Skin Up and Chute Down: Behind the Shot with Forest Woodward
Adventure photographer Forest Woodward tackles precarious sheet ice and snow chutes in the name of adventure. And he managed this shot, too.
“Have you ever used those before?” Chris Kitchen (aka Kitch) asks me with a chuckle, already knowing the answer as he eyes my shiny new splitboard setup. Our friends Sierra and Alex who, like Kitch, are both accomplished skiers, join in the laughter as I fumble with my embarrassingly new gear.
What gave it away I wonder? The fact that I asked which way you put the skins on? Or that I didn’t know which “split” of the board goes on which foot? Or maybe it’s that they know I’m from North Carolina, where the local ski hill growing up was formed by water pumped from a raunchy little pond in a cow pasture.
Regardless, they’re right.
It’s day one of a two-week ski trip in Northern Patagonia, and I am not fooling anyone here, least of all myself. I’m the photographer on the trip, but I’m quickly realizing I may be relegated to photographing our basecamp. Chris and our merry band of friends are forgiving and generous in their encouragement, but still, I wish I’d brought a longer lens. That way maybe I could just sit at the bottom of the mountain and snipe some shots without having to actually skin up with the athletes and then find my way back down.
After a long, heavy hike into the Refugio Frey—our basecamp for the duration of the trip—Kitch gives me a mandate to go learn how to use my gear and not come back, “till you’ve got those transitions dialed!” As if my lack of backcountry experience isn’t enough, I’m also the lone split boarder in a group of skiers, a predicament that leaves me particularly susceptible to a variety of hazing rituals.
After a few hours of mucking around on the low-angle terrain near the hut and the flats of the frozen lake, Kitch signs off on my joining the foray into the cirque the next day, and over the course of the next week I find myself able to not only tag along but actually enjoy myself on some of the more mellow couliurs. This was good for two reasons: I needed to be comfortable enough to accompany the skiers in order to photograph them, and I like enjoying myself. Check and check.
But, as the saying goes, “all good things go to s%*t eventually” — or something like that.
As we neared the end of our time in the cirque, reports of a late spring storm rolling in prompted me to consider what types of empanadas I would order if we decided to can the trip and head back to town early. The rest of the crew had different ideas. Apparently, the storm would be a snowstorm, and with them being skiers and whatnot, well, there would be no early empanadas in my future.
One bad decision led to another, and I soon found myself following the group up a precariously steep sheet of ice. I distinctly remember the moment when I realized I was on too steep of terrain to be able to easily “transition” my setup and retreat to safety. With little in the way of choice and less in the way of excitement I followed the rest of the group upward.
We eventually reached the ridgeline, where, to my great disappointment, we peered down the throat of a steep and seemingly interminable rock-lined chute of ice and other assorted white stuff. It was the very chute I had stared upon on our first day. The same chute at which I proclaimed, “No way in hell I’m going up there.”
In the end, I made it down mostly intact with bits and pieces of my ego scattered amid the icy chute. It was an arrangement I was pleased with in light of the fact that my ego grows back faster than my body parts.
And somewhere along the way, after I was finished being scared, I was able to take this photo.