Mar 26, 2021

Getting the Shot – EP 2: Secret Glacier Skating Rink in the Canadian Rockies

Amidst a polar vortex, world-class photographer Paul Zizka finds an unexpected way to reach a spectacular hidden ice cave set inside a glacier. Watch Episode 2 of "Getting the Shot."


Ryan Richardson

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It can be really frustrating as a photographer when you put a lot of time and energy into creating something original and yet, despite all of your hard work, it doesn’t work out.

Photo by Ryan Richardson

Mountain landscape and adventure photographer, Paul Zizka has a different perspective – a more sustainable approach – when it comes to balancing effort and intention with getting the perfect shot. Prioritizing the experience above all else, Zizak feels as though great photos should be a by-product of a good experience. Having a great photo to take home at the end of the day is just a bonus.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

In “Getting the Shot” Episode 2, Zizka demonstrates his bold, yet playful experimental approach to outdoor photography, despite 100-kilometer winds in the Canadian Rockies.

50 KM Traverse Across Banff’s Largest Lake

Paul Zizka has a tradition of skating across Banff National Park’s largest lake, Lake Minnewanka. Every winter, the 25-kilometer long lake freezes over, granting rare access to Banff’s backcountry wilderness. Skating is the preferred mode of transportation to reach the far end.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

The far end of the lake is called Devil’s Gap. Devil’s Gap has two mountain ranges on either side and a view of the prairies through the valley in the middle. The large lake turns into just a small stream running through the vast valley. It’s one of the most spectacular and rarely seen views in the entirety of Banff National Park.

Read next on TOJ: In the remote Icelandic highlands, two filmmakers face a dilemma when they realize their 14-day trek across the land they are trying to protect will take twice as long as they planned.

Photo by Ryan Richardson

We got totally skunked.

We were accompanied by professional figure skaters for the traverse and had our hearts set on photographing them alongside the methane bubbles that can be found in the ice. However, the sun set fast and the snow started falling quickly. The conditions just weren’t favorable for photos. We got totally skunked.

Photo by Ryan Richardson

On the 25 kilometer journey back to our vehicles, the full moon finally peeked out from behind the clouds. The snow briefly stopped falling just long enough for Paul to take a beautiful self-portrait in front of Mount Inglismaldie.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

“When you put the experience first, you’re not really too bummed out about not getting your shots. It would be a real shame to go home feeling down after having such an incredible experience in the backcountry among friends. I would rather have a great day out and less photos to show for it, than a bunch of great photos and no great experiences.”

Read next on TOJ: Bridging the gap between alpinist and photographer, Stevin Tuchiwsky leads us through the hidden ice caves of Calgary’s Icefield Parkway in the premiere episode of “Getting the Shot.”

Polar Vortex Astrophotography At Marble Canyon

Paul Zizka is known far and wide for his night photography. Our second location was Marble Canyon in Kootenay National Park which neighbors Banff National Park. The polar vortex was a blessing in disguise. Though it was -35 before the wind chill, the vortex made for clear skies and incredibly crisp stars.

Marble canyon has a network of bridges that cross over the canyon and river below. We set ourselves up on one of the bridges about 20 meters above the canyon floor. Paul had an idea to attach a light source to a climbing rope and lower the light into the depths of the canyon. He thought the light might illuminate the river enough to bring back the emerald green colors it’s known for during the daylight.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

After lowering the light into the water, Paul started taking some high ISO test shots.

“It’s so incredibly dark that I need to rely on the camera to show me what I’m looking at”. After a few test shots, Paul tried variations of light settings and lowering the light source all the way into the river, underneath the surface of the water.

Lowering the light into the water helped to spread the light out a lot further into the canyon which allowed Paul to capture the image that he was hoping for when he first imagined it. After making a few more adjustments to his composition, Paul decreased his ISO and took his final shot.

The World’s Greatest Hockey Rink

“It’s probably a once in a 100 years thing”

The local lakes were now completely snow-covered and Paul was already missing the wild skating season. Luckily, Paul had discovered a rare phenomenon on one of his adventures to a hidden ice cave inside of a glacier. The world’s greatest skating rink. A perfect skating rink in the bottom of a massive ice cave.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

“I’ve been exploring ice caves for over ten years now and I’ve never seen a natural skating rink like this one before. It’s incredible, even if you wanted to come back here and recreate these images, you never can. It’s probably a once in a 100 years thing”.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography

The approach to the ice cave is a strenuous 10 km hike from the road. The wind was incredibly strong that day, with headwinds of 100km/h which made for an adventurous approach. A beautiful by-product of the persistent wind was the blowing snow diffusing the soft winter sun. The conditions created a magical winter light that Paul managed to capture perfectly.

Photo by Ryan Richardson

We finally made it to the cave just before sunset. Paul had two fellow photographers who joined us that day. Everyone pitched in at first to resurface the floor ice. The snowdrift from outside of the cave had started to pile up on the ice inside. Paul was prepared and brought some shovels and brooms to clear the surface of the ice.

Once the ice was ready to skate on, Paul went the extra mile and melted some snow which he then poured onto a beach towel as if to create a manual Zamboni. To everyone’s surprise, it worked! The warm water made the surface of the ice perfectly reflective. Paul started setting up a few compositions and then coordinated with his friends Kris and Lee to pose for the camera.

Photo by Ryan Richardson

“At the end of every photoshoot, we always make a point to put the cameras down and participate in the activity we’re photographing without any distractions. We finished the night off by blasting Hockey Night in Canada on a mobile speaker and playing a 30-minute scrimmage on the world’s greatest hockey rink.”

Photo by Ryan Richardson

Don’t miss Getting the Shot Premiere: Episode 1 – Alberta’s Hidden Ice Caves

Follow more projects by Life Outside Studio on their website and Instagram @RyanMichaelRichardson.

Feature image by Ryan Richardson.