Teamwork. Just like how the saying goes — that two minds are better than one — marine biologist and pro skier Adam Ü and professional photographer Grant Gunderson travel the world together looking for the best backcountry photo opportunities.
For the past 15 years, they’ve produced images that have appeared on more than 30 magazine covers worldwide.
“We’ve been skiing and shooting together for so long that we often see the same things with the same action in mind,” Adam says.
Unlike many athletes, who are used to being in front of the camera and not behind it, Adam sees himself as having a dual role.
“As a photographer myself, I enjoy the process of taking photos, while some of my peers think it’s something you have to do,” he says.
Once Adam and Grant spot a scene that they want to capture, they stop, unpack and set up the shot together.
As they often travel on assignment, they’re subject to the whims of the weather and it’s not always perfect when they arrive at their destination. However, “It’s our job to take photos,” Adam says.
When conditions don’t cooperate, Adam and Grant know they still have make it work.
Making it Work
Grant, who is self-taught, began following his passion for photography while in high school. At Western Washington University — where he met and began working with Adam — checks for his images began to come in regularly, and he ended up making enough money to pay his way through school.
“A lot of athletes I work with are trying to make a living with skiing, which is hard to do. Adam is more laid back about it,” Grant says. “He goes skiing because he loves it, and he’s also a marine biologist.”
Adam’s marine biology career often has him on research vessels in remote locations for up to six months out of the year.
While in the field, he uses a camera as his main tool for data collection. His photos of individual whales and dolphins are analyzed by Adam and his colleagues to come up with population structures. He’s often able to fit his ski trips in between is his research outings but sometimes the turnarounds are tight.
In February of 2015, Adam joined a research project in the Marianas immediately after a skiing assignment to Myoko, Japan. (The Mariana Islands are a four hour flight south of Japan.)
Because of the dual purpose aspect of his travel, Adam packed his snorkel as part of his research kit, along with his ski equipment.
The Snorkel Shot, Myoko, Japan
“Deep pow shots are fairly common — that’s what everyone wants and everyone takes, including us,” Adam says from his home in Glacier, Washington. “But, we try to come up with unique angles or variations on a theme.”
Since the snow was excellent, Adam decided to break out his snorkel to see if they could capture the feeling of skiing truly snorkel-deep conditions.
However, knowing magazine editors can be picky, the two only spent two runs skiing with the snorkel. Even so, the photos ended up on the cover of Bravo Ski, Fri Flyt, and as a spread in Backcountry Magazine in the U.S.
“That’s a good return,” Adam says.
When asked what made that photo special, Adam responded: “We’ve all heard or used the term ‘snorkel deep’ to describe truly deep conditions. And we had those conditions that day. If you’re skiing on a groomer with a snorkel, people would think you’re a dork because it’s totally unnecessary.
“The snorkel also wouldn’t work in an air shot because you can breathe when you're in the air. But if you're skiing in the backcountry and it’s super deep, then it works.
“I was getting face shots with every turn. I always thought it was kind of a cliché, but that day I realized skiing with a snorkel actually worked.”
What’s next for Grant and Adam? They have upcoming projects in British Columbia and Norway but they still have unfinished business in Japan.
“After the first year in Japan, we decided to go there every year for the rest of our lives,” Grant says. And not just to ski; Grant’s planning a two-week mountain bike photo shoot starting at the end of September.
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