaction wall because my eyes were filled with tears of joy. Jamie Anderson ended up taking gold and Enni Rukajarvi managed to grab a deserved silver from her, but there she was, the first British athlete on snow to win a medal - Jenny Jones!
The energy produced by that single run propelled her - and British snowboarding - to a whole new level. Props to Billy Morgan and Jamie Nicholls for their part as well (come on - world's first quadcork?!), because what they all did in Sochi laid the foundation for the riding you are about to witness from the Brits.