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On the job exploration

By Spenser Heaps - | Jan 30, 2013
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Mike Glenn drives a snowcat while grooming the slopes at Sundance Resort during a snow storm in the early morning hours on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013. During stormy nights the groomers often work from midnight until 8 a.m. SPENSER HEAPS/Daily Herald

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Mike Palfreyman drives a snowcat attached to a winch cable that helps the machine get up and down the steepest slopes at Sundance Resort on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. SPENSER HEAPS/Daily Herald

In photojournalism school our professors always encouraged us to take viewers where they can’t go themselves. Finding a unique angle, traveling off the beaten path, or photographing something that the public doesn’t usually get to see are easy ways to captivate your audience. 

This advice goes hand-in-hand with the main reason I love what I do. Being a photojournalist is a ticket to visit unexpected places that I otherwise would never find myself in, nor be allowed in.

Case-in-point: my most recent Monday Close Up on groomers at Sundance Resort. As an avid skier I was curious how the crews get such perfectly manicured slopes every night. More-so, as an outdoorsman with a general wanderlust, I wanted to know what it felt like to be up high on a mountain on a dark stormy night, driving around in what is basically a small tank with a snowplow on front.

Turns out it is pretty awesome. The first night I spent with the groomers it snowed a foot or more overnight. We set out close to 1 a.m. and drove to the top of the mountain. Snow swirled around the snowcat, blown by the wind and the whirring cat-tracks just below me. The bright lights reflected off the snow and obscured anything more than 20 feet away. The second time I went out with the groomers was on a clear evening, just after the sun dipped below the horizon. Alpenglow lit up the peaks all around and yielded one of the best sunsets I’ve ever witnessed.

All of the drivers echoed the same sentiment when I asked why they like their job. It is that boyish desire to play around in a giant machine, pushing big piles of snow. Like a kid in a sandbox.

But I think there is also another reason they love their job that any adventurer knows well. It feels cool being in a place that you shouldn’t be. Whether it is on top of a gnarly peak with storm clouds rolling in fast, dangling from an overhanging rock wall, or driving a snowcat on a precipitous ridge in a blizzard with no visibility and 80 mph winds (an experience one driver relayed to me). 

For sure, they said, the stress of operating big machines in terrible weather and the late-night hours can be a drag. But each of them also said the fun and novelty of the job was far from wearing off.  

I feel the same way about my job. For sure, covering podium speeches and circling terrible roads for hours looking for weather features can get tiring. But I love what I do and the high points more than make up for the occasional banality. 

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