In the summer of 2010, Ryan Hawks was chasing his ski dreams while traveling and skiing around the Chilean Andes. He joined Frank Shine, Glen Morden, Greg Fitzsimmons, Greg Ernst and Robin McElroy for a portion of that trip in Portillo Chile for a Blizzard Tecnica photo shoot.
During the week, Ryan awed his ski partners with a spectacular air, that ultimately become a signature image for the brand.
Saddly, less than a year later, Ryan lost his life from an injury sustained in a ski accident. Although Ryan lived on 25 short years, he lived every minute of his life with great vigor and happiness.
"My mind is full of details from that day that all relate directly back to the bumper crop of images that we nailed that morning in Portillo, Chile. It still amazes me how rotten Ryan was feeling that day, by no means should he have been out skiing that day from the flu and travel fatigue. But in classic Ryan fashion, he geared up, set his smile in place and headed out the high traverse off “the Roca” with our group of 6 with high hopes.
In years since that day, I have passed by that same rock -- I stop and think about Ryan’s energy, enthusiasm and incredible approach to the mountain. As Ryan would say: " Live Every Day, All Day."
When were settin up the photo back on August 20, 2010, there were so many elements about that location and image that I loved. With that said there were also a few that terrified me: Ryan’s health, tricky snow in the landing and a critical landing. It should be stressed how “critical” because any outcome other than a full stomp to a full throttle left hand GS turn would result in a daunting series of rocky and non-negotiable terrain features. I was hesitant to even move forward with the shot, but Ryan’s confidence, preparation and stoke was undeniable.
When I'm shooting ski photos, I hesitate to get too excited about an image until I can get back to the computer and look closer at the final product. Occasionally the moment, the image or the athlete blows the doors off expectation and there is no need to check later, you just know you nailed it. On August 20, 2011, right after I saw Ryan stomp the crap out of this air and bank that long turbo speed arc back over to our group of friends – a primal scream came out of me that I will never forget. That moment felt like a celebration for us at all, and it was all about Ryan in that moment making absolutely everything possible right in front of our eyes. I just happened to be the guy under that rock at that very moment with a camera lucky enough to capture Ryan in this moment.
After Ryan’s passing, the silhouette from this image became the groundwork for the current Flyin’ Ryan Foundation logo. Every time I see the logo on a helmet, a t-shirt or the internet it reminds me of that very moment. I feel honored that the image has become part of Ryan’s legacy and the incredible things his family and friends are doing with his foundation. But much more than that it reminds me how fortunate I am to have known Ryan and was able to absorb maybe just a little of that spark that he shared with everyone.
Greg Fitzsimmons, Glen, Robin, Greg Ernst, Ryan, and Frank at the top of the "Super C" in Portillo, Chile.
For me, Ryan was way ahead of the game in regards to his attitude towards skiing -- he did it for all the right reasons and loved it to the bone!
After spending a week together in Chile Ryan’s stoke was contagious we had an amazing week of shredding bookmarked by a great adventure in the Maipo Valley fueled by Chilean cookies we nailed an amazing day following the locals up into a very epic like long day. I just remember how pumped he was to be out there….neither of us knew what we were signing up for 8-10 hours later Ryans day trekker was broken and taped together but it was still all laughs and incredible views….that is when I caught his stoke for life bug…..get out there and walk your ass off, smile, tell jokes and enjoy the hell out of the decent!
I wasn’t in Portillo to ski in front of a camera like Ryan Hawks was there to do. I was there to watch, to soak it in, to experience, and write about all of it. As a writer, I was a fly on the wall on this trip. Watching this image play out is something I’ll never forget and it’s one of my most cherished memories in my ski life.
We woke up on the morning this photo was taken kind of battered after a big day of skiing the previous day which included a hike and ski of the renowned Super C. So, most of us woke up pretty banged up to cloudless blue skies over the Andes. The conditions weren’t great, the snow was firm and coverage was thin. While we all woke up with headaches, Hawks woke up ill. He had a 104 temp, chills and shivers. If you ever met Ryan Hawks you know: he wasn’t one to complain or exaggerate things. So, it was clear he wasn’t feeling well. But, true to form, he rallied. He was not going to miss experiencing Portillo, he was not going to miss out on an opportunity to shoot with a professional photographer whose photos he’d seen for a long time, and he was not going to miss the chance to soak it all up.
After breakfast we headed out with a rough plan. Frank Shine, the photographer Hawks was excited to work with and who snapped this particular photo of “Flyin Ryan”, is a staple in Portillo and he’s been going down every year for almost a decade. So, he had his places and knows the nooks and crannies around Portillo. We slid up to this one with a disclaimer from Frank: “Here’s a rock we hit when conditions are good. I just wanted you guys to see the feature.” There was no intention of hitting the rock on this trip. But, immediately, Ryan’s eyes lit up. The sick, glassy look in his eyes instantly vanished as we were talking about the feature and how to frame it. He saw the potential straight away. As a fly on the wall, I was looking at this rock as a 10- to 12-footer, taking it against the fall line. Ryan, however, saw it as a 30-footer, taking it from the top and boosting off the nose of the prominent rock. He even wanted to build a lip on the takeoff so he wouldn’t have to billygoat it. I was blown away by his creativity and his confidence.
Something that looked really full on to me considering the conditions—firm snow, punchy landings, a peppery rock field 20 meters below the transition making it a no-fall zone—looked artsy and creative to Hawks. He was standing up on top of the feature, throwing rocks down into the landing zone trying to communicate the trajectory with Frank Shine before shooting the photo. Normally, we throw snowballs but there was not any snow to waste because of the thin conditions. It was an air he had to stick because of the rocks below the transition, it was an air bigger than anything I’ve ever done, and the conditions we’re super variable. But, Hawks had this quiet confidence about it. There was not much back and forth between he and our crew.
There wasn’t any, “What do you think?” or hesitation. It was more like: Here’s what I want to do, how does it look, what will work for the photograph, how big should I take it? We built a little kicker on top of the air, and Hawks sidestepped up to get speed for the run in. The entire time Hawks is talking to me, teaching me about skiing, passing on advice about his mindset before an air, imparting wisdom about being quiet and calm in the air and popping at the takeoff so you’re in control rather than getting bucked.
I still would love to do what Hawks could do on skis, but I can’t and a lot of that is because of the mental strength he had in the mountains and when clicked into bindings. He was walking me through his process, talking about how speed is your friend with airs like this, and having a quiet mental approach in the air. Then, he counted himself in. “Dropping in 3…2…1…Dropping!” He slid into the run in pretty hot and absolutely sent it; took it deep. He probably boosted this air 50 feet to firm, hard chalky snow. And, he put it to the bolts; cleanly stomping the landing. It was a quintessential Hawks stomp, though, because there wasn’t even really a sound when he landed. There was no thud or bomb hole. Instead, he found the perfect tranny, put the massive air to his feet landing with total grace, and proceeded to arc a high-speed GS turn around the rock below immediately after putting the landing gear down, and slid to a hockey stop hooting and hollering.
It was incredible! Quickly, he stepped out of his bindings, shouldered his skis, and started kicking a bootpack in climbing back up to the feature to hit it again. He did this over and over, and every time he hits it bigger and bigger, and each air gets more stylish and comfortable. There is so much more story and deeper layers to this photo, though. This image and its backstory has depth—like Ryan. I cherish this photograph and have it framed in my home. I cherish the memory of this day, I hold tight to the trips we took through British Columbia together, I remember sharing stories about falling in love and talking about life while traveling with Ryan Hawks. I feel lucky that I was able to experience this photography firsthand, and that I was able to join Hawks on a few unforgettable trips around the world. I’m already telling my young son stories about Ryan Hawks.
I really appreciate the people who were much closer to Ryan Hawks than I — Alicia, Peter and Jackie, Samantha, Angel, Lars, Silas, and many more—are keeping this going because Ryan Hawks was one of the most amazing people I have ever met.
To learn more about Ryan and the Flyin Ryan Foundation please visit: