It's often too easy to flick through the thousands of photos we see every week on social media without giving a second thought to the story behind the photo, or thinking about what it took to "get the shot"... Many times, to get the shot, there are weeks or months of preparation and patience. Sometimes it even takes years for the conditions to be just right to capture such moments. And in some cases the story behind the shot is more compelling than the actual photographic evidence. The following is the story of how Panda Chief TanSnowMan and Brent Benson Photography achieved "gettin' the shot" on an evening adventure from November 24th, 2012:
It had been a balmy afternoon, but the early season snowfalls had made for decent conditions above 8,000'. There were few clouds in the sky, and as the hour hand reached 3, the duo set out on their mission. Brent Benson had been eyeballing a feature at the top of the Wasatch Mountains for a few years, yet had not found the opportunity to shoot it since he first glimpsed its potential.
This "feature", a relic from the mining days of the Wasatch, dates back to 1875. The Silver Fork mine had been producing valuable metals for the last quarter of the 19th century, however once the mine "dried up" they moved the operations elsewhere, leaving behind an old steam powered winch, complete with a boiler and 10' tall smokestack. From when Brent first saw the smokestack, he knew that somebody would probably someday do a handplant on top of it, and he wanted to be the one to photograph it.
Brent had approached Oakley White-Allen with the concept to shoot this handplant, and Oakley quickly referred Brent to Panda Chief TanSnowMan--a guy he knew had an affinity for hand plants. After a couple days of coordinating, Brent and TanSnowMan had set a time and place to meet.
As they began their 1,600' ascent from the Alta Ski Area parking lot, the Sun was quickly dropping over the Oquihhr Mountains on the opposite side of the Salt Lake Valley. It was supposed to be a full Moon that night, and the sky was perfectly calm and clear. Brent was feeling optimistic about the conditions, but being that he had never skied with or photographed with the TanSnowMan, he was still unsure if the Panda Chief had the skills it would take to make this shoot work.
The moon had just started peeking over the ridge to their East as the two approach the old mine. With only headlamps and marginal moonlight, it was difficult to see the details of the boiler and smokestack. Regardless, TanSnowMan could already tell this was going to be a formidable project as he stared at the silhouette of the towering cast iron smokestack.
"We're gonna have to make a drop in starting over there," Brent gestures towards the rocky mountainside 30 ft uphill from the smokestack, "just make sure you don't fall into the mine. It's something like 600' deep." His gaze shifts just 20 ft. to the North, to the pitch black opening adjacent to the alleged "drop in".
Knots begin turning in TanSnowMan's stomach as he realizes the proximity of this bottomless pit to the proposed super-sketchy, rock-covered drop in. In his mind, he sees the mouth of a giant sand worm filled with gnashing teeth. "Welp (gulps)...at least the Moon will shine some light for us soon," his shaky voice, tries to maintain some positivity.
After an hour and a half of shaping a jump on top of an old spool of inch thick winch cable, and tossing snow as high up on the drop in as possible, TanSnowMan is ready to give it a try. Meanwhile, Brent is busy setting up his lighting array of 2 strobes, a yellow lamp, a red flashlight, and a yellow flashlight. "We're going to keep the shutter open for 30 seconds and pop the strobe as soon as you're on the stack. Sound good?" Brent checks with the weary Chief.
"Okee Doke! I think I've got this..." Replies TanSnowMan
The moon is high in the sky and the whole scene is illuminated by it's whitish glow. The first few jumps are test jumps, as TanSnowMan makes sure he has enough height to launch himself, partially inverted, towards the iron behemoth. A few tweaks are made to the jump and more snow is added to the drop in. With each attempt, TanSnowMan works his way--with edges eerily scraping against the jagged rock--higher and higher onto the rocky mountainside above the mineshaft, until finally he reaches a spot with enough height to get the proper speed.
"Ting! Kachink! Thud!"
"Ting! Kachink! Thud!"
"Ting! Kachink! Thud!"
The sound of clinking iron, immediately followed by the sound of a double strobe, and the thud of a body slamming the flat, snow covered ground beneath the smokestack begin to loop every 3 or 4 minutes, as TanSnowMan repeatedly hurls himself--partially inverted--toward the massive steam winch. The angle of the jump, coupled with the slow snow conditions, gnarly drop in, and low visibility creates a difficult situation for TanSnowMan to reach full extension on the handplant, causing him to come crashing down, with a massive thud, over and over. They still haven't gotten the shot, and with only so many beatings left in him, he begins to feel the agony of defeat. "Just give it one more try!" Yells Brent from his post 40 ft. away.
"Ting! Kachink! Thud!" The sound is the same, but this time the outcome is different. With just a little extra oomph, TanSnowMan manages to get himself to an almost fully extended position, giving Brent the pose he needed to make the shot come together. "I think we nailed it! Come check it out!" Brent yells.
The two review the shot together, and both agree that they got what they came for. However, TanSnowMan thinks he can get even just a little more extension, and decides to give it one more try.
"Ting! Kachink! Thud! Ahhhh!" A painful groan unfolds into the night air. The Panda Chief is sprawled out on the ground clutching his right shoulder. "Damnit! This is my good shoulder," he says as he slowly pushes the humoral head of his right arm back into it's socket. "I used to pop it in and out for fun when I was a kid, but it's never stayed out like this before", he gestures to Brent, showing him his freshly displaced limb.
"You gonna be okay to ski down?" Brent inquires while helping TanSnowMan back to his feet.
"I'll just make sure I don't fall on the way down," he replies.
The two gather Brent's gear together and ski 1600' back down the sticky, mucky snow, under the pale November moonlight, TanSnowMan timidly working his way down the slope without falling on his freshly tenderized appendage. After a 45 minute commute back down the hill, it's almost 11PM, and the two men are exhausted. Although it ended with a shoulder dislocation, Brent is confident that they got the shot he had in his mind for the last three or four years. He expresses his appreciation for TanSnowMan's tireless devotion, they say their goodbyes, and drive their separate ways down a star-filled Little Cottonwood Canyon.
The shot was eventually submitted to various U.S. publications, but was never selected by the editors. After over a year of holding the shot, Brent decided the time had come that he was willing to offer licensing rights to Panda Poles. And now, after exactly 3 years, we are releasing the photo to our fans!
Although to this day, the Panda Chief still has shoulder issues from that final crash, he and Brent managed to accomplish the goal of "Gettin' The Shot"... And let us assure you, this one's goin' above the mantle...
Tribe UP Brent Benson Photography!