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Behind the Shot: Skiers Jump Over a Crevasse on Mount Hood

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Skier Tommy Ellingson flying off a jump on Oregon's Mount Hood; Photograph by Richard Hallman

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Photographer Richard Hallman and skier Tommy Ellingson work together year-round, often at Mount Hood. “In order to get more and more creative, we spend a lot of time climbing high on the mountain, going to very hard-to-reach places,” says Hallman. “I summited Mount Hood for the 50th time last year, and fittingly it was with Tommy. There is no other person who can fill that frame quite like Tommy. His passion and skill are unmatched on Mount Hood, or anywhere.”

Ellingson, Hallman, and skier Josh Larkin were working with warm conditions, and the group faced melting snow and widening crevasses. “The mountain was very precarious and extremely dangerous,” says Hallman, an experienced mountaineer and volunteer search-and-rescue team member.

Ellingson and Larkin had started working on the ski jump the day before the shoot. “That night, Tommy sent me a message to get up to the mountain the next day to shoot,” says Hallman. I was so exhausted, but when I saw an iPhone photo of what they were planning, I thought, OMG—what a couple nutty buddies.”

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Skier Josh Larkin launches over a jump on Mount Hood; Photograph by Richard Hallman

To get the shot, Hallman worked a few different angles on the treacherous mountainside. “The first couple jumps I shot from the uphill side. After that, I went around the other side and got a glimpse of what they were landing on—an A-frame house that looked like it could collapse at any moment,” he recalls.

Hallman photographed with a Canon EOS-1Dx and a f/4, 24-105mm lens.

Adventure: Tell us about the set up. You mentioned Tommy needed to make a pinpoint landing.

Richard Hallman: I shot the first couple jumps from the uphill side. I was really curious to get different angles. As an experienced mountaineer who works volunteer Search & Rescue, I love the challenge of shooting in extreme conditions. After the first couple jumps, I went around to the other side and got a glimpse of what they were landing on—basically, a cavernous A-frame house that looked like it could collapse at any moment. Down in the crevasse, you could see bus- and car-sized snow blocks parked on top of one another. In between the snow blocks, the blue color just got deeper and deeper until the blue faded to black. There would be no rappelling into the crevasse.

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Skier Josh Larkin does a speed check on Mount Hood; Photograph by Richard Hallman

A: How were conditions this day for skiing and for shooting?

R.H.: Conditions were warm, and we are at a point in the year where there is a lot of snow melt and the crevasses are opening up more and more. The mountain in these conditions is very precarious and extremely dangerous. I wish we had video footage of the bird landing on the lip of the jump, just after the guys finished building the lip. The bird looked both ways and took off, as if saying, “Looks good boys!”

A: How did you feel watching the skiers in the air about to land?

R.H.: The first time the guys hit the jump was nerve wracking. They painstakingly worked the in-run and did speed check. Tommy and Josh have worked together for a very long time on some very complicated jumps and are true professionals at what they do, taking a focused approach, all the while bouncing ideas and consequences off one another. It looked like a two-to-one step down over a gap of about 20-25 feet. The consequences of shorting the landing would most likely cause injury and yet having too much speed would result in over shooting the landing and putting them in danger of moving too quickly toward other crevasses below the landing.

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POV cam view from skier Tommy Ellingson; Photograph courtesy Tommy Ellingson

A: Were you shooting with remote cameras too?

R.H.: Multiple camera angles or remote cameras would definitely been helpful, but there was no time to study and set them up in such a constantly changing crazy environment. These features do not last. This time of year you may only have days before the sun and warm temperatures change the terrain. Which is really cool because Mother Nature gave us this tiny window to do something amazing here and it will never be recreated the same way again. So this grand maze of snow and ice is only preserved in these photos.

A: The scale of the mountain jutting out, against the scenic background adds drama. Why did you decide to shoot, from where you did? Was this the shot you wanted?

R.H.: Angles and perspective can be everything. The shot looking out over the Cascades with the crevasses, Mount Jefferson, and Timberline Lodge, really give it a big mountain perspective. I have some other ideas for angles, but you’ll just have to stay tuned for next time….

See more of Richard Hallman’s photography on his website