Miller time AK-style: Q & A with local photographer Court Leve
The Sierra Sun caught up with Truckee photographer Court Leve for a Q & A about his work in Alaska with Points North Heli Adventures on Warren Millers newest flick, Children of Winter.The film plays Saturday night at the Crystal Bay Casino. The first show starts at 6:30 p.m. and the second show at 9:15.
Q: How long were you in Alaska with Points North Heli-Adventures and Warren Miller film crew, and how was the experience?A: I personally was in Alaska for roughly 2 1/2 months, shooting some other projects and skiing. The Warren Miller segment had two weeks dedicated to it right at the end of the heli-ski season. The experience, nothing short of incredible. Working with that level of skiers and riders and also working side by side with cinematographer Tom Day, such a great time.Q: Working with athletes such as Marco Sullivan, Seth Wescott and Kevin Quinn, you were rollin with some pretty elite company. Howd you get your foot in the door to work with such a group? A: Ive been really fortunate in that area. I owe a lot to both Kevin and Jessica of Points North. They have been instrumental in providing me with some extremely unique opportunities both skiing and shooting. Its safe to say that they have elevated my skiing ability (I grew up in Missouri) and skiing photography to new heights. The whole process has been organic. I certainly didnt sit down and write up a five-year plan. The ski industry is competitive and its not known for producing huge paychecks; anyone who works in the industry has to have some personal interest in doing the work that goes beyond money. Again, working with PNH has been a mutually beneficial arrangement. I feel really lucky. I get paid to go heli-skiing!Q: Did any of the athletes you worked with stand out above the rest?A: Seth Wescott has been to AK a number of times. Hes extremely comfortable on runs that have real consequences if you fall. I found it impressive the way he remained totally calm and at ease. Watching him and Marco Sullivan work together was great. Wed be flying over a peak and Kevin would ask them what they thought of a run. Looks good, sure, is about the longest discussion there ever was. To watch Marco go from being the new guy, and to see him learn a bit from Seth was a unique experience. It took Marco all of about half a day for him to start opening things up. It must be intimidating for an athlete to be thrown into some of those conditions. There really isnt a way to warm up to some of the terrain, you just go and do, and you need to make it look good for the cameras, which means skiing top to bottom and doing it fast. Id personally have a hard enough time doing that on a run I know, much less a run youve eyed from a helicopter for 30 seconds. Each are such strong athletes, they made everything look easy.Q: Did you pick up any big mountain skiing pointers from those guys?A: Absolutely. The first rule is dont fall! But seriously, seeing the mountains through the eyes of the athletes, having them select a run where there doesnt seem to be one, you learn a lot. Everything from communicating ideas between the riders, shooters and of course coordinating with your pilot when shooting from the heli. You dont just drop someone off on a peak and see what happens next. There are always variables, but what can be planned is. To see an athlete ski or ride a run with 100 percent confidence is key. I saw these guys ride some pretty aggressive terrain. They were focused but also calm and tactical with their approach.Q: It wasnt your first time in a helicopter in the Alaska backcountry. How many times have been now? Enough to call yourself a seasoned vet?A: Not sure Id exactly call myself a seasoned vet but I have been to PNH now several times. I love flying. Both my parents were private pilots growing up and because of that I can tell if a pilot is confident and in control from the time the engines are fired up. All of the pilots flying for PNH are really good, which makes life easy when you arent thinking about your safety, knowing that in the air, thats someone elses job, and its being done well. Like anything, the more you do it, the more you become comfortable around all of it. You do become somewhat desensitized, but I try to make sure to look around and remember how amazing the entire process is. Helicopters are such amazing machines they truly are magic carpets.Q: Did those guys ever let you fly the helicopter?A: No, and thats something Ive been meaning to speak with management about thanks for bringing that up!Q: Did you stick to camera work, or did you get a chance to test your ski legs on the steeps?A: Shooting up in AK is a combination of shooting from peaks across valleys, from the helicopter and on-slope. I may not ski the same run as what Im shooting an athlete on, but often there is a lot of skiing to be had. I didnt ski one run this past season in AK without my photo pack. You ski different with 40 pounds on your back a little more careful and methodical. Crashing isnt an option, so yes, the legs were tested.Q: Assuming you did ski, what sort of terrain did you tackle, and what was that like?A: Best skiing of my life hands down. The terrain for the most part was steep with great snow. Skiing a 2,000-plus-foot run alone with knee-deep powder is really tough to beat.Q: Falling on big Alaska lines can obviously be disastrous. Did you witness any scary crashes firsthand?A: Fortunately no. I have seen a few skiers get caught in their slough and get taken out. Its scary to watch, but it happens so incredibly fast that its over by the time you really have time to assess what youre seeing. And you are usually fairly far away from the action, so it may be totally silent. But seeing your friend disappear in a cloud of snow is less than ideal. It just doesnt take much for things to go from the best day of skiing to the worst. Luckily, the only injuries Ive really seen are to peoples pride, but its not really like that when you are with your crew. Pride does take a back seat, but falling in front of a camera just adds to the stress. Ive seen some pretty crazy things through my lens, and I hope to never see any real mishaps while shooting skiing.Q: How does this particular experience compared with other ski photography experiences in the past?A: This was the real deal. Not only did we have world-class athletes along with Tom Day shooting 16mm for the movie, we had the Maritime Maid, a boat with a heli-pad on it. We shot a lot of footage of helicopters coming and going on the boat, from the boat, and from another helicopter. As a photographer, any time you are shooting air-to-air and air-to-boat, millions of dollars in props, its a pretty good day in the office.Q: Are you going to work with Warren Miller this coming winter as well?A: Thats a good question, I hope the answer is yes. But, even as winter is starting to approach, I cant say I have any big trips lined up yet.Q: Why should people come out to Crystal Bay Casino to catch the showing of Children of Winter?A: The people, the scene and the entire vibe, and of course the movie. But the entire scene is so fun and positive. Its great reuniting with winter friends again. Im sure Im not alone. There are people I only see during winter, on the hill or maybe at various movie premiers. Its a great time to catch up and collectively think snow.
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