Snowbound in July

When you live in a place that’s buried under the snow for half the year, I can’t tell you how hard it is to pack and leave during one of the few months of summer. It’s even harder when the trip requires you to pack ski gear and winter clothes. July in Park City, Utah is absolutely glorious. But most summers, my crew and I end up doing a shoot for the next winter. And when you want winter conditions in July, you need to head south, really far south.

This past July, we ended up in Wanaka, New Zealand, the insanely scenic area where much of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. The goal was a multi-sport winter shoot for the next winter’s Athleta campaign and catalog. And winter was certainly what we got. The day we left for New Zealand, it began snowing there and didn’t stop for days. We arrived in a blizzard and by the time the models arrived a day later, the airport had shut down and they were stranded in Auckland for two days.


While the fresh snow made for some logistical challenges, it was a dream backdrop for our assignment. Picture remote mountain valleys with dramatic jagged peaks rising over a blue jewel of a lake. Access into this remote area was either by halting progress along winding snowpacked dirt roads (chains required) or via a slick shortcut: helicopter. New Zealand is known for its reputable helicopter pilots and our crew was flown by an immensely capable husband and wife team who collect choppers the way some couples collect art or shot glasses.


The helicopters flew us to a high mountain private chalet, which became our home base for ski shots. With views of Mount Aspiring and the Remarkables Range, how could we not fall in love with this place? Whare Kea Lodge is one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed and I can’t recommend it enough. From the Lodge, we ventured out each day in search of great backdrops for sport images. Our excellent mountain guide, Guy Cotter has an unbelievable amount of experience in high mountain ranges all over the world and made us feel very safe. If I ever decide to embark on a Himalayan expedition, I will definitely be using Guy’s company: Adventure Consultants.


Even in such a gorgeous area with such excellent crew members, ski shoots are hard work, especially for the models. The ski models might look relaxed and happy in the images, but there is nothing glamorous about ski modeling. Unless you love hiking uphill in ski boots over and over again, that is. The other sports we shot there included winter running, cross-country skiing and my personal favorite, dogsledding.


Not all sled dogs are friendly, but one of the dogs in this group, a fuzzy guy named Striker, was amiable and a complete glutton for attention. Chris, my second photographer/first assistant, and I are total suckers for dogs, and Striker just melted our hearts. Dog sledding is quite fast and not very precise, so I was really grateful for my Olympics photography background and was pleased to capture some great shots. I loved my own exhilarating ride on the sled and was impressed by how strong ten huskies can be.


For anyone planning a trip to the Wanaka area, I also highly recommend Te Wanaka Lodge, where we stayed for the first part of the shoot. This intimate, cozy lodge in town is run by Mandy and Wayne, who live there with their two young boys and grandmother. Their gracious hospitality and tasty cooking made for delightful evenings after long, cold days outside. I’ve been fortunate to travel to New Zealand several times over the recent years and love it more and more after each trip. If I were ever to live outside of the U.S., this small country with breathtaking landscapes rife for adventure is definitely my top choice.