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Whistler's New Campaign, Behind the Lens: A Q&A With Photographer Mike Helfrich

Mike Helfrich

Mike Helfrich

Aside from being one of the top ski resorts in the world, Whistler is known for its cutting edge marketing campaigns.

Take the Whistler Sabbatical Project campaign of 2011/2012: the contest awarded its lucky winner with the trip of a lifetime to Whistler, chock-full of unique experiences like heli-skiing, action sports photography lessons, private fine dining experiences, and a whole lot more.

The following year brought the #WhistlerUnfiltered campaign, which invited visitors and residents to contribute their own Whistler photos. The award-winning 2012/2013 campaign saw more than 25,000 images tagged and shared as part of the program.

The #WhistlerUnfiltered campaign was such a success that it’s being carried over into the 2013/2014 winter season, with a professional twist.

Behind the Lens” is the name of the new campaign, and it incorporates contributions from the “people” and the “pros”. Led by internationally-renown (and Whistler-based) action sports photographer Blake Jorgenson, “Behind the Lens; the Pros’ Lens” encompasses a finely curated collection of professional photographs representing the wide range of opportunities and experiences offered in Whistler.

The photographs making up the collection were not created specifically for the project. Rather, Jorgenson scoured through scores of existing photographs, hand-picking a select few that, combined, would tell the Whistler story in its entirety.

The final collection from behind the pros’ lenses is nothing short of spectacular. The website features the dozen photos that made the cut. Clicking on the photos takes the reader to the story behind the photo. Videos, additional photos, and other interactive elements round out the concept that a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Among the talented photographers that made the final cut is Mike Helfrich. Living in Whistler by way of California, Mike is a young photographer to watch in the world of action sports photography. His image, “Of Fire and Ice”, captures the spectacular ski and snowboard trick show that takes place every Sunday evening in the heart of Whistler Village.

With Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains in the background and the starry sky overhead, thousands of spectators gather for this weekly show. The audience cheers on the town’s best skiers and snowboarders as they hurl themselves through rings of fire, performing spectacular aerials and gravity-defying tricks. Complete with fire dancers and a firework display, the show offers a sneak peek of the electric atmosphere that infiltrated Whistler when it hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.


I had the opportunity to speak with Mike to learn more about his involvement with the project and the significance of the Fire and Ice show. Here’s what he had to say.

Magee Walker: How did you get started with the Whistler’s Behind the Lens campaign?

Mike Helfrich: One day out of the blue, I got a call from Blake Jorgenson asking if I could send him some photos of the Whistler lifestyle for a potential spot in the Behind the Lens campaign. All the other categories had already found a photo and the lifestyle area was still unfulfilled. So I dove into my photo library and went as far back as the Olympics in search of anything I had that represented the Whistler lifestyle.

MW: And what made you go the Fire and Ice show route?

MH: When I came across the fire and ice image I was almost hesitant to send it because I was not so sure it was a “lifestyle” image. Long story endless, I sent him a handful of photos and this was the only shot with action in it.

MW: What was your reaction when you found out he had picked your image for the lifestyle component?

MH: I was, needless to say, pretty stoked!

MW: Have you had a chance to look at any of the other photographers’ stories? Any favorites?

MH: Of course I’ve checked out the other stories, they are all amazing! So many different sides to be perceived. One of my favourites is Jussi Grznar’s photos of Beau Bishop. Such an amazing story of pain, strength, and unity. That is what Whistler is built on, because with no pain would we have no perception of what happiness actually is.

MW: What are your plans for the upcoming snow season? Any big projects/trips/competitions planned?

MH: My plan this winter is to be free. Living in Whistler as a photographer is strange. Plans are very far and wide, everything happens on the fly here because we have learned not to put to much faith in the weather man. If it is on, we go! So my plan to be able to fly free like a bird this winter and to be able to take advantage of every opportunity that knocks.

MW: Aside from the Fire and Ice show, what’s the best thing about living in Whistler?

MH: The best thing about Whistler to me is the dynamics and the diversification of the people and the things we do. Mountain biking and snowboarding on the same mountain peak. It’s a year around playground. To be able to stand back on the other side of the glass and observe the amazing things we do, it’s a beautiful dream.

Mike signed off with “Think Winter!”, which is getting easier to do now that it is just around the corner. Check out more of Mike’s work at his website, mikehelfrich.com.


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