All Time: Verbier, Switzerland

It was Easter Sunday, 1978, when 78" of fresh fell on the Alps

78″+
PHOTO: Mark Shapiro

“It was Easter Sunday. While everyone else was in church praying about heaven, we were up there in it.” —Mark Shapiro

Under clear blue skies, Mark Shapiro met his crew at the base of Verbier. A spring storm the night before had blanketed the Swiss Alps with several feet of weightless powder. “Back then they just opened the lifts. They didn’t have all that safety stuff,” says Shapiro. “It was my first time ever to ski in real bottomless powder. There was no one else but us on the mountain that morning.”

Carrying a new camera, a Nikon F2, Shapiro was frothing to get on the snow. Up they went, looping the mountain’s old Atlas One lift, ripping down Verbier’s front bowl. “It was the first day I was shooting with a motorized drive. I went nuts,” says Shapiro. Free from having to wind his camera by hand, Shapiro fired off shot after shot of his troupe, including Dana Willmer (pictured), John Falkiner, and Larry Rue. Wearing Hanson boots, they skied on K2 710s—slalom race skis standard for the time.

Thirty-seven years later, Willmer talks about the run like he’s still skiing it. “Probably the best run of my life. As you started to carve a turn, you held your breath and submerged into a sea of white,” he says. Falkiner was on his right, half a turn ahead. As Willmer rose above the snow, Falkiner plunged in. “All I could see was the top of his head, and maybe a hand. Then the next carve, I submerge as he rises,” says Willmer.

The cycle repeated down the run to tree line where Shapiro waited, his shutter clicking eight times a second as the pair flew by. “The sun is rising over my shoulder, and it feels like I’m floating on a cloud,” says Willmer. “Thousands of runs before, thousands since. But that one I will never forget. Ever.”

Mark Shapiro is the godfather of freeride ski photography—these are his words to live by.