Mt.Yotei Aerial Mission
The lengths that photographers will go to in order to capture images never fails to amaze me. Sports photographers, news reporters, fine art photographers, the hoards of retiree photographers here in Japan that dedicate their “second lives” to landscape photography.
I try and retain part of my time as a photographer to personal projects and development. Over the last few years i have been using drones to capture stills and video. I have been looking up at Mt.Yotei everyday dreaming of aerial shots and video. Last season i was able to convince skier James Winfield and local snowboarder Tatsumi Kono to join me on a mission to capture some aerial shots skiing and boarding into the crater of Mt.Yotei. Conditions were good on the 5th or March and we made our move in the predawn hours.
James and Tats were total legends and so patient with me. I am not a fast hiker at the best of times but i was loaded up with some serious weight carrying my Offshore Snow Shapes board on my Burton zoom photography backpack with my DJI INSPIRE 1 drone wrapped in bubble wrap strapped too the board. Controllers, spare batteries etc also stashed in my back with safety gear shovel and probe and i was slow.
We set off at 6:00am and i arrived at the summit at 13:00. James and Tats probably should have lapped me but instead kept an eye on me throughout the ascent waiting in stages following the one of the first tenets of backcountry safety – always stay together as a group.
The Video Edit
When we finally assessed the snow in crater we were surprised to see that the west side was pretty much tracked out! The perfect conditions and that fact that is was Saturday conspired to attract record numbers of skiers and snowboarders. James and Tats opted to choose fresh lines on the northern section of the crater.
Conditions at the summit were pretty challenging to fly in with temperatures around -8 and strong winds gusting over 10 meters per second. Looking at the footage you’d never know which is testament to the amazing inspire one. I set up on the lowest point of the crater on the Southern ‘Makkari’ side and was able to fly over to the guys on the opposite side of the crater at over 500m with no problem. One of the main challenges of filming skiing and snowboarding with a drone is staying close to the riders as they follow their lines as the drone is unable to descend at the same rate – flying in the straight line is no problem with the INSPIRE 1 able to travel up to 75km.
It was an incredible experience flying around the crater and realising a long held dream made it a very happy day for me. It wouldn’t have been able to get this done with out James and Tats offering their time, experience and talent as well as supporting me as a backcountry snowboarder and and wanting to be involved in my personal project.
By the time we made it back to the van it ended up being a 12 hour mission! After filming the final party line with James and Tats riding down together i decided that i would better off carrying the drone rather than strapping it to my backpack. Bad idea. As the sun had been out all day there was some freeze thaw conditions happening and i managed to catch an edge on my toe side and uncontrollably slammed my precious drone into the snowpack. The slam damaged the right side badly and had to send it off to be repaired – DJI Japan have a fantastic service centre by the way.
4 months later i am still working on my aerial photography and video in the Niseko backcountry. I now opt for a L frame backpack made by Tatonka that i can strap the Inspire 1’s hard case to and sit another backpack on top of that. Not the lightest set up but the back pack is comfortable and most importantly my precious drone is safe. Thanks for reading!