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Winter in Yosemite: A Pair of Videos Contrast How It Is and How Lots of Us Wish It Was

In America's traditional winter wonderlands, people are wondering if they'll see much snow at all this winter.

Consider Yosemite National Park where, like many areas of the country that are experiencing a dry, warm winter, snow is a no-show in January.

A webcam in Ahwahnee Meadow shows a snowless scene on the Yosemite Valley floor, and high-elevation webcams on Sentinel Dome (which looks across the valley to Half Dome) and west from Turtleback Dome offer snow-free views that look downright summerlike.

The video below was filmed by some intrepid soul last Wednesday (Jan. 4) from the summit of 8,836-foot Half Dome. (Half Dome's climbing cables are down for the season, so this was a risky ascent not to be attempted by nonclimbers.) Lots of bare rock on display. This is the kind of view climbers usually see in July.

More sunny skies are forecast for the coming week. So how does Yosemite traditionally look this time of year? Take a look at a lovely new video created by Yosemite videographer Steve Bumgardner (aka Yosemite Steve), who found himself longing for some traditional winter scenes in the park. He culled through footage he shot during previous winters and created a "special feature" video. The results are gorgeous.

Yosemite Steve kindly shared his thinking behind his newest project with The REI Blog:

REI: Is it correct to call this your first noninterpretive (art for art's sake) project for the Yosemite Nature Notes series?

YS: Back in May, I released People in Yosemite as a special feature of Yosemite Nature Notes, which featured time-lapse footage of crowds of people in Yosemite. It was actually a re-working of something that I'd done a few years earlier, so technically Winter Moments is the first art piece that I've done exclusively for YNN. Even though there are no words, that doesn't mean that the video isn't interpretive. You do get a quick visual tour around Yosemite Valley, and you're reminded about what animals and people do here in the wintertime.

REI: Is this more of an artistic statement for yourself as a videographer?  Time-lapse videos are something of a rage on the internet, so with the scenery you have at your disposal, it makes sense that you would want to attempt a purely artistic view of the park.

YS: True, time-lapse is all the rage, and I've done my share of it as well. The first film work I ever did was time-lapse, back in the early '90s, before the digital revolution made it so much cheaper and easier. I made the suggestion (to the sponsors of Yosemite Nature Notes, the nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy) last year to create a couple of "bonus features." They would be a little different than the regular episodes of Yosemite Nature Notes—short little art pieces and some behind-the-scenes features. It is a bit liberating to not have to focus so hard on verbally telling a story, and let sounds and images do the work instead.

TruckREI: What was your motivation for choosing this topic?

YS: I was hoping to get out a full episode about granite instead, but by the time November rolled around, I realized that I didn't get everything I needed to pull that one off, so I figured that I had enough footage of winter's past to put this piece together. It's interesting, because I didn't expect that winter wouldn't actually come before the video was released. I'd hoped to put it out after the first storms came, but they never did! Instead, this video serves as a reminder of what winter SHOULD be in Yosemite. Hopefully, we'll get some snow soon.

REI: What's it like having Yosemite as a resource for art-minded videos?  When you head out to shoot do you sometimes think you live something of a charmed life?

YS: I must admit that my job is a little easier working in a place like Yosemite. It's hard to point a camera here and not get something great. I do focus on being in the right place at the right time, which is the big difference between my shots and someone who only comes to the park a few days a year. You might say that I lead a charmed life, but I've spent 20 years to be where I am now, in these mountains and in this line of work, so I think anyone can have a charmed life if they just make it happen.

REI: Do you feel you are taking the series in a more artistic direction?  Some of your early episodes appear to be primarily interpretive vehicles.  How are you evolving as a videographer?

YS: It's easy to move people emotionally when you put some violins behind an image, and for the first 7 episodes of YNN, I deliberately didn't use any music at all. It was a forced exercise to see if I could make emotional connections with viewers WITHOUT using music as a crutch. I think I succeeded, and in retrospect, I regret that those earlier episodes, especially Wildflowers (episode 1) and Wilderness (episode 3), didn't have short musical montages. Starting in 2010, I began using things like camera sliders and dollies, mainly to help reveal the depth and distance of the Yosemite landscape, but these moving shots are also much more aesthetically pleasing. My goal for Yosemite Nature Notes has always been to turn people on to the natural world, and I'm going to use every tool I can afford to pull the viewer in to the story and the landscape. Pretty scenes and powerful music will keep people watching, learning and loving Yosemite and by extension the whole world around them.
REI: What can you tell us about the music used in Winter Moments?

YS: Music is always a difficult decision, and I often spend days looking for just the right piece. I've had a local friend, Brent Bain, compose a couple of pieces this past year, but usually I use royalty-free music that I get from a variety of websites, and I don't credit the artist when this is the case. Winter Moments uses "Finding Hope" by Dan Phillipson which amazingly was the very first thing I listened to when I went searching for music for this video. I still spent a fair bit of time trying out other songs, but ultimately I came back to this piece and I think it works great.

Photos: Above: Yosemite Steve's truck following a winter storm last winter (courtesy of Steve Bumgardner). Below: A more traditional winter view of Yosemite Valley's floor (NPS photo).

Posted on at 7:23 PM

Tagged: Snow, Winter, Yosemite, Yosemite Nature Notes, Yosemite Steve and national parks

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