You've probably seen Pete Alport, or his work, before (like, on this week's cover). He rises before dawn and is out in the snow most days shooting photos and videos for Mt. Bachelor or nationally read magazines like Snowboarder and Freeskier. He's a case-study of the modern snowboard "bum," in the sense that he devotes the bulk of his time to skiing and snowboarding (and building features, like the rail jam at WinterFest), but also has fashioned a reasonable living doing just that.
the Source: Could your job have existed 10 years ago? 20?
Pete Alport: Yes, it did exist. Ski and snowboard videographers were living the dream back in the early '90s—and even earlier, with guys like Warren Miller. The social media platform, though, has given way to a whole new marketing outlet. If you have a good, consistent product, you can advertise it for free, and I try to do that daily.
How did you get involved in the profession?
In 1998 my grandma bought me my first camera. I had a little experience before, but the one from my grandma shot hundreds of hours of video. I shot mostly snowboarding and skiing, but it had night vision, so there was a ton of party footage, too. I continued to injure myself snowboarding, so I decided to go to college, graduated from Portland State, did a few sales jobs and always had a video camera on hand. One day I said this life isn't for me. I went to work for RAGE Films, then to Poor Boyz Productions. Today, I have clients all over.
You get out on the mountain and into the backcountry more than most. Is it fair to call you a modern-day snowboard bum? What is it about your world that makes such a lifestyle possible?
My lifestyle is possible for a number of reasons. First, I've learned I don't need much sleep, maybe four to five hours a night. Second, if I'm not being productive I get stressed out. Pushing myself to achieve my work goals brings me the most happiness, outside of my kids. Third, I'm highly competitive, so I constantly want to be doing the best I can. Finally, I live in the best place on the planet for what I want to do.
What does your typical winter day look like?
I have two styles of winter work days—one for Mt. Bachelor, and the other for working with clients in the backcountry. Working in the backcountry starts with a 4 am wake-up. Gear is already prepped the night before. Then I check avalanche report, wake up the crew, gas up the sled and eat breakfast while driving to the trailhead. [After a safety check and driving snowmobiles to the shoot location] we choose what looks best. Sometimes it's a line, sometimes we build a jump, sometimes both. And repeat that as many times as possible during the day. At day's end, we drive back, load footage to computer, shower, head out to dinner, review footage with riders, make a game plan for the next day, go to bed, and do it all over again. Sometimes for eight to 14 days in a row.
One of the aspects people so appreciate about your photography is the obvious hard work that's involved. The building of jumps (big ones!), the early-morning shoots, the athleticism—is that the kind of thing photographers have to do now to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack?
Yes, and you have to love working in the snow. I can go all day, 12 months a year. Also, I push the crews' limits because I feel what they say about our brain is the same thing about our body—we only use one third of it. I have a flexible schedule and, when conditions are safe, we go. If it snows in September and I know a spot, rest assured I'm trying to rally out there with a crew and get things done. There is so much truth to the played-out phrase YOLO—tomorrow is never promised.
Tell me about your photo and video gear. What do you appreciate about today's technology?
I believe the person behind the camera produces the great shot, not the camera in front of the person. That said, today's technology is awesome! My DSLR is lighter than some of the fancier rigs, and I can shoot video or photo at will. I'll cover tons of ground with my lighter set up, my batteries last longer, and I can get into sketchier hiking zones to get the shot. My clients are happy.
It seems like 10 years ago a fellow like yourself would try to become a staff photographer for a well known publication. Instead, you freelance for magazines and rely on social media for increased exposure. Is that the way of the world now? Is variety and freedom better than stable and consistent (and possibly boring)?
I have one long-term game plan: to work in outdoors in the snow as long as I can. Video and photo are only two-thirds of my business. The final third is designing snow features for the backcountry, street, and park. Sometimes, I feel like this is what I'm meant to focus all of my energy on. Snow is a great medium to manipulate—I think all day long about what I can build for snowboarding and skiing. Turn those ideas into actions, produce, and put it out there in the crazy social media world for people to get stoked on. I get a good high out of the process. •