Snow Shooter: Yves Garneau

Photographer Yves Garneau lives high in the Swiss Alps where he shoots skiers for fun and home interiors for a living. His path in photography has been relatively traditional, picking up a camera in the days of film and later transitioning to the world of digital and post-production effects. Garneau has had a smooth career accept for one detail—he almost had to serve a year in an Italian prison for taking a photograph.

We chatted with Yves at his home in Verbier, Switzerland to learn more about his passion for photography and why he will never again take photos in Italy.

Yves Garneau strikes a pose. Photo: Yves Garneau

Yves Garneau strikes a pose. [Photo] Yves Garneau

Backcountry Magazine: What drew you to photography as a profession?

Yves Garneau: I was living in Whistler in 1996-97 when a friend of mine came home one day and put these shots of my friend and I snowboarding on the counter. I was really struck by how [beautiful] the images were and got interested in [photography] straight away. I bought a little Pentax camera and started shooting film.

BCM: What was it about action photography that called to you over other genres?

YG: Backcountry skiing and snowboarding was what attracted me to Whistler back then. As soon as I had a taste for the big mountains, I was hooked. When I discovered photography, I thought this is such a great way to document my lifestyle.

About 10 years ago, I also turned my attention to property photography and it sounds quite boring, but I needed to make a living. Ski photography is great fun and you can make some money at it, and there are a few photographers in the industry that do really well at it, but I was offered a job shooting some chalets and so I gave it a go. Now that’s one of my specialties around Verbier.

BCM: What suggestions do you have for aspiring photographers?

YG: That’s tough because when I learned to shoot photos it was all film, so you needed to buy film, you needed to pay to have it developed, you needed to mail your slides away. The process was a lot more expensive and a lot less [appealing]. Nowadays, you can take great photos with little devices. Digital technology has come so far that you are competing with more people.

I remember it struck me when I read about Chris O’Connell and how he was moving out of ski photography and into more commercial photography. I thought, “Wow, man! Really? What’s better than ski photography?” I was so obsessed with ski photography, meeting the pros, shooting out of helicopters. But now, I look back and I do commercial photography, too.

"Ilir Osmani navigates the towering ice blocks of the Saleina Glacier." | Mont Blanc, Switzerland | [Photo] Yves Garneau

Ilir Osmani navigates towering ice blocks of the Saleina Glacier. | Mont Blanc, Switzerland | [Photo] Yves Garneau

BCM: What is the craziest thing that has happened to you while shooting?

YG: This is a story I have never told, and it’s one of the reasons why I started to [shoot more interiors]. In 2010 I was shooting a couple of skiers over in Italy and one of them set off a very small avalanche. There was nobody caught, nobody hurt—the avalanche didn’t even hit the piste. But some ski patrolers saw it from a distance and called the police who came rushing and confiscated our stuff. They took us and held us in this little detention room and I had to sign a declaration that I didn’t understand because it was in Italian.

Six months later in the mail, a letter came saying, “You’ve gotta go to court. You’ve been accused of setting off an avalanche.” And so I looked up the Italian laws and found out that it is in the same category as blowing up a dam. So I spent three years in and out of Italian court, which cost me a lot of money, and I was found guilty and was sentenced to one year in prison. It wasn’t even me [who set off the avalanche]; it was the skier.

Our case was seamless—air tight. Number one, because I didn’t do it, and number two, because I had the skier that actually did it come to court with me. But my lawyer was so convinced that our case was so strong and our evidence was so strong that he wouldn’t have to call the witness who did it up to the stand. Also, because had he come to the stand and said, “I did it,” he would have incriminated himself causing a new trail.

My other friend who had been skiing with us that day testified and said, no it isn’t [Yves], it was this other guy over there that set it off. The two witnesses that testified against us had stories that didn’t line up and even the prosecutor at one point was laughing. It was a total farce. But the judge, I think she just felt like she needed to get somebody and my lawyer stood up at the end and said, “I have another witness. Do I need to call him to the stand?” And he pointed at the skier who had actually set off the avalanche—I mean there were only three of us in the courtroom. And she looked at us and said, “No, I have heard enough.” And the lawyer assumed that she understood that I was not guilty and that this should be a mistrial. So we adjourned for lunch and when we came back she said, “I have looked over it and I find you guilty.” But this all happened in Italian, and I see my lawyer slam his briefcase and walk out of the courtroom. And to the interpreter I was like, “What happened? What happened?” And the interpreter said, “You’re guilty!”

The judge said that I was sentenced to a year in jail, but because I had no previous crimes I could do probation, so I had five years probation. For the next five years I had to keep my nose clean while I was in Italy. My criminal record is only in Italy. So I decided to just leave Italy alone. I am never skiing in Italy again.

"Petter Meling stares out towards the north pole." | Svalbard, Norway | [Photo] Yves Garneau

Petter Meling stares out towards the North Pole. | Svalbard, Norway | [Photo] Yves Garneau

BCM: Based on your experience with avalanches, how do you approach safety when you are in the backcountry?

YG: Back in the day I would take a refresher course in avy training. One of the guides we did it with, he was a friend of mine, and he said something that stuck with me. He said, “You guys ski every day, you are in the mountains every day. You feel the snow and you know what’s going on. The number one thing you’ve gotta do is listen to your gut,” and I do rely on my gut—although my gut is more nervous now that I’m older. I have dug people out of avalanches before and I know that moving snow is no easy feat, so I am a lot more nervous and I ski with people I trust.

"Ilir Osmani conquers a chute on Les Fornets." | Champéry, Switzerland | [Photo] Yves Garneau

Ilir Osmani conquers a chute on Les Fornets. | Champéry, Switzerland | [Photo] Yves Garneau

BCM: How would you describe your photographic style?

YG: I am definitely a purist in the sense that I started with film and I like to get the right compositions from the beginning. When we used to send our photos in [by mail], what we shot was what was there. You couldn’t re-crop it; you just sent the slide in. But I have also embraced the technology. Digital is a different medium. We used to apply effects to the film, either black and white, grainy, etc. Nowadays you have a blank canvas and it is up to you to apply those effects afterwards in post processing. I like that. I like vivid colors. That’s my style.

BCM: What is the most spectacular thing you didn’t catch on camera?

YG: My father’s space-shuttle launch in 2000. He’s been to space three times but I was only a photographer at the time of his last mission. It was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever witnessed in person and I didn’t capture it on camera. Thankfully, a lot of people did.

See more of Yves Garneau’s images at


  1. dan dickinson says:

    Incredible Photos Yves – Keep on Shooting!

  2. Great shots!

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