What it takes to snap an award-winning photograph of a skier in a solar eclipse

The world of ski photography can be rather homogeneous. At some point, you can only see so many shots of people skiing powder or bombing steeps before they all start to look alike. In order to stand out, you need something spectacular, something almost otherworldly; something that is truly once-in-a-lifetime.

For this year’s POWDER Photo of the Year, that meant chasing a solar eclipse to the northern reaches of the Arctic.

The journey of this year’s POWDER Photo of the Year starts with Canadian photographer Reuben Krabbe.

Krabbe, a seasoned ski and mountain bike photographer, had a keen interest in solar eclipses and the possibilities they presented for photography. Namely, he wanted to capture an image of a skier silhouetted by a total solar eclipse.

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To do that Krabbe spent three years calculating the best spot to take such a groundbreaking photo. He settled upon Svalbard, a Norwegian group of islands between mainland Norway and the North Pole. One of the northernmost inhabited places in the world, Svalbard is known for its rugged terrain and inhospitable climate.

Powder Solar Eclipse Photo of the YEar

In order to get this once-in-a-lifetime photo of a skier silhouetted by a solar eclipse, Reuben Krabbe had to endure Svalbard’s elements. Photo: Reuben Krabbe

So Krabbe and a group that included skiers Brody Leven, Cody Townshend and Chris Rubens, among others, took off for Svalbard in March, hoping to snap an iconic image.

Even with all their preparation, the odds weren’t in their favor.

Krabbe would only have a roughly 90-second window to capture the total solar eclipse before it vanished, and he would be doing it in a place on earth where the weather is overcast 60 percent of the time in March.

"Ultimately, it was controlled chaos, predicting and narrowing down our possibilities,” Krabbe told POWDER. “We had to be emotionally prepared to get skunked."

Compounding that anxiety was the fact that, while total solar eclipses happen as often as every 18 months, this eclipse also took place on the spring equinox — the same day the sun returned to view after six months of complete darkness in Svalbard. That occurs so rarely that scientists at NASA estimate it won't happen again for another 400,000 to 500,000 years.

Add to that the fact that they were dealing with an environment where the average high temperature in March is just under nine degrees Fahrenheit, and where part of the job included scanning for polar bears — tensions were obviously high.

Powder Solar Eclipse Photo of the YEar

Among other onsite work hazards (besides the subzero temps): Polar bears. Photo: Reuben Krabbe

So, in order to position themselves for success, the crew was constantly on the go; scouting locations and sight lines all while battling the harsh climate.

"I expected to be constantly moving, like every other expedition,” Leven said about the trip. “But this was all about the shot. The trip was half survival."

Ultimately, they got the shot. And on Dec. 4 in Salt Lake City, the photo project was awarded the POWDER Photo of the Year, cementing it as one of the all-time legendary images in the history of skiing.

"I knew getting this shot was such a long shot that I held it all in an open hand," Krabbe told POWDER. "To have it happen was an amazing euphoria."

Read more about the story behind POWDER’s Photo of the Year.

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