Alta photographer, Noah Wetzel, checks in with some of his favorite shots from the 2015-2016 season
Another season has come to an end. For many of us, the end of the season materializes with mixed emotions. Following closing day, that particular Monday delivers relief for some, but typically an empty void for most. evoking self-doubt and questions of replacement. Gazing upward, the slopes resemble a friend who has been abandoned – the resounding creaks from swaying chairlifts beg for companionship. Vast fields of concrete fill our peripheral vision, devoid of vehicles where not even school children occupy. Yes, summers are great in Alta. The town is quiet, the hillsides are lush and teeming with wildlife, wildflowers bloom and there’s certain tranquility within the solitude of the canyon. Did I mention the wildflowers?
However, rooted deep within the textured soil and rock that distinguishes Little Cottonwood Canyon, there’s a porous presence that seeps through and permeates the air. Inhale, exhale – a crisp breeze lingers between the sheer granite walls, echoing the cold breath of winter. Inherent to every ski area, there’s a voice. Listen - it may wisp past you without notice, but its murmur is incurable. Winter holds Alta in its grasp, never succumbing to the forces of summer. Inconsiderate of the warmer seasons, there’s a soft white blanket – sometimes invisible - that continuously envelops our canvas with an ingrained appetite for skiing, reminding us of the intimate moments we experienced while in the depths of winter.
Here are my Top 5 moments during the 2015/2016 season at Alta Ski Area:
5. My good friend and roommate Chris Brule blows up a turn in Westward Ho at twilight (December 16th, 2015)
The first few powder days of any ski season are always some of the best. This particular day in December granted us waist-deep turns all day. After skiing nearly bell-to-bell (and capturing some gold), I wanted to shoot a bit more with Chris and take advantage of the conditions. Chris was nothing less than committed to the idea. We both rallied just before sunset, skinning to the lower part of Westward Ho in Wildcat. I couldn’t quite set up the remote flashes in the ideal locations and it was getting dark rapidly. With the circumstances, we both agreed to rally to a turn we had shot earlier in the day. Luckily, it had filled back in and Chris made a perfect turn and pole plant!
4. Willie Nelson floating a 360 leading tail grab at 6:30pm in Rocky Point and finalizing our portfolio for the Ski City Shootout (February 26th, 2016)
Wow, what a week! The Ski City Shootout is a photography portfolio contest that involves eight selected photographers and 24 athletes over the course of four days at the ski resorts in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. I pre-selected my good friend Willie Nelson and rounded out the team with my roommate Chris Brule and mutual friend Lucy Sackbauer. All of us are members of the Alta team and ski Alta every day. Therefore, the whole week was very memorable. We put in a ton of hours and energy to create the best possible portfolio. On our final day we were assigned to Alta - our home. After locking down one solid image early in the day (and getting the opportunity to ski Little Chute for the first time it opened this season), we knew there was one more image to capture. Willie and I had this cliff in mind (located in the Rocky Point, just outside of Alta's boundaries), and I knew this would be the perfect shot to complete our portfolio. I placed two strobes (larger remote flashes) on both sides of the cliff face with one speedlight (normal flash) behind the lip of the cliff. Nerves were certainly running high as we patiently waited for twilight (the perfect light). With a super awkward takeoff and firm landing, Willie nailed the grab and skied out. Unfortunately, I missed the grab by a few inches. I pleaded with him to hit it one more time. Just ONE MORE, please! As he motivated up top my nerves were through the roof. I didn’t want to send a friend off a feature like this, knowing I could miss it again. Fortunately, Willie held the grab a little longer to ease the difficulty on my end. I have never been more stoked to capture an image and my teammates can attest as you could probably hear my yells from the Alta parking lot!
3. Willie Nelson ripping a few turns in a magical winter wonderland (January 18th, 2016).
FYI: This could easily be my #1. This past season skiing and shooting at Alta was one of my most memorable and productive seasons. This is directly a result of working with Willie Nelson. Since 2010 Willie has been one of my best friends - talented, compassionate, humble, and hilarious. He's one character you’ll never forget! I can't express how much it meant to me, working side-by-side with Willie, adventuring constantly, cohesively, and capturing images that I am proud of. Willie understands me and my style of shooting. And I understand Willie and his style of skiing. I will forever fondly reminisce of these moments we’ve shared at Alta.
2. Mt. Superior floating amongst a sea of clouds in a truly surreal sunset in Little Cottonwood Canyon (March 7th, 2016)
On this particular day in March, Willie and myself ventured out of the Catherine’s gate on Supreme and into the backcountry. After skiing the Seagull Chute off Mt. Tuscarora, we skinned back up to Mt. Wolverine and skied a fun line in Wolverine Cirque. At this point the canyon was completely socked in, the sun not visible. We debated bailing once we skinned up to the saddle. However, once we arrived at the saddle we knew it would only be another 10 minutes before we were on top of Patsy Marley. Once again we rallied our way to the top. Just as I was cresting the ridge looking down into Alta the clouds parted showcasing one of the most impressive, unique, and beautiful sights I’ve seen in my life! In my nine seasons at Alta this was the most impressive sight I have witnessed!
1. The Frank World Classic (April 17th, 2016)
Well, what does a season at Alta come down to? One thing - community. The Frank World Classic (hosted on closing day) embodies the community. This season I had the pleasure of announcing the contest alongside my friend Neil Howard. I know it may sound funny, but I don’t think I have ever had such a great honor. There are so many unique individuals within this community that are compassionate, enthusiastic, talented, humble and animated. I am continually amazed by the Alta community! It is THE reason I will always return and call Alta home.