The Ring of Fire: Snowboarding the Snowmass Terrain Park by Night

By Catherine Aeppel

A snowboarder slides a rail at night as spinning steel wool engulfs him in a circle of flames.

This was the image I had in my mind that I craved to achieve in a single frame – one long exposure with a fast enough flash duration that the action would be frozen, despite the length of the open shutter. With this shot in mind, I selected the Siros 800 L Outdoor Kit as these battery-powered monolights are incredibly durable and could provide the portability, strength and fast flash duration I would need to give myself the highest potential opportunity for success in capturing this complex image.

In order to familiarize myself with the lights prior to the more complicated snowboard shoot, I did a test shoot with several poi spinners (Jeff Erickson and David Knutson). With one Siros 800 L head with barndoors positioned to the left of the camera and angled 45 degrees towards the subject, and another Siros 800 L head directly across from it, coming in from behind the subject’s left shoulder, and modified with a 30-degree grid, I was able to capture a handful of interesting photographs. With my camera set to rear curtain sync, the action was sharply frozen at the end of the exposure and the poi created a captivating light painting throughout the frame. All went smoothly with the test shoot and so it was time to bring together fire, snowboarding and powerful strobes to see what kind of magic we could create.

On the night of our shoot, which was taking place at the terrain park in Snowmass with generous special access granted by the Aspen Skiing Company, we met up with ski patrol after the mountain closed to the public. With their help, we shuttled our gear and small crew (myself, skier Tae Westcott, snowboarder Chase DeMeulunaere and steel wool spinner Jeff Erickson) up to the terrain park to get setup. There were several uncontrollable factors at play during our shoot: the mountain was lacking early season snowfall which meant that it was very important that our shoot did not interfere with the existing snow base, and a storm was forecasted to start rolling in that night which ultimately led to windier conditions than anticipated. Given the state of the snowpack’s base, we knew that we would have a very limited number of opportunities to execute the shot with spinning wool as we did not want to risk damaging the tenuous snowpack. I set up two Siros 800 L heads in a similar layout as the test shoot with one strobe with barndoors to the left of camera facing 45 degrees towards the rail and a bare head with an L40 reflector as a cross-directional back light. We had a continuous light running off of a generator that lit the take-off for the athletes, but I dialed down the ambient exposure until it was black as I wanted to limit and prevent any spill that could result from the continuous light.

I did not nail the shot in our first few attempts, and with winds quickly increasing in intensity and a limited number of opportunities to shoot with the steel wool on location, I decided to pivot my approach and instead capture a plate of the spinning steel wool and separately nail the action in a second frame to ultimately create a composite representative of my original idea. While I deeply yearned to nail this photo in one frame, I knew that to successfully line up all of the factors perfectly would mean lots and lots and lots of spinning steel wool, which was not an option given the circumstances.

The true blessing of the Siros 800 L kit proved to be that, despite the challenges and having to adjust our approach, they performed excellently and consistently in the windy, frigid conditions. While I was not able to execute the shoot entirely as I had originally envisioned, the reliability of the lighting kit still gave me all of the tools I needed to find an alternative solution and make the most out of a challenging shoot situation.


Catherine is an adventure photographer and filmmaker based in Colorado. From the beaches of Israel to the slot canyons of Utah, from remote islands in the Pacific to as far as Western Australia, Catherine’s explorations through the lens have taken her around the world. She thrives with a camera in hand — and lives the adventures she captures. When she’s not shooting, she’s playing in mountains, deserts and oceans far away from crowded cities and civilization.You can check out more of her work at catherineaeppel.com and on instagram @CatherineAeppel.