The clouds lifted

After six days of dense low-lying cloud, above which I sometimes ventured only to find myself in the middle of a cloud sandwich, the weather started to change. There were patches of sun and blue sky on the final two days, although they were fleeting and unreliable. My spirits rose.

I would ski a run up high in clear weather, catch the chairlift back up and find myself back in cloud. Chasing the light was a waste of time and effort, and one just had to make the best of the conditions.

Riding back up the mountain is a time to look around – you get a unique bird’s-eye view of the terrain. You are often above the trees and you get views that you will not otherwise see. I use that time to take pictures. Tricky.

My compact camera lives in a chest pocket secured to me by a lanyard, so I can’t lose that. Once on the ride, ski poles have to be ‘managed’ so they don’t fall off, gloves have to come off and get pocketed (sadly not always, I lost a pair. Again), goggles or sunglasses have to be removed too and taken care of. Then it’s time to get the camera out, check the settings because removing a camera from a pocket is apt to rotate a dial. Then relax and take pictures. Always watching  the progress of the lift, allowing time to ready myself to exit the chair at the top lift station.

So, today’s three images are all from the same chairlift. The third one – below – was taken 45 minutes after the first two images. What a change. Such are the vicissitudes of weather in mountain country. The next post will feature some more open country.

Meanwhile remember to click on any image to see a higher quality enlargement.



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Limited Visibility

Arriving at the 7th Heaven ski area – in cloud.

The two words ‘Limited Visibility’ sadly sum up my recent experience of eight days skiing in Whistler. The weather was not kind to us. Low cloud or hill fog shrouded the mountains, and it repeatedly rained in Whistler, but snowed higher up. Finally on the seventh and eighth day the sun put in an appearance. Intermittently. And on the following day, on our drive to Vancouver airport, we got superb views of the coastline. Nice, but a tad cruel.

Another image at the top of the 7th Heaven chairlift. Coated in Hoar Frost with a curtain of icicles

I was riding back up the mountain one day with a lovely local couple and they were explaining that the Pacific coast of BC is home to the largest area of temperate rain forest in the world. And where there is rain forest… there is going to be rain – (the clue is in the name). They explained that January and February were the wettest months of winter, and that the weather was usually a lot more settled in March and April. Perhaps I should have researched the weather prospects before booking our holiday. You live and learn as the saying goes. But what my archive tells me is that when we visited Whistler in 2009, it was for exactly the same time of winter as this year’s visit, and on that occasion we were very lucky with the weather. But that’s skiing for you. You have to be prepared for any weather and learn to cope.

Skiing in fog/cloud is not easy. Most of you will have driven a car in fog, conveniently the road surface is usually black or dark grey or perhaps brown. Imagine what it would be like to drive on a white road in fog. That’s what skiing is like in cloud/fog. The light is flat, the ground merges with the sky, there is no contrast and no awareness of a slope. You feel rather than see the change in the slope. You moderate your speed, feeling your way, trying to stay balanced and relaxed over the centre of your skis. But inevitably you are tense and you ski tentatively, searching for the next marker flag to confirm you are still on-piste.

Skiing in a white-out is not fun, and after a few runs of doing the same thing you are tempted to conclude that that is quite enough for one day, thank you. And you begin to see why quite a lot of people can’t quite understand why anyone would want to go out in the depths of winter, dressed in multiple layers, with a helmet on their heads; then encase their feet in rigid plastic boots, fix them to two planks of wood, and slide down a hill on them; and hope they survive the descent without rupturing a knee ligament on the way!

I’ve got to an age where, in bad weather, I think they might have a point. I am a fair weather skier. The joy of skiing is to be able to ski in good light (preferably sunny), with good views; to feel confident and ski, carving good lines, and feeling the wind in your face. There’s nothing quite like that. But I didn’t get much of that except on the last two days. Except that after the first day or two I ventured further up the mountain occasionally finding myself in clear air, looking down on a girdle of cloud above which I had travelled, but looking further up and finding I was merely just in a shallow zone of clear air before the next layer of cloud/fog above me that probably extended way above the mountain tops. You might start off a run in cloud and find clear air lower down , or you might start in clear air and enter cloud. You could never actually ski a full run and expect the same degree of visibility throughout.

So, today, the gallery of images is all about poor visibility. The last one is of hoar frost up at the top of 7th Heaven. Images of better weather will follow in a few days. Click on any image to see a higher quality enlargement.




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Just off Oxford Street in central London down an alleyway on the way to the Photographers Gallery you will find this facade. An abstract on a grand scale. Layered reflective strips creating a fractured surrealistic impression of neighbouring properties. A one-off, fascinating building to which I will return.

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Eccentric windows

Some images immediately pose the question ‘Why?’. Why is there that large window-less space to the right of those windows? What is behind those windows? Perhaps they light a stairwell.

This was taken near Victoria station in central London, an area that seems to have been in a state of constant development for years and years. Finally, it looks as if the end might be in sight. There’s a lot of new glass and steel, glitzy buildings, and striking facades and shapes. And among the ‘new’ there is the old and the not-so-old, rubbing shoulders. Always something that catches my eye and is worth a second glance. An antidote to modernity.



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Decaying away

Autumn is so rapidly replaced by winter and the leaves almost perceptibly rot away into nothingness. But decay itself has a beauty. Walking familiar paths weeks after the leaves fell to earth there are images to be found. Leaves create their own compositions in a deathly embrace.

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Abundant Snow

There has been colossal snowfall across the Alps in the last few days and weeks, with resorts, including Zermatt, temporarily cut off by avalanches disrupting transport links. Avalanche protection, management and awareness has advanced dramatically in recent years and thankfully there have been no major disasters. My trip to Whistler next month draws closer where snow is also falling. My boots still fit, I’ve been out running, and I am getting in the mood.

I’ve also been trawling through the archives, one of those winter tasks, clearing out some of the images that will never see the light of day, and finding the occasional image that has been neglected for far too long and is worth airing.

Today’s image was taken over ten years ago at Saas Fee in the Swiss Alps on my first compact digital camera. Much of the skiing in Saas Fee is on the upper levels of the Fee Glacier – you can see an area towards the right edge of the image where the piste machines have been working. It was one of those atmospheric days when the wind was whipping up the powder. Drama in spade-fulls.

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Surveyed from all sides

Last week (at the last minute, as per usual) I saw Rachel Whiteread’s exhibition at Tate Britain. She was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993 and is one of the UK’s leading Sculptors, casting objects and architectural spaces using cement, plaster, resin and other materials.

At the centre of this exhibition, housed in an eminently appropriate minimalist space, was one of her most well-known monumental pieces: Untitled (Staircase) 2001.

It was a joy to visit an exhibition where photography was allowed, and I spent some time watching the public’s reaction to this principal sculpture. I came away with a number of images of which this is my current favourite. People gathered in ones and twos, and stood still… contemplating. It was a matter of patience, waiting for the compositions to form and hoping that an unwanted interloper wouldn’t ruin the picture as the shutter was pressed.



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