A frosty sublime; winter in Jackson Hole, the National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton Park is a special time. The snowy valleys, and towering peaks create an ambiance much different from summer. Gone are the crowds of summer, buried are the remnants of wildflowers, gone are the leaves of the deciduous trees, replaced by a carpet of sparkling snow which creates an exponential essence of wilderness. Crisp delicious air fills your lungs as you prepare to capture the moment of alpenglow on the mountains.
I once marveled at the beauty of winter’s simple beauty, the color spectrum was greatly reduced to the green of the evergreens, the blue or grey of the sky and the white of the snow. I wondered why! The conclusion of my pondering resulted in the realization that the white blanket of snow covered all the sharp edges and created smooth lines everywhere you looked. Clumps of snow grace the branches of the evergreens and juxtaposed beautifully against both, a cobalt blue sky or a raging storm.
What is a frosty sublime beauty to us, is life and death to the animals of the mountains. Four hundred inches of snow covers the mountain tops, but a tolerable two feet in the valley bottoms, so to the valley bottoms, the animals go. Waiting for them at the valley bottoms are we photographers who want to capture the essence of our winter wonderland where the critters of the mountains congregate in hopes of surviving another winter. Our hope is to capture moments of the survival challenge as well as its moments of defeat.
Gone also are the bears, but in their place the grazing animals of the ecosystem. They come to winter on the valley bottom buttes and valley were winter forage can be bummed of foraged. This is when we get to photograph mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Six thousand elk are on the refuge after their migration from Yellowstone and other mountaintops. Bald eagles move from the rivers to the elk refuge to clean up the carcasses of elk who have reached their end, golden eagles join them. On lucky days, wolves come close enough to the roads to be immortalized by our camera sensors.
Yes winter sometimes hides our jagged peaks of the Grand Tetons, but the soft light of a stormy day enhances saturation of the mid daylight and gives us more time to photograph our winter wildlife. Better days hopefully with big fat snowflakes to enhance the scene and mood.
Some photographers don’t like to brave the rigors of winter’s icy challenges; they don’t know what they are missing.