At 8am the first gunshot fired, signalling the start of the 2014 Holmenkollmarsjen in Norway. I stood at the side of the start line and watched the colourfully-dressed competitors through my 200mm lens. Minutes before there had been jokes and laughter, hearty pats on the back and hand-shakes amongst friends, but now there was just fierce determination in their faces as their bodies powered toward the first of many snowy inclines.
With my camera rolling ( I was filming the race as well as taking photos ) I panned carefully to the right and watched them disappear over the brow of the hill and down the other side towards the first timing system along the route. And it was because of those systems that I was there in the first place.
I’d been hired just days before by a Danish sports timing company whom I’d worked for in the past. After arriving at Holmenkollen just north of Oslo, I watched as my suitcase full of warm clothes disappeared in one direction whilst I was driven away in another to start filming. “It won’t take more than a few minutes,” the driver told me when I questioned how cold I was going to get.
Slowly the vehicle we were travelling in started to climb a snaking track covered in flattened snow. The van handled extremely well until about half way up when the snow chains on the right hand side finally gave in. Together the three of us managed to reconnect them and manoeuvre the van out of the drift we had slid in to, but it didn’t take long for the process to repeat itself. At first I couldn’t think of a better place to break down. It was peaceful and beautiful alone on the track with the snow falling gently around us. But when it dawned on me how much further we had to drive, and that we still had a job to do and get back down before it got really dark, then I started to get concerned.
Salvation came in the form of a Norwegian man in his BMW. We were towed to safety further up the hill ( mountain is too much of a generous word ) and got on with installing the first of two systems. For me it was the first time I’d been waist deep in snow with thousands of pounds of camera equipment strapped to my back. “Where’s an assistant when you need one,” I thought to myself.
So I snapped away and got all the footage that I needed, and when we were finished, with no help arriving and a possible long evening trapped in the snow, we collectively decided that heading back down would be the safest option. Needless to say that this was not as easy as it sounds. Especially when the brakes decided to give in just inches from the edge of a steep drop over the side.
By 5am the following morning we were all back outside again. It was dark, it was cold, and it was early, but the team broke the stillness of the morning by eagerly whizzing around on snow mobiles carrying extra equipment to their destinations.
So much work went on behind the scenes that morning that I almost forgot what a tough race this was going to be for the competitors. Seeing all the staff, logistics, equipment, data, problems and how they came to be fixed really made be stand back and appreciate how much hard work goes in to these events, and this was just a one-day ski marathon. If you’re watching any of the Sochi Winter Olympics right now then you’ll no doubt be in awe of the speed and skills of those men and women on the slopes. I am too. But I’m also wondering whether there’s a small group of people trapped up a mountain somewhere waiting for backup.