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Photo Epic: Reminiscing on My First Season in the Ski Industry

By Katherine Donnelly on

Oh, hey there. My name is Katherine, and I am the Operations Manager here at TREW. What does the title Operations Manager mean exactly? Well, it's more of a catchall - because referring to myself as the "Manager of Content, Online Experience, Customer Service + Satisfaction, Order Fulfillment, Warranties + Repairs, and All-around Miscellaneous Shortstop" just doesn't roll off the tongue as well. 

This being my first year working at TREW Gear, I quickly learned the age-old lesson that I have been warned about ever since mentioning out loud that I wanted to work in the ski industry: your days on snow - and by 'on snow' I mean actually shredding - will be cut down dramatically. Your busy season is now winter, and it's all hands on deck. That goes double when your core team is only three people strong, and even when you've completed your so-called job responsibilities, it just means it's time to throw on another hat and get back to work. 

Believe me, I am not complaining. I absolutely love my job, and to top it off I adore the people I get to work with. My role at TREW is my dream job, and has been since I first saw a pair of TREWth Bibs on my hometown slopes back in Vermont in 2009. I was a total goner, and regardless of my relatively dismal count of a mere 20 days on snow this season, it's 100% worth it to get to do what I do.

Plus, there's that lingering bonus of a season-ender athlete trip that the entire TREW team takes up to Revelstoke at the end of April each year that doesn't hurt, either....In a world without COVID-19, we'd be packing up and rallying the troops right about now to begin the haul up to Blanket Glacier Chalet. Followed by a full spring and summer of some righteous corn harvest tours with new and old friends across the PNW. There were some big plans in the works but alas, I'll just have to hang 'em up and wait until next year.

So while I sit here in my new home office (a.k.a. the corner seat of our shabby sectional couch) and mourn the Winter that only sorta happened, I begin to reminisce about those 20 days that I did get. This season didn't pan out as I had originally hoped, but that doesn't mean there weren't some truly stellar moments to be had. And as a mediocre hobbyist behind the lens, I may not have had the camera on (or ready) to capture every single one - but now is as good a moment as ever to share my favorite images from the 2019/20 season.

I hope you enjoy, and are able to ride on the memories below to transport yourself back to your own favorite moments from this Winter!

Spoiler alert: I am not a professional photographer, nor do I ski with professional skiers or snowboarders. But I do my best to have a damn good time when ever given the chance, and I like to think that my 21 photos below (and subsequent memories included) below will show that. Also, you will see a lot of photos of my #1 touring partner/husband, Ian. Sorry, but only kinda.

Photo 1, December 24 - Sugarbush, VT

^ This is my mom, Betsy, ripping up the local stomping grounds at Sugarbush during my holiday trip back to Vermont. This was the first time my whole direct family had all skied together, and it was a blast to shred some groomers on a gloriously sunny Christmas Eve, make fun of my brother for falling when his 'binding broke', get to know my new sister-in-law better, and meet up with old friends for a beer after family time on the slopes. I love the PNW, but my heart will always be home in New England.

Photos 2 + 3,  January 5 - White River Canyon, Mt. Hood, OR

^ After a fun trip back east for the holidays, Ian and I made our way back to Oregon and were able to get up to Mt. Hood for a short tour on January 5th. What I remember most about this day is 1) we had surprisingly good snow (and by good, I mean not too wet but still rather heavy) despite high temps and only skiing low-angle terrain, 2) a few minutes after this photo was taken, Ian took a big fall in front of a snowshoeing family and I'll admit I laughed hard and then asked him if he was okay, and 3) we went to Skyway afterwards and they cooked my frickles and burger perfectly. All around, it was a good day and I would trade just about anything right now to do it again today.

 ^ Wearing my new hat as Operations Manager at TREW this winter, I took a ton of photos of Ian rocking his gear and always tried to get our marketing guy to use them for social or ads. Ian hates being the 'model', but this was the first photo that my teammates saw and said "that's actually a decent shot". It was never used, but I still really like it. Maybe it's the fact that I think Ian is sexy as hell, I like the snow falling around him, or a combination of both, but I love this photo. 

Photo 4, January 13 - Mount Hood Meadows, OR

^ Once in a blue moon, a weekday storm rolls in that's just too promising to pass up on and the TREW team makes moves up to Mt. Hood for a "product testing" day. And while Nate, the marketing guru at the time, was busy in Japan for the month, the rest of us TREWpers hit up Mt. Hood Meadows for the first (and what ended up being the only) 2019/20 company ride day. Needless to say, but everyone was loving life back then.

Here's Chris, our trusty CEO, co-founder, and resident rad dad. I'll try not to get too mushy, but he's the best boss I've ever had, is a fantastic person inside and out, and an all-around good guy. If anything get's me hooked on a small company, it's knowing that it's being run by someone who's in it for the right reasons and cares about more than just the bottom line. And did I mention he bakes a killer Sourdough? Yes, even before he was quarantined...

Photos 5 + 6, January 19 - Tilley Jane, Mt. Hood, OR

^ In past winters, most - if not all - of these photos would have had my own dog, Jossi, in them. But with my pup growing older and not able to join in on backcountry tours any longer, I have to rely on my human partners and stranger's dogs for photos. Lucky for me, my January 19th tour at Tilley Jane on Mt. Hood provided the perfect subject for a stoke shot. Two female snowshoers walked up on my friend and I as we were enjoying an adult beverage near the A-frame, and with them came this stoked up hound. Suffice it to say, I took about 200 photos of the dog and only a few came out alright with all of the excited wiggles she was throwing down. Dog's are the best, and I dare anyone to see this photo and not smile. This is how skiing makes me feel, and it's a great reminder in why we get outside in the first place: because it makes us happy. 

^ This photo comes from the same January tour of Tilley Jane as the pup image above it, although it differs drastically in both style and reasoning for being included in this photo epic. My friend Lauren was so kind as to stand still for 5 minutes while I tried to get 'artsy', as I like to call it. My typical photography skills rely equally on fast action and luck, but when the snow is crusty and the skiing is horse shit you have to get a little creative. Skinning behind Lauren, I caught a glimpse of Hood through her sunglasses and thought, "hey, that's pretty cool". And then I went black and white with it in post-production, which is one more thing that I rarely do. This photo is a risk for me that up until this day I hadn't really taken - and for that matter, I hadn't really thought about taking either. While I am all about rad pow shots and images of gnarly cliff drops, I really hope that I can build off of this days mindset and start finding new and creative angles when I'm in the mountains -- and not just when the skiing is sub-par.

Photo 7, January 26 - Palmer Glacier, Mt. Hood, OR

^ Sometimes, you head out early for a slog up Palmer only to realize that you're socked in and shouldn't keep going. When my friend Kirby and I made it to the Timberline parking lot, we knew it would be a blustery day with low-vis, but as we ascended from the trailhead things only continued to get worse. By the time we reached Silcox Hut, we couldn't see our own skis on the ground and we made the call to transition and head back to the car. It was by far the most windy and foggy day I have ever experienced on Hood to this date, but Kirby and I still had a blast - even if we had to yell ourselves hoarse over the howling winds and snowplow our way down the scoured, icy crust that awaited our descent. Lesson learned: even a short, shitty day in the mountains is better than staying home. And sometimes you spend more time driving to and from the mountain than you do on snow - for this day, I spent four hours driving and approximately an hour clicked in. Not an ideal ratio, but it happens.

Photos 8 + 9, February 7 - Mount Hood Meadows, OR

 ^ Most days on snow for me are spent touring, but every once in a while Ian and I will splurge for a day pass to Meadows so that we can shred with our resort buddies. This was one of those days, and both the feature photo and the pic below are from this magical February 7th day as well. What began as a cloudy, foggy day burned off to become a bluebird winter wonderland, and while there wasn't much fresh snow to be found in bounds, we made do with what we could find. The majority of the day was spent hot-lapping Cascade and bombing groomers, but after a bit of bushwacking off the top of Vista lift we found this gem of an untouched wave and the crew lined up to surf it. Miles, being the most stylish of the group, came up to bat first and blasted it. The entire sequence of this turn is rad, but this photo is my favorite from the bunch. 3" never looked so damn good.

^ The bulk of my days on snow are spent with one or two people in the backcountry. I have zero complaints, as I am one who strives for solitude, close-knit groups, and a bit of type 2 fun thrown in among the shredding. But I absolutely love taking a day or two every once in a while, splurging on a lift ticket, and rallying the crew for some fun, loose, and rowdy times in bounds. 

To me, skiing at the resort comes with little expectations and the days spent there are more about spending time with your friends than anything else. Lift rides, bar breaks, and tail gaiting all cultivate a camaraderie among your friends - new and old - and this photo aptly portrays Ian having a blast in some not-so-gnarly terrain flanked by a few of the crew from the day. Big smiles from a proper day of ripping up dust on crust with the posse. 

Also, typical to Ian his pockets are wide open and that just always cracks me up, No matter how many times I zip his pockets for him before dropping in, they always end up gaping by the time I pull the camera out. I swear it's magic....

Photo 10, February 12 - White River Canyon, Mt. Hood, OR

^ My first ever photo shoot! This year was the first time in TREW's 10 year history that we dropped brand new product in February, and this photo is some behind-the-scenes gold from our day up on Hood getting some product photos for the new launch. 

Two main things stick out to me from this day: 1) I got paid to go skiing and take photos of people taking photos. Yes, you read that right: I GOT PAID TO GO SKIING. It still sounds weird to me, and I can't believe that this is my life. And 2) heading into this shoot, we needed two women to "model" for us. It wasn't until 9PM the night before the shoot that I had the models on board, and I found them via Instagram from a friend of a friend of a friend - not knowing who they were, what their abilities were, or if they would actually fit in a Medium sample kit. Fast forward to 8AM the next morning in the White River Parking Lot, and turns out the two women (pictured here) I found online could have been legit models - tall, blonde, beautiful - and they were both rad AF. I guess social media is good for something after all...

Photo 11, February 18 - White River Canyon, Mt. Hood, OR

 ^ We found the pow, and I even managed to snipe Ian through the trees. Our friend Tom had come to visit, and we brought him out onto Hood for his first Oregon tour. Unlike the other photos in this collection, I don't have much of a story to tell -- rather, this image just makes me happy. Good snow, good friends, and an aggressive pole-plant :)

Photos 12 + 13, February 19 - Tom, Dick, and Harry, Mt. Hood, OR

^ Despite bringing our friend Tom out touring the day before, we dragged him out again - this time to Tom, Dick, and Harry. This being one of the first times we had ever gone into TDH, we followed the only tracks we could find that early in the morning and the skin track was ill-set, steep, and overall a big pain in the ass. Tom, being a 6'5" lanky kid on a swallowtail split-board, had a very hard time with the ascent: tree wells became affectionally known as 'Tom-wells' after this tour, and it took us about 3 hours to get to the transition point after Tom took many diggers along the way. But we made it, with only a few scratches, and we got to show Tom some of that notorious Cascade Concrete he's heard so much about. And somehow Tom was still smiling, albeit quite tired and sore already. The next photo shows a taste of the descent.

^ Those who call the PNW home know only too well that within only a turn or two of skiing, the snow can go from light and fluffy to wet and heavy - and that is specifically true at Tom, Dick, and Harry since the elevations are lower than other  Mt Hood tours. After a long trek uphill with Tom on the caboose, we finally got to turn back down and enjoy the goods. This was one of Ian's first turns at the very top of the first pitch, and it was great snow; this was also the first time I had snagged a shot of anyone on Hood getting nearly pitted in what felt like blower pow (okay, maybe not quite blower but compared to what we're used to here it was so fluffy!). I'm lucky to have grabbed this shot, because the next turn (and all of the turns from then on) provided wet, heavy pow that just stuck to Ian's skis and made for some laughably awkward photos. I think Tom went back home to Colorado after this trip with no desire to ever come back, but maybe we will be able to convince him to come visit again in a year or two...

Photos 14-16, February 22 - White River Canyon, Mt. Hood, OR

^ If there was on place on Hood that I would call home, it would be White River Canyon. It's nothing crazy up there, but this season I spent the majority of my 20 days on snow exploring all of the diverse terrain that you can access from this one trailhead. On this day, February 22, a group of friends and I left the parking lot early and were lucky enough to find that recent snow had filled in the creek and we could cross over to finally try out the looker's right side of the canyon. While we were the first at the trailhead, we were soon joined by many others looking to harvest some of the new snow.

By the time it was noon, the place was bustling with people and our group starting making our way back to the cars to avoid the crowds - but before that, the only people we could see from our skintrack were these two bootpackers hiking the ridge to our left. I loved their contrast to the layers of white, and going black and white in post-production only made them stand out more. It's not an earth-shattering photo in any way, but I fall head over heels for the shots that show our own scale in these massive mountains. This is one of them for me.

^ This photo is from the same day, February 22. I mentioned above that I love White River Canyon, and this photo shows a huge reason why it is such a beloved place to me: that view. It's hard to go touring in this zone without having Mt. Hood urging you on from the distance, and this particular view of Hood gives me butterflies. On this day, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and despite the long tour and tired legs I don't think anyone could wipe the smiles off their faces. As an added bonus, the temps reached 40 and we were treated to some of the best corn snow I've ever skied -- in February! As you can tell, Ian is also pretty stoked at our luck and his grin says it all as he looks back at me before we made the call to take a snack break.

^ Yep, this is a third photo (and last, I promise) from that same day. But it was just one of those days where everything - and I mean everything - lines up. Sun, check. Great snow, check. The company, check. And after a few laps of corn harvesting, Ian and Zack (pictured) gave a go on a small transfer they had been eyeing. Zack being an ex-pro snowboarder decided that he should try out a backflip on his ski setup, because why not. He hit this feature twice, the first time he over-rotated but the second time he stomped it.

Meanwhile, I had a new telephoto lens that I had just received in the mail and this was my chance to try and capture from afar. I took a LOT of photos that day, but this one is above all my favorite -- and it may even be my favorite from the entire season. I am still trying to learn my way around the new lens (and the camera as a whole, to be honest) so hopefully next season I can improve on this shot and my overall style. 

Photo 17, March 2 - Alta, UT

^ If you saw this photo and thought, "that's not Oregon", then you were right! The first week of March, Ian and I made the trek down to Utah for some family ski time (which turned out to be the perfect timing before shit hit the fan and COVID shut the world down). 

This photo is from our second run on the first day at Alta, March 2. We had made our way up the Supreme lift, hiked into Catherine's, only to find that everything was tracked out. Not a huge surprise, as Utah was feeling a bit of a recent drought and there hadn't been any fresh snow in some time. After bootpacking up to the entry gates (and feeling like we were going to die from the elevation), we started to click back in and traverse over to some trees in search of any semblance of freshies. Along the way, I saw this small patch of untouched snow - and not only did the snow look amazing, but the lighting was stunning. I immediately asked (okay, begged) Ian to take his skis off and hike up the 30 ft or so to the top of the patch. He obliged (very begrudgingly) and got one turn in for me, which he said was not even worth it. He spent the day pretty peeved at me for making him hike, but that evening I showed him the photos. His response? "Turns out you don't have to be very good at skiing to look good skiing powder." Preach. And thanks for hiking, Ian!

Photos 18 + 19, March 3 - Alta Backcountry, UT

^ Just a cool private cat near the Alta parking lot with some clutch stickers. New life goal: own one of these and live somewhere where you can only access your home with a cat. 

^ It was March 3, and instead of skiing at Alta again with my family (and spending a buttload of money to do so) Ian and I decided to explore some of the backcountry access from our rental. This photo makes it look like we had a pretty good time - and sure, we had fun being out in the mountains together - but what this picture doesn't show is the terrifying skin up and the very bad ski out. We got about three turns each of decent (albeit very wet for Utah) snow before things got pretty dicey. The snow from the day before had baked the hell out of nearly all aspects, and that dust on top of a prominent crust was extremely breakable and more than a few slabs broke off as we made our way down. 

So why is this photo in here? Because 1) I still like the shot and despite it being a tumultuous day I had a blast and 2) getting to go skiing with Ian and spending the day surrounding by the incredible Little Cottonwood Canyon peaks was incredible. The older I get and the less ski days I accrue in any given season, the more I cherish the company and the surroundings more than the actual ski conditions. I wound't say I'd stick my nose up at a pow day, but damn if I don't just feel on top of the world being outside adventuring with my favorite person in the world. 

Photo 20, March 19 - Mount Hood Meadows, OR

^ This was March 19th at Mt. Hood Meadows. The resort had made the call the proceeding Sunday to close for at least a week due to COVID-19, and shortly after this halfpipe session they announced that they would be suspending operations for the remainder of the season. Looking back at this day and the whole week, the world was in a very strange and uncertain place - not to say it still isn't but this was the week where things began to hit home and have a strong impact on both my life and what seems like the country as a whole. It was a Thursday, and our newest TREW team member Hibbs wanted to take the day off to hit Hood while we still had our chance. Meadows was still allowing for uphill traffic, and their park was still in mint condition, and so we made our way out of the city and met up with athlete Hunter Knoll to have a little jam session. 

Heading into this day on snow, I was pretty freaked out and not entirely sure what was happening or what was real. But as nature and the mountains typically do, I was quickly ushered out of my own headspace and found revitalization and hope in spending time outside. I had an inkling that this would be one of my final days on skis, and what was meant to be a shorter day turned into a full-length outing. Because if you're about to be stuck at home, you've gotta take advantage of what you got, when you got it. 

Photo 21, March 21 - Mount St. Helens, WA

^ The last photo in this collection, and it represents my last day on snow from the 2019/20 ski season. This was Saturday, March 21, which is barely even a month ago...but as with many things during this period of quarantine, time has lost its grasp on me and this day feels like a distant memory, or even more like a dream than anything else.

A few friends and I made our way up to Mount St. Helens (don't worry, we didn't carpool and we kept up social distancing the entire time). While we didn't necessarily know for sure, or even really talk about it, I think we all knew that this was going to be one of - if not the - final day of skiing until the pandemic eased up. It was a beauty of a day: sun out, temps rising, and gorgeous views of the Cascades and surrounding hills. It was the epitome of Spring skiing, and by the time we transitioned we were all wearing t-shirts and ready for some serious slush on the way down. 

I had the camera in tow, and took photos the entire way up. But as we transitioned for the downhill, I opted to pack away the camera and enjoy what lay below me. I bet there would have been some great shots of our descent to be had, but I don't need photos to remind me of how I felt on that day. We transitioned, and I let the guys go down first. For a moment, I just stood there taking it all in. And as I started moving down the fall-line, I made a pact with myself to just ski for me on that long and windy run back to the car. No camera, no showing off, and no worries - just having fun and enjoying the sport that I've been enjoying for over 27 years now. I can still close my eyes and feel the light breeze on my sunburnt and sweaty face as I watched my friends turn their way down the volcano. You better believe that my mind goes to that moment a whole lot these days, and while I am bummed beyond belief that our Spring ski season was only 1 day long this year I can't thank the universe and my good fortune enough for allowing me this one day to realize just how good I had it -- and how good it will be again, in due time. 



And with that, I thank you for joining me on this photo epic and hope that you enjoyed at least a few of the photos. Things are bleak, scary, and uncertain these days, and my love and best wishes go out to every single one of you either fighting this thing on the frontlines or making the sacrifice to stay home and flatten the curve.

Let's try to keep things positive. We will get through this, and we'll be better for it. The mountains will be there waiting when we come out the other side...

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