Abby Stanford is almost always wearing a smile, even when the shit hits the fan, like the time she took an ice axe to the face. She’s been carving down mountainsides with a camera in hand for years, and her skills on snow and behind the lens have earned her a solid spot in the landscape of ski and snowboard photography. We tracked Abby down via telephone (despite accidentally dialing 911 in the process—calling Canada is tricky) to talk photography, the mountains and old people making out.
Backcountry: How did you get into photography?
Abby Stanford: I started photography while I was still in high school. I just entered some local competitions and I never ever thought that it could be a grown-up-person job. Then I went to university and saw that it was a real thing. I think my parents thought that I ate film as a kid. I just took pictures of everything and anything. Skiing and snowboard photography is like the best of the best, just merging my two passions into one. I don’t think you can get any better than that.
BCM: What goes into making a great shot?
AS: Every shot is so unique. It’s hard to just sum that up in a single answer. Every shot has different lighting, different athletes, different conditions. It’s when you have those moments where everything just kind of comes together. Even if the weather is crappy outside, snow conditions aren’t ideal, maybe your athlete is not from around there or they don’t know the drill. But you have that one moment of making a solid turn and a glimpse of light or just the best attitude. That makes the shot.
BCM: What are some of the defining moments in your career?
AS: I’m like a little kid. Every time I get published in a magazine I totally get giddy. Two years ago was the first time I was published internationally, in Australia and the UK. That was pretty big for me. Also, now I’m getting to the point where I’m off on assignments more regularly. By far the coolest assignment that I have ever gone on was the SheJumps Alpine Finishing School. That was unreal. I wish I could do it every year.
BCM: What’s the sketchiest experience you have gotten yourself into?
AS: Unfortunately, usually the best locations to set up and to shoot from are in avy run-outs, so that’s a constant battle. You’re like, “Do I get the shot or do I get an avalanche in the face?” There have definitely been some traverses that I think just having the extra weight of camera gear is a mental block. When it’s a ridge, you’re like, “Ok, not only is it super sketchy if I fall, but I have a million pounds of camera gear on my back which is going to drag me all the way to the bottom.”
Also, getting an ice axe in the face was a good time. The person in front of me was going up, and they had a leash on their ice axe. It didn’t go in how they thought it did, and they dropped it and it bungee-corded back into my face. I think that would be even more embarrassing if I had hit myself in the face though.BCM: What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you lately?
AS: I was walking into the gym with my friends, and it was sunny and rainy out at the same time. Someone once told me when it’s sunny and rainy it means that old people are making out, and it’s so weird that it just stuck with me. I said to my friend as I walked into the changing room, “Old people are making out, it’s sunny and raining.” This 75-year-old lady was like, “Oh, guess I’m going to go find some tonight.”
BCM: Any words for an aspiring photographer?
AS: Internships. Seriously, I mean I did the whole university route for photography, and it was awesome, and I loved it, and I think it’s great, but there’s something about working alongside a photographer day in and out that just opens your eyes. There is so much more that goes into it, and just learning that and how to deal with running a business and not just taking pictures is so important.