If there is anything that upsets John Zimmerman, it is an interruption when he has the perfect ski photograph in sharp focus, speed and F-stop all set, his finger about to click the shutter. Still, there was a sense of urgency in the shouts coming from the skiers far across the canyon, so Zimmerman lowered his camera (after shooting the picture, of course) and tried to hear what was being said. It was 7:15 on a bright spring morning at Colorado's Vail ski resort. "I couldn't hear what they were yelling," Zimmerman says, "so I skied on ahead a bit and got ready to shoot some more. And that's when this avalanche came swooshing down about 30 feet behind me."
But if Zimmerman finally got the message, he got the pictures as well: the panoramic view of Vail's China Bowl on pages 46-47, shot shortly before the snowslide, is one result of the assignment. Zimmerman had to visit Vail twice last spring—the light wasn't right the first time—and he also went to Taos, N. Mex., Jackson Hole, Wyo. and Park City, Utah to capture the special excitement of bowl skiing. He wound up at Lake Placid, N.Y. in April to photograph the new ski fashions and gear for the section that begins on page 40. This time there were no interruptions: the day he arrived the resort closed for the season, and Zimmerman was the last man on the mountain. Not only were there no avalanches, there was hardly any snow.
Senior Writer William Oscar Johnson skied a number of bowls, including those photographed by Zimmerman, in a quest to determine exactly what makes a ski bowl a bowl. He explains it in his story on page 47. While Johnson was skiing and scouting, Staff Writer Jule Campbell was busy gathering material for her report on what is noteworthy in alpine and nordic gear for the new season.
The final story for the issue was a result of unusually felicitous timing. Johnson and another photographer, Willis Wood, were in Telluride, Colo. on the March afternoon that 28-year-old mountaineer Jeff Lowe decided to climb the frozen Bridalveil waterfall. He would climb it alone, a feat never before attempted, and much of the time without the aid of rope. Johnson's story of what happened next begins on page 94.
December 11, 1978
It was on his second trip to Vail that Zimmerman figured the only way he could capture exactly the right early-morning light was to spend the night atop the mountain. Cameras packed in rucksacks, he did just that, bunking down in a ski-patrol shack on windswept Vail Mountain. "It was some terrible ordeal," says John. "All I had to keep body and soul together were a wonderful steak cooked over a charcoal grill and a couple of bottles of an excellent red wine."
As for Johnson, reports that he broke his left leg while skiing the bowls for SI are unfounded. He broke it after skiing the bowls, when he fell during a climbing expedition on Mount Shasta in California. He was enjoying a day off at the time.