When most people think about a Winter Olympics, their first thoughts more often than not turn to Alpine skiing. Generally regarded as the ‘blue ribbon’ event of the Winter Olympics, the Men’s and Women’s downhill events dominate the build-up to the start of the Games and are a heavy consideration during our preparation and planning.
It’s important to know the course and mountain you're shooting on so our preparations started two years ago with a visit to the course. This was during the World Championship which traditionally visits the upcoming Olympic course so that athletes that will potentially be going to the Games, gain experience. And the photographers are invited too. This is followed by another visit one year later to have another look around and work out angles for both good and bad weather, VLAN positions and ski lift routes, etc.
We have a strong venue specific team of four photographers that have covered multiple winter games. That really helps as experience with Alpine ski racing and the associated conditions (both good and bad) are vital to a productive outcome.
It’s a common misconception when people see the end results of a good day's work that Alpine ski photography must be one of the best and most rewarding sports to photograph. It certainly can be but skiing down an Olympic downhill course with 30kgs of camera equipment on your back is not very fun, no matter how much you enjoy skiing or indeed are good at it.
You don’t get second chances if you fall.
There are no margins for error when skiing on these types of courses. It's often akin to an ice rink tipped on its side. Once you make it to your chosen position, a two hour wait in sub zero temperatures awaits and then the 'fun' begins. Hopefully you’ve managed to keep yourself (and in particular your hands/fingers) warm in the process.
Not as easy as you might think at minus 18 degrees.
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That said, covering Alpine events can be quite easy if everything goes to plan. However, adverse weather conditions can (and do frequently) very quickly hamper all your best laid plans to a point where you and the team could be in complete disarray (if you’re not organised) as competitor starting points are moved further down the mountain.
So, like many things in life, organisation and communication are key factors as well as having a plan B AND a plan C.
In Sochi, we will be utilising new technology that allows us to send direct from our cameras as we shoot the action either via LAN or WIFI to our picture editors in the city. In the past we would use ‘Card Runners’ that would ski past and collect our CF cards and take them to the finish area. Thankfully this is now a thing of the past.
This technological aspect of Alpine skiing is probably one of the toughest for our IT colleagues to conquer.
If you imagine trying to cover a mountain with your own dedicated WIFI network so it works in all weathers whenever you need it, is serious stuff. However, this scenario is now becoming more attainable due to leaps forward in technology which Getty Images is constantly striving to be at the forefront of.
Clive Rose is a sports photographer for Getty Images. Follow him on Twitter at @cliverose
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