Photo of a lifetime

The photo of a lifetime: solar eclipse

What does it take to capture a one-one thousandth-of-a-second, once-in-a-lifetime shot? Reuben reveals how he teamed with Salomon, trekked to the Arctic Circle, and captured a skier in a solar eclipse.

A third of the way through Salomon’s latest episode of Freeski TV, viewers meet the dreamer behind a questionable chase to the Arctic Circle. His ambition: to capture a skier in motion during one of nature’s rarest phenomena – a total solar eclipse. The subject is photographer Reuben Krabbe, who wowed ski fans in February 2015 after capturing fellow ambassador Tobin Seagel skiing against a backdrop of the northern lights.

“There’s a Grant Gunderson photograph of a skier amongst a trail of stars,” says Reuben, citing the Gunderson work as the inspiration for his Aurora Borealis shot. “After that photograph of Tobin, I was looking at maps available through NASA that show all of the different places where solar eclipses are going to happen in the next 20, 50, 100, 200 years.” So where was Reuben to find his white whale? Svalbard – a Norwegian group of islands sandwiched between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Rugged and teeming with glaciers, frozen tundra, and a fellowship of polar bears, it’s the very definition of remote, and one of just two places where the total eclipse could be viewed in 2015.

Photo of a lifetime

The glacial terrain of Svalbard

Roughly one solar eclipse appears per year, but typically in places where people won’t see them, such as the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Worse yet, they often occur when the moon is too far away from earth, so it doesn’t fully cover the sun.

Eager to bring his dream to life, Reuben pitched the idea to the director of Salomon Freeski TV, Mike Douglas, in late 2014. He recognized the hook of the story immediately: this had never been done before. But, there were risks. “We both knew the chances of it working out were so low – if you miss it through the clouds, it’s not that interesting. It’s completely boring actually. You’d just be able to show a time lapse of a cloudy day getting dark and bright again.” Salomon came back to Reuben with a green light. “They said, ‘we love this idea, let’s do everything possible to make this happen in the best way.’ I was completely taken aback.”

The team consisted of skiers Chris Rubens, Cody Townsend and Brody Leven; director and filmmaker Anthony Bonello; on-slope videographer Bjarne Salen; guide Steve Lewis; Reuben; a camp cook; and two ski guides (one an ex-trauma doctor). They spent three weeks on Svalbard and winter-camped while scouting locations for an additional 12 days. Reuben credits Bonello as the coordinator behind the trip, allowing Reuben to simply make sure he was winter ready. His set up included the MEC Radiator Parka, boot warmers, and essentially everything a person needs to not freeze.

Photo of a lifetime

Winter camping, mid-glacier

Photo of a lifetime

The team faces the harsh elements of Svalbard

Leading up to the eclipse, the team had no idea of the elements they would face. Clear days were used to scout the right location, leading to some frustrated skiers. “We were burning these bluebird days that have stable snow and perfect light and we hadn’t got to ski great stuff yet, just two little chutes. They were all looking at all the stuff they wanted to ski and the pursuit of this single photo – a photo we don’t know whether or not will turn out – is preventing them from skiing,” Reuben sympathizes. “It’s just this impossible thing to deal with. They went through with it, but were vocal, which is good. I was just as frustrated that I was the person standing in the way.”

When the day of the eclipse finally arrived, the team was elated to see the weather was working in their favour, and Reuben’s dream was realized. Bonello shot some stunning footage of the total eclipse: waves of light gently rippling around a massive black orb. As the light changes, Svalbard appears as an alternate world with two moons; one bright orange, the other heavy ebony, both filled with quiet contrast and mystery. For a short time, the sky goes black, and moments later dawn-like rays careen into the scene, blanketing sheets of fresh white powder in light.

“It was pure elation. Everyone finally understood why this is such a dramatic thing that people fly around the world to just watch,” says Reuben. “We got to create something with it. The success validated the entire pursuit. And then, finally, we got to go skiing. We went back to camp, grabbed some food, and went. We got some beautiful shots [of that] right away. It was nice, to go back to simple shooting in the Arctic.”

Photo of a lifetime

The glow of the Arctic

Salomon’s Freeski TV episode recently screened at the Banff Mountain Film Festival to great acclaim, taking home the grand prize for Best Film in the Snow Sports category. “I had no idea going into it that it was going to have this kind of reception outside of skiers. It put this huge validating stamp on this concept and the entire project,” says Reuben. “It’s been a beautiful way to kick things off.”

For now, Reuben is enjoying the afterglow. “Regardless of whether you’re a skier or not, when you see the solar eclipse photo, you can’t help but stop and look and start trying to figure out ‘What is this? The moon? The sun? How on earth did they do this?’ I think the fact that I can do that by capturing one-one-thousandth of a second is just so cool.”

– Photos by Reuben Krabbe. Check out MEC’s selection of Salomon gear.

Kim Budziak

Wordsmith, avid skier and rookie road biker. Firmly believes the best days are the snowiest ones.