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  • January 15, 2016

Capturing the Dream: A Midnight Slalom of Color and Motion

Author
Jeremy Berlin

How do you illuminate a mountain, dazzle the snow with colored light, and take nocturnal skiing to vivid new heights?

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In British Columbia, Pep Fujas plunges into a chasm. “On this shot we had only one light source,” says photographer Oskar Enander, “so Pep was jumping straight out in the dark. Somehow he managed to land and ski away.”

First, find pristine slopes in the craggy, sylvan backcountry of British Columbia and Alaska. Then, figure out how to get 10,000 pounds of equipment—4,000-watt lights the size of washing machines, generators to power them, scaffolding, wire and cable—up peaks higher than 7,000 feet. Spend months calculating wattage and beam diameters, weights and fuel consumption, distances and topography. Hire skilled gaffers and grips. Enlist a cadre of elite athletes. Put battery packs in their pockets, zip them into light suits, and strap LED-spangled packs on their backs. Turn the camera on. Hope for the best.

Picture of colored light shining through the trees
“Every night I was in the trees, looking for the best angle to shoot,” says Enander. “When the light crew was on top of a ridge, repositioning the lights and choosing color gels, an explosion of light beams would appear.”

That’s what Nick Waggoner and his partners at Sweetgrass Productions did in spring 2014, when a commercial shoot gave them the resources they needed to realize a longtime dream: filming night-skiing segments on a big mountain. With Swedish ski photographer Oskar Enander on hand to shoot still photos as they filmed, they set about bringing the dream to life.

What do you get when you mix nighttime skiing with massive lights and custom-made Philips LED ski suits? A spectacular light show on a grand scale.

“I can’t overstate how intense it was to do all this stuff,” says Waggoner. “So much of it had never been done before. And we were working in places with incredibly dynamic terrain, some of the deepest snow on Earth, and ever changing weather patterns. Many, many things could go wrong.”

Picture of a skier wearing an LED lights suit skiing in British Columbia
As the generators shut off in British Columbia, Enander used a long exposure to capture Pep Fujas’s progress.
“This is serious terrain even in the daylight,” says Enander, “and a heavy light suit”—like this green one on Eric Hjorleifson—“blinds you when the snow blows up around you.”
Before a shoot in British Columbia, Eric Hjorleifson removes nylon strips, used to help climb hills, from his skis.
Before a shoot in British Columbia, Hjorleifson removes nylon strips, used to help climb hills, from his skis.

Some of them did. Eleven days into the Alaska shoot, with everything finally in place, a critical extension cord went missing. Waggoner had to persuade a helicopter pilot to fly 20 miles, in the gathering dark, to fetch a new one. “There were times,” he says, “when I put my head in my hands and said, ‘I’m defeated. I’m lost. How were we this dumb to think this was possible?’”

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Near Anchorage, Alaska, Chris Benchetler and Daron Rahlves light up the night in their LED suits.

Enander had his own challenges. For one thing, he couldn’t use a flash; even a fraction of a second would have disturbed the video shoot. That made it hard to get crisp images. “The biggest hurdle for me,” he says, “was shutting out my daylight thinking and focusing on shooting the night.”

But in the end, Waggoner says, the dream was realized. “This project is a metaphor for thinking big and doing things you didn’t think were possible. We want to give people new eyes to reimagine the world.”


The video footage featured in this post is from the adventure sports short film Afterglow, which was filmed by Sweetgrass Productions in partnership with Philips. Philips designed the LED suits using the same technology that powers the Philips Ambilight TV.

Oskar Enander’s photographs are featured in the February 2016 issue of National Geographic magazine.

There are 29 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Volker Beckmann
    February 22, 2016

    As a ski instructor, I’ve watched the video several times and appreciate how difficult it was to ski and film this. The images are incredibly beautiful and even haunting. Another testimony to creative talent of some people. Thank you that we can all enjoy this!

  2. santi
    February 19, 2016

    wow…amazing..

  3. Andrea
    February 16, 2016

    This is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful! I can’t even begin to imagine how tough this would have been to shoot. The elements of the cold, the depth of the snow, and not to mention the difficulty of the dark. This is fascinating in the sense that it isn’t something you get to see everyday. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  4. Speed
    February 12, 2016

    As both a photographer and a skier, this is incredible work! I would love to do something like this! What a legacy!

  5. Daniela
    February 10, 2016

    Soo amazing!!

  6. Mark Bostdorf
    February 9, 2016

    Amazing, as a skier I’m fascinated.

  7. Ahmad Fahrurroji
    February 7, 2016

    so beautiful

  8. Abdul Basir Kazi
    February 7, 2016

    We all admire artistic work of sports photography But this was above and beyond any one expectation. Congratulation, please continue sharing your future artistic endeavor.

  9. Nolan
    February 2, 2016

    swedish brains behind this!

  10. grant
    February 1, 2016

    galactic view so peaceful

  11. Chris van Zyl
    February 1, 2016

    A flippant waste of precious resources

  12. Peg
    January 31, 2016

    This was totally worth the effort! A unique artistic endeavor, refreshing and beautiful.

  13. Cheryl
    January 31, 2016

    Soooo Amazing!

  14. Michael
    January 31, 2016

    Oofta !!!

  15. Colin brookes
    January 31, 2016

    Awesome, must try this..

  16. torgeir
    January 27, 2016

    This is absolutly PORN, as a freeskier and a photographer my self, im complitly stunned and mind blown of this perfection of art

  17. Vicky Lacson
    January 22, 2016

    Wowww awesome!!!

  18. Praveen.P.Prabha
    January 21, 2016

    There is still some magic in this world….

  19. herbert lacandazo
    January 19, 2016

    daringly awesome. can i be a part of your crew? 🙂

  20. Huzefa
    January 19, 2016

    Beautiful idea

  21. Hamish Kale
    January 18, 2016

    This is amazing!

  22. Julie
    January 17, 2016

    Magnificent view! It proves that for human fantasy only sky is the limit!

  23. Ethon
    January 17, 2016

    There is still some magic in this world. Truly beautiful!

  24. Tien Homans
    January 17, 2016

    The footage with the lovely score by First Aid Kit was ethereal and magnificent. Love.

  25. Char
    January 16, 2016

    Like watching a free fall; only more daring!

  26. BlissLights
    January 16, 2016

    Beautiful artwork en fused with modern technology.. A delight for visual senses . !!!.

  27. filipa
    January 16, 2016

    amaziiiiiiiiiing

  28. Rashid Mukoon
    January 16, 2016

    Fascinating

  29. Ajaz Ahmad
    January 16, 2016

    very nice

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