Backcountry Skiing



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Lou Dawson's Backcountry Skiing Weblog


September 13 -- 2005
Michael Kennedy -- Master Photographer

One of my favorite people in my "old guard" crowd is Michael Kennedy, former owner and publisher of Climbing Magazine, prolific alpinist and backcountry skier. Michael is also an accomplished photographer who's been published thousands of times. I recently asked Michael about his present camera system, and look what came back!

I've got a Canon G5. Not the smallest or lightest but very good quality
and all the control you need for backcountry skiing photos. I carry it in a small belt pack so it's easy to get to, always a key thing. The G5 is way better than most film P & S I've used.

Backcountry skiing in Colorado.
Lee Bowers, Marble Peak. Canon G5, about 80mm (35mm equivalent). Click image to enlarge.

For a digital SLR, I use the Canon 20D. Bigger, bulkier, and heavier than the Rebel (and more expensive, naturally) but the image quality is very, very good, faster motor drive, cleaner and bigger image files, etc. (I believe the Rebel uses the same sensor as the 20D so if I were going on a big alpine climb I'd probably take the Rebel, mainly to save weight.)

For most backcountry skiing use I carry a single lens, the Canon 17-85 zoom (28-135 equivalent); I've also got the Canon 10-22 zoom (16-35 equivalent) and will carry that when I'm feeling ambitious, photography-wise.

Backcountry skiing photos by Michael Kennedy.
Jeff Maus, Marble Peak. Click image to enlarge.

I've got a couple other lenses that I use closer to home (fast primes) but the zooms are the way to go most of the time.

I use a Lowe topload-type of case with a chest harness for the 20D.
Super accessible so you can whip the camera out when you need to. I've
experimented with using the case on a pack belt, but for skiing I find it interferes with my leg movement too much. This is a real individual thing so you need to figure out what works for you.

Backcountry skiing in the Colorado mountains.
Kim Spence, Marble Peak. Click image to enlarge.

The most important thing is to have the camera instantly accessible when backcountry skiing - when it's in the pack on your back you lose too many shots.

The greatest thing about digital is that it frees you from the expense of film and processing, letting you shoot and experiment a lot more.

Digital quality is now equal or greater than that of film, especially at the sizes most of us use (up to 11x14).

Jeff Hollenbaugh, Chair Mountain.

The downside of digital is the learning curve and time for post-processing - to really get the most out of your files you have to dive deep into Photoshop. I shoot everything in RAW - that's a whole other topic.

My one most important tip: Shoot no matter what - good light, bad light, stormy days and clear days. I'm amazed sometimes when I get something really good in bad weather or terrible conditions.

See ya,


September 12 -- 2005
More About Backcountry Skiing Photography

I've been working on photographer Peter Kelley's image site at - that's keeping me "focused" on photography...

Andrew McLean emailed me this comment: I'm using a Nikon 4500 and can't wait until it dies so I can replace it with a Canon. I've been really impressed with the Canons and three local photographers also recommended them.

Problem with Andrew's plan is that many of the digicams are amazingly durable. He may have to wait quite a while for that 4500 to die! My first digi' was an Olympus C3030. It refused to quit. I dropped it down a couloir, used it in the rain, and just plain shot thousands of photos with it. It had a cracked case but still shot the same photos (too low a resolution and hard to transfer to computer, along with other problems). When I finally replaced the Olympus with a Canon Rebel, I had to throw the Oly in the trash to get it out of my life! The camera that wouldn't die! Andrew, is your trash can tempting you?

September 10 -- 2005
Cameras for Backcountry Skiing

Photography issues for backcountry skiers.
Sunset at Shadow Lake, Wind River Mountains, Wyoming. This was shot with a Canon Digital Rebel in manual mode, with manual focus. Click image to enlarge.

It's always fun in September to see the excitement about winter's debut. Web forum traffic drivel ratios change for the better, and we're all starting to think about that gear we trashed last winter and still have not replaced. Or we simply want more quality and less weight.

To that end, it seems like we're always playing around with camera options. So I was thinking a bit of camera blogging would be fun. Today's thoughts:

If you're in the market for a new cam' here is what myself and many shooters I know look for in a digital camera.

  • Wide range zoom (otherwise all your shots start looking the same).
  • Large LCD that's at least semi-visible in bright sunlight.
  • Easily invoked and used manual mode (sometimes the camera just can't think well enough for you)
  • Battery system that works for your style. Proprietary rechargeables are fine for short trips. For longer expeditions you may want the simple option of AA batteries.
  • If you're truly serious, consider a lighter weight digital SLR such as the Canon Rebel. An SLR allows free flowing creativity as the view finder looks through the lens and sees exactly what the camera will shoot, thus allowing you to nail focus in difficult situations, adjust zoom exactly, etc. More, digital SLRs always have a vast variety of control that point-and-shots may not allow.
  • Figure out a way to carry your camera. Smaller ones can go in any pocket. For larger rigs mount a padded pouch on your pack straps for instant access.
  • While the digital SLRs are tempting, many of the smaller digicams do have an amazing variety of settings. If you go that route, make sure the camera has a manual mode, and that manual focus is easy to set. Also be sure it has a "TV" mode, meaning "time value" (allows you to force a higher shutter speed for shooting action such as skiing). Once you get serious, you'll need at least those features.
  • Above all, once you get a new digicam memorize all the settings by going through he manual several times. Then practice practice practice. "Film" is cheap.

Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information and opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 35 years has been alpinism and back country skiing -- and all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and snowboarding, and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the famous Fourteeners! Books and free back country information here, as well as tons of Randonnee rando telemark backcountry skiing info.

All material on this website is copyrighted. Permission is required for reproduction, electronic or otherwise. That includes publication and display on other websites by whatever means. For more about this, PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT INFORMATION. Backcountry skiing is a dangerous sport. You may be killed or severely injured if you choose to do all forms of randonnée and randonnée skiing. The information on this website is intended only as general information for a variety of aspects of backcountry skiing and outdoor recreation. While the authors and editors of the information on this website make every effort to present useful information, due to human error the information contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of of any liability for injuries or losses incured while using such information.

Always go backcountry skiing with a partner, and learn about avalanche safety before you ski outside of ski and snowboard resorts. The best season for this sport is late winter and spring, when the snowpack compacts and avalanche danger is more predictable. The Colorado wilderness backcountry skiing season reaches its prime in May and June. Maritime snow such as that of the Pacific Northwest may be less avalanche prone than continental snow of that such as Colorado and Wyoming. The California Sierra also provides a relatively reliable snowpack for backcountry skiing, snowboarders, snowmobilers, telemarkers and the like. Backcountry skiing is a wonderful sport, but it can transition in moments from wonder to tragedy. You agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instuctions or templatates at your own risk, and waive its owners and contributors of any liability for use of said items.

Keywords: Ski Information, Info, Outdoors, Wilderness Skiing, Randonnée and randonnée, Ski Mountaineering, also Ski Alpinismo and Backcountry Skiing.