March 9, 2012

Trent Bona, International Man of Photography

The MSP Crew at Black Diamond Lodge in Japan

North Carolina boy turned Crested Butte, Trent Bona has really made some strides shooting photos and getting his name out there.  Trent is a good friend of ours and you guys will be seeing a lot of his work here at West Elk Project. Consider this an introduction and an update on this crazy season.

You are currently shooting at the Red Bull Cold Rush! Tell us about the experience and some highlights.

Cold Rush is such an impressive event. Red Bull spares no expense and the caliber of athletes in attendance is just staggering. All that said though, it a pretty laid-back event. There is a general sense of camaraderie among everyone and while the performance level is top notch there isn’t any cut-throat competition between the skiers. I think the main highlight has been the venues. Silverton has some amazing terrain and the folks who chose and designed the venues did a great job of creating an awe-inspiring atmosphere on both the Big Mountain venue and the Slopestyle course. As for performances, Dave Treadway’s line through Scarface on Day 1 was pretty insane to watch from 2,500 feet below. He was above so much exposure and he kept making his way deeper into the no fall zone. Overall, it has been a really fun event to be a part of and its been nice being on an assignment in Colorado and only being away from home for a few days.

You came back from a trip to Japan with MSP just a couple weeks ago. This trip was so many firsts for you; tell us about Japan as a ski destination, what it’s like shooting superstars like Sean Pettit and Richard Permin, and finally, working with one of the biggest companies in the ski film industry? 

I think Sean Pettit said it best in The Way I See It, “It just never stops snowing.” We caught mere glimpses of the sun but never had even a partially clear day. The consistently flat light made for tough filming and shooting but we adjusted our plans accordingly and were able to capture some amazing deep pow conditions. I got the green light to go on the trip part by luck and part by the support of some good friends over at MSP. The two photographers the trip was initially offered to are essentially heroes of mine, guys that have the industry dialed.  So when they couldn’t commit because of scheduling issues it was an incredible honor to be given the opportunity by a couple guys at Matchstick that believed in me and wanted to give me a shot. It was amazing to work with athletes of that caliber and to have the privilege of working beside such a tenured film crew. I learned so much everyday and got some of the best shots of my career. The coolest aspect though was how much fun we had. Everyone was super professional and worked diligently to get the shots from both ends of the lens but all the while joking, laughing, and goofing off. I can attest that those boys in the MSP films are having a legitimately good time. Thats just the way they do it, they embrace the fun and good time vibe that is skiing.

As far as a destination for skiing, I highly recommend it. I was really impressed by how established the backcountry scene was and there are so many options for lift access skiing its borderline overwhelming. Most people dont realize Japan has over 600 ski resorts, in a country the size of California. The infrastructure makes it easy to get around and there are awesome guides like Clayton Kernaghan who owns Black Diamond Lodge, where we were based out of in Niseko. Those guys take care of all the logistics so you can just focus on skiing the lightest and probably deepest powder of your life. Just make sure you bring your low light lenses and maybe a snorkel.

Only a few years ago you had just moved to Crested Butte from North Carolina and Appalachian State University, now you travel around the world and get shout-outs from Lance Armstrong on Twitter, tell us how this transformation took place and what’s in store for the future. 

Ever since I started shooting photos 15 years ago my friends, family, and the occasional stranger have told me that I should “do something” with my photography. I never had any concept of what exactly I was supposed to do with it so I left profesional pursuits on the back burner and just shot for fun. After graduating form business school, rethinking my life and moving to CB I became really passionate about things again for the first time in years. I really focused on my skiing, my XC/DH mountain biking and learning as much about the backcountry and the mountains as I could. I also started grabbing my camera a lot more often and trying to capture this life I was living in one of the most beautiful places on earth. A bit of a soul search while on a trip to the desert in the fall of 2010 resulted in me driving back to CB with two thoughts searing into my brain. One: I was madly in love with my girlfriend (Danica was about to move to Crested Butte). Two: if I didn’t try to become a profesional photographer right then, it wasn’t ever going to happen. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but I figured at that point I had absolutely nothing to lose. So long story short I went home, built my website, got a business license, and started marketing myself as a photographer. I went from skiing everyday and always playing to spending a lot of time on the computer trying to essentially create a brand for myself and drum up clients who may not have even known they were in the market for a photographer. I also, took advantage of having lots of friends that were unbelievably talented athletes and scheduled shoots as often as possible. Via the amazing tool of social media I was able to make the resulting images viral. It was free publicity that only cost me some time on the web. I also gave away a lot of my photos early on to prove myself and build relationships. Other than that, a few choice introductions and a lot of support form good friends who believe in me resulted in some career changing gigs over the last 8 months. It has definitely been fun getting to travel, ski new places, and meet the movers and shakers of the ski industry but I am constantly focused on running a business. Actually making a living with a camera is not easy and anyone who has figured out how to make it work will tell you that it was a long road filled with lots of uncertainty. Some days I feel like its all working out great and other days I don’t know where my next check is going to come from. But that uncertainty helps me stay motivated, I always have to be lining up future projects and pitching ideas in order to continue being successful. I have so much to learn and so many challenges ahead of me if I expect to ever be able to support myself and then later a family with my photography. But if I do figure it out eventually, I’ll reap the ultimate reward of truly doing what I love for a living. Lucky for me I have only been living off bartending wages for the last few years so it won’t exactly take a fortune for me to consider myself flush. In the meantime while I am still solving the puzzle of how to make this whole endeavor profitable I am going to continue capturing amazing people, doing amazing things, in amazing locations and I’m going to have a blast with my friends doing it. Afterall, whats the point if its no fun?!


We’re psyched!!  Stay tuned for more from Trent.

About the Author

2. Will Dujardin
Will Dujardin is our content editor at West Elk Project. He competes in big mountain competitions and coaches the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team. Skiing is his life and he likes to mix it with other fun things like DH mountain biking and traveling.