Stephanie and Spencer braved one of the coldest sunrises I've ever experienced for their magical winter photoshoot on Loveland Pass. The dashboard of my car read 17 degrees as I pulled into the snowy parking lot at 11,990 feet. It was 6:45am and the snow was falling gently outside. I spotted a white Dodge van in the parking area, and at that moment Spencer opened the door to flag me down. He looked around at the December morning and I snapped my first photo of the day.
You may already be asking yourself: why wake up so early just to freeze your butt off? Most of the world would agree with you. Hardly anyone was on the road that morning. The snowboarder I stopped for on my drive up said it had been weeks since his last runs in this area. This morning's snow was powdery and perfect, but in many areas it sat on top of a windblown icy crust. He didn't seem to care as we wound up to the top - snow is snow. I'll also take a moment to mention that picking up hitchhikers on Loveland Pass is common. Skiers and snowboarders drive to the bottom, catch a ride up, and ski back down to their car. Repeatedly! I've even seen groups of 4 crouching in the bed of a pickup truck on the drive to the top. Considering the steep drop-off and the fact that there are no guard rails on the Pass, I doubt you could ever convince me to do that. It's certainly cheaper than a lift ticket at a fancy resort where the safety of a chairlift and some groomed runs await, but for some folks the resorts can't hold a candle to the backcountry adventure.
So why were we freezing our butts off (and our fingers, toes and noses)? This December morning was the first anniversary of Stephanie and Spencer's elopement. One year before we had met for photos in Boulder after they went to the courthouse to sign a marriage license. They had planned to have a wedding with family and friends in February 2022 that I was excited to photograph for them. But, as fate would have it, the Air Force wanted them relocated to Florida before they could have the wedding they planned for.
Eager to make as many memories in Colorado as they could, and to still celebrate their marriage, they emailed me with the subject line "Photoshoot in the Mountains." Well, you had me at hello Steph. We started to plan this special day for them, and so there we were - freezing butts and all.
We started the morning in their van. Stephanie put the kettle on while Spencer tidied up their living space and pulled out a Pendleton blanket of his father's. They made hot cocoa and ate muffins and watched the snow accumulate around them. I photographed from a distance with snowflakes in my hair, running around as happy as a little kid. And, lucky me, when we took our first warm-up break I received a mug of hot cocoa for my icy fingers from Stephanie.
We wandered around the trails at the top of the Pass that morning waiting for a sunrise that came just as we were about to head down the mountain to Lake Dillon. At high elevations you never know what you're going to get. Being ready to embrace all weather, and often extreme weather, is a prerequisite! Embrace it we did. We laughed, we shivered, and we shared many glances that seemed to say "what the f are we doing up here?!" By comparison, the 35 degree morning and the warmth of the sunlight in Silverthorne felt tropical. The wind was calm at lower elevation and Stephanie and Spencer renewed their vows in comfort on a beach that looked straight out of Iceland. As our two hours together came to a close, Stephanie tossed her bouquet to Spencer, these two gifted me a bottle of wine and chocolates (thank you!), and we parted ways with big hugs. They climbed back into their van to nap as I started my drive home. The whole day stretched out before us, and I personally felt fulfilled knowing I had a more epic experience before 9am than most people would have that day, week, or even month.
Do you have any questions about anniversary shoots, preparing for a winter elopement, or traveling in Colorado? Let me know in the comments!