For the past two years, Squamish, B.C., photographer Reuben Krabbe had been sitting on an idea: capture a skier on a slope silhouetted by a total solar eclipse. It’s a once-in-a-career opportunity for many reasons—primarily because solar eclipses are only visible from a given location once every 200 years, on average. And seeing one can take much longer. Los Angeles, for instance, will go more than 1,500 years between total solar eclipses.
Plus, Krabbe needed his eclipse to cast above somewhere with snow and mountains—a rare combo. After researching the astronomy calendar, the 24-year-old realized he would get his chance during the March 20, 2015 eclipse, which would be visible from two places: the Faroe Islands of Denmark, and Svalbard, Norway, a mountainous archipelago in the Arctic that happens to have spectacular skiing.
Krabbe pitched his idea to Switchback Entertainment, which produces the popular Salomon Freeski TV series. To the surprise of Switchback directors Mike Douglas and Anthony Bonello, Salomon bit on the Svalbard idea. At a cost of more than $100,000, the trip would be the most expensive in Freeski TV history. “You guys do understand that one cloudy day and this could be a bust?” they told Salomon. “Yeah,” came the reply. “But if we get it, it could be really incredible.”
Bonello and Krabbe enlisted pro skiers Cody Townsend, Chris Rubens, and Brody Leven, as well as a British expat guide named Steve Lewis. The team of ten people, including filmmakers, skiers, and support staffers, spent two weeks camped on a glacier in polar bear country to get photos and footage, a process that is chronicled in “Eclipse,” a 31-minute film that premiered Wednesday at the Banff Film Festival and comes out online on November 10.
The group arrived in Svalbard on March 10, two weeks after the sun returned from its annual six-month absence during fall and winter. (Most skiers go in April and May when the days are longer and warmer.) They spent ten days scouting for the perfect location to capture the eclipse, a process that wore on the skiers. “It’s hard when you’re suffering, you’re freezing your ass off and expending so much energy just to survive, and your only bastion of fun is to go skiing,” Townsend says. “So when we’re spending multiple days looking for the right terrain for this photo, you’re kind of like, this is ridiculous. It’s just one person’s goal.”
The team endured vicious storms on the glacier during the lead-up to the eclipse. But the morning of March 20 brought sunny skies—along with a minus-22-degree wind chill. Krabbe and Bonello positioned themselves a mile away from the skiers, who waited on an alpine ridge. For nearly an hour, the eclipse built toward its two-and-a-half-minute “totality”—the golden window the crew came for—which started at exactly 11:11 a.m. Bonello called what followed “the craziest thing I’ve seen with my own eyes.”
“Unless you have those special glasses, you can’t tell that the sun is disappearing,” he says. “Then, very quickly, [the sunlight] just starts shutting down. Thirty seconds out, there’s this insane shimmer on the snow. It’s like the place is on fire. Nothing prepared any of us for that. You can’t feel it, but it’s like this electric current all over you.”
Watching the film, you can’t help but grin when you hear Townsend, Rubens, and Leven hoot and holler from the top of a mountain in the middle of the Arctic, watching one of the rarest natural phenomena in the world.
“Oh my goodness, that was better than I thought it could’ve been!” Krabbe exclaims while holding his camera. “I hope I didn’t fuck that up.”