The Magician’s Hour – Paul Morrison is still the King of Light

When Paul Morrison and I met to chat for this Tip of the Toque profile in the latest SBC Skier magazine, we got way-sidetracked discussing the tar sands, Harper, Burnaby Mountain, CEO salaries, whether it’s possible to have an adventurous and fulfilling life with kids, and how hard it has become to find a parking space in Whistler during Christmas week (even if you have lived here for 40 years.) Maybe it was the beers (Whistler Brewing Chestnut Ale. So good.) but it was rambling and great and pretty much why I think portrait-writing is the funnest gig out there. Shooting the breeze with inspiring folk is always a privilege. Especially those who had the guts to put it all on red. All hail the King.

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Paul Morrison / The Magician’s Hour

18 years old, school in the rearview mirror (“Most penitentiaries today look more inviting than my old school”) and the big mountains of the West filling the windscreen of a custom-fitted ’63 Ford van, Paul Morrison headed to Whistler. It was 1973, and the resort wasn’t much more than a muddy parking lot and a promise. But the promise came good, for both Morrison and Whistler Blackcomb.

Forty years, 250 magazine covers, thousands of beers and too many shutter-clicks to count later, Paul Morrison is, quite possibly, the reason you are reading this magazine, its longest-standing and most prolific contributor. He’s held a decades-long spot on the masthead of SKIER and Powder as Senior Photographer, along with a 30-year symbiotic relationship as one of Whistler Blackcomb’s official photographers.

His images have been synonymous with the careers like Eric Pehota, Trevor Petersen, and Dan Treadway, and he’s still shooting a fresh crop of talent that these days includes Stan Rey, Izzy Lynch, James Heim and Ian Morrison, his 23 year old son who landed on his first cover aged 15.

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Along the way, Morrison lived in a van, broke his back, married a girl he met on the gondola, spawned a little ripper, got caught in avalanches, shot a few weddings (“It’s way too stressful to be responsible for somebody’s memories”), had adventures, (“Skiing’s taken me to Bulgaria, Argentina, Chile…”) – but more than that, he made a career as a ski photographer with no plan B.

With every success, he widened the slipstream behind him for the next generation of Canadian ski photographer. Blake Jorgenson and Jordan Manley cite him as an influence for shooting natural light; Morrison’s leitmotif became mood-rich ski action shots, harnessing the finicky light of “the magic hour” of an alpine sunset.

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As head judge of Whistler Blackcomb’s career-making Deep Winter and Deep Summer Photo Showdowns, Morrison knows all too well the depth and ferocity of talent biting at his heels. “Blake Jorgenson, Jordan Manley, Rueben Krabbe – they’re the best and behind them is a whole wave of guys aspiring to do what we do.”

But, 61, he’s still shooting, editing his own images and holding his own. “I get emails from India all the time with offers to work as my photo editor. That country has a lot of excess brain power.

“It used to be just me, maybe two or three other guys, and two big mountains. Now, in Whistler, there’s 50 people trying to do the same thing, and the mountain’s just getting busier, not bigger.”

But if there is such a thing as an apprenticeship in light magic, Morrison did his, when a roll of film cost $20, a published photo paid $50, and a camera without autofocus set you back $3000. So, the master remains at the helm, whispering to the light, and getting the kids to carry the packs.

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“I’ve been a ski photographer for my entire career and that was my only goal. I didn’t start off wanting to do anything else, so if I can make it to 65, I’ll be happy.”

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Photos by Paul Morrison. Follow him on Instagram for more candy.

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