Bellingham photographer loves outdoors gig

If you’re one of those poor working stiffs stuck in an office, Grant Gunderson’s working conditions will break your heart.

Because while you’re heading inside, the 27-year-old Bellingham resident’s "office" is the snowy world outside. Gunderson is a photographer who skis about 100 days a year in places like Mt. Baker Ski Area and Jackson Hole, Wyo., as well as British Columbia favorites Kicking Horse and Rogers Pass — and that’s his job.

“It’s not too bad,” the self-taught photographer says of his outdoors gig.

His work affords him the chance to play outside with his friends, which is how he came to take a photo of skier James Heim about 1½ years ago. That’s Heim, who lives in Whistler, B.C., making short work of gravity after launching himself off a snow-heavy cornice in the backcountry just outside the boundary of Mt. Baker Ski Area.All that hang time in the big blue of a sky makes for a jaw-dropping image.

That dramatic shot could pay off big, if Gunderson wins the Red Bull Illume Image Quest 2006. The winners of what organizers are billing as the first-ever international action and adventure sports photography competition will be announced and honored Jan. 24 during an opening exhibit at Little Nell Run on Aspen Mountain in Colorado.

More than 2,000 emerging and professional photographers from over 90 countries submitted their work. Gunderson’s image was among the 50 finalists; he is one of 11 U.S. photographers in the running.

“(I’m) pretty stoked on it,” Gunderson says of being selected.

The former Powder magazine photo intern has shot for national and international ski publications, including Powder, Freeskier, Skiing and Frequency. You also may have seen his photos on the Mt. Baker Ski Area’s Web site.

Judges will select the winners in 10 categories and one overall winner. The big prize is a photo shoot with an athlete sponsored by Red Bull in any part of the world. Gunderson is a finalist in the Illumination category, which focuses on a photographer’s personal best.

“It’s pretty significant as far as action sports photography goes,” Gunderson, photo editor for The Ski Journal, says of the contest.

So are the judges. They’re heavyweights from publications that include National Geographic Adventure, Women’s Health, Sports Illustrated, Powder and Surfer Magazine.

Perhaps they will appreciate Gunderson’s patience. He says he spent three years scouting the area before finding just the right light and just the right angle.

“It’s a pretty big drop,” says Gunderson, estimating it was 50 to 60 feet. “In the right light, it looks quite a bit bigger than it normally is.”