Stubai is an unusually cool place to ski, but getting lucky enough to put a lens to it is another story. Each shot taken feels better than the last, and excitement grows exponentially because of it. On the World Cup and Prime Park Sessions course, the features were perfectly shaped, and it was a frame hard to beat with the Italian Dolomites folded into the backdrop. Clouds swelled and collapsed in the neighboring valleys, only adding to the stoke for such an insane setting. To the right, skiers were touring up the opposing peaks, giving a clear visual of the vastness of the mountains, and how we ultimately all share the same desire to be a part of them. It is hard to maintain any emotion other than gratitude for being in a part of those surroundings. Stubai is a surreal place to be, and being there while on skis makes it a little more special.

The Austrian resort also recently hosted the first FIS Freeski World Cup, drawing skiers from around the world to kick off their contest season in the alps. Competition skiing is a controversial topic for many people. As a photographer, I am often offered a somewhat objective window beyond that of an athlete, coach, or other official attendee. Everything about the competition carries its own energy, but the start deck has a completely different vibe, and is a strange environment to those who are unaffiliated with a team. There is often very little conversation unless it occurs between team members or coaches. Riders use the time to focus and get in the zone, but it lacks the atmospheric enthusiasm that skiing as a sport naturally carries. Though this isn’t necessarily a large surprise, as contests have a reputation of limiting what the core of “freeskiing” is about, which is that it is free; no rules, no regulations, and no requirements.

Despite this, the appeal in competing is completely understandable. Being on a podium offers an incomparable high, and being a part of something that big is really cool. However, when the podium is not reached, or goals have not been met, or things take an alternate route to what was originally envisioned, positive energy is seldom seen. Rather, anger and disappointment rise to the surface. Though this response is only human, it is counterproductive to mull over every small detail that could have changed the outcome. This goes for all forms of competition where judging is involved. Placing blame on politics, conditions, or judging does not move you forward. Identifying those issues to learn from them and progress the next time they are encountered is different from identifying those issues to place blame somewhere. Not achieving a goal is a rough thing to go through, but attitude is the only thing that can change that. Contests are a multifaceted conversation, worked by countless perspectives, and arguably one of the most highly opinionated subjects of skiing.

In “The Zoo”, the lower, preseason park on the other face of the mountain, the crew from HealthGang_official was keeping busy swerving around, having fun, and getting creative as always. They would cheer each other on, offering each other nothing but encouragement and support. Hours would be spent hiking a rail, and it would quickly become a matter an intrinsic motivation rather than an attempt at getting the shot. Despite clear exhaustion and frustration, the whole crew would offer support, hiking with each other and hyping each other up. The enthusiasm for a trick being landed, or nailing the shot, or even coming up with ideas, was entirely the vibe that felt absent among the contest scene on the other side of the mountain. The contrast between the two zones of skiing was stark. And a very clear reminder of how important energy is.

The quality of your ski day in large part depends on the company you keep. Energy amongst a group of people is contagious, and being around the right energy is an important aspect to anything, let alone skiing. Be stoked on each other. Be stoked on skiing. Most importantly, be stoked on your ability to be stoked.