What Lies Beneath: Hidden Depths

How well do we really know our favourite mountain? Spanish photographer Andoni Epelde separates the icing from the cake.

Translation: Kat Excell

Some seasons – like the one we’ve been enjoying in Europe this year – there’s so much powder that the ground itself is buried deep below the snowpack. In dryer winters, like the last one, rocks and logs can lurk just a few centimetres under the surface – making landings hazardess.

I’ve always been curious to know what kind of terrain we’re really riding, and where exactly we’re building our kickers. What secrets lie beneath our boards? Ever since my Argentinian friend Nico Natalucci broke his femur and fourth vertebra on a buried rock, my curiosity turned to fear. The accident happened on an easy line – he just hit this sharp stone with his nose and went straight over on top of it. Although he was lucky enough to recover and can still shred, I don’t even like to think about how bad it could have been, and I decided to find out more about the hidden mountain landscape we ride on during the winter.

“In dryer winters, rocks and logs cna lurk just a few centimeters under the surface, making landings hazardous”

My plan was to shoot a photo project featuring local kicker spots in the height of summer, with no snow. That way I could show the pictures to the riders I hang out, and they could judge if the places they regularly session are more or less safe.

In the middle of July, I set out to the Aran Valley in the central Pyrenees. I needed a few days of good weather to try to get exact mirror-images of the ones I’d taken in the winter. I figured it might take while to get each shot, especially since some of the spots were a fair old walk up the hill. The pole drags were shut of course, so just reaching the same location was a mission. It’s a strange feeling, walking in the summer in places where you ride all winter. Familiar, yet alien. As I hiked towards our first kicker spot, I remembered the last time I was here. Just being in the same place brought back vivid memories: the backside air with a beautiful plume of spray, or that sweet ollie. Despite the lack of snow I could see it all in front of me, clear as day.

“It’s a strange feeling walking in the summer in places where you ride all winter. Familiar, yet alien”

What I didn’t find so easy, at least to begin with, was finding the exact position I’d stood in back in the winter. I could remember the angle I’d shot from in relation to the kicker, but getting the distance from the jump was harder. The first shot was a bit of a test. I’d brought along a print of the winter photo, enlarged so that I wouldn’t lose any of the detail. Every pine tree or stone was a vital clue, and all had to be in just the right place to get a good result. But, with a little shuffling around, I had the first picture nailed in just under quarter of an hour. I couldn’t be sure if it was spot on until I got to see it on the computer, but thankfully it came out well. Relieved, I set out to document the other spots feeling more confident.

Once I had summer versions of every action shot, all that was left was a little Photoshop work. I decided the summer photos would look more dramatic with the riders in situ, so I copied and pasted them into the same position on each of the snowless landscapes, completing the mirror image. It’s nuts to see them floating mid-air above grass and rocks!

“By showing the shots to the riders I hang out with, they could judge if the places they regularly session are more or less safe”

Hopefully, as the white tide of winter rolls back in and out, my crew will have a better idea of where and when it’s safe to build. Either way, it’s always cool to get a fresh perspective on the mountains we love.


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