STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The best photographers can create magic out of stunning scenery and extreme feats of athleticism, but also the seemingly mundane, ordinary moments that others might overlook. Ron Dahlquist exemplified this concept. One frigid winter morning in Steamboat Springs, Dahlquist stood in the cold snapping photos not of sprawling landscapes, but of ice crystals on his windshield. “People driving by thought he was crazy, but he ended up selling a lot of those photos,” says Sharon Dahlquist, Ron’s wife.
When Ron died last fall from Parkinson’s Disease, he left behind a long history of photographing adventure sports – skiing, snowboarding and surfing were his focus – and landscapes. There is also an argument to be made that he played a role in putting Steamboat Ski Area on the map.
Ron grew up in Southern California, beginning his photography career as a freelancer for Surfer Magazine. He sold his first photo for $5, but this small transaction sparked a photography career that spanned over 50 years.
In 1976, Ron brought these photography skills to Steamboat Springs, where his work captured the attention of Rod Hanna, who at the time was the public relations director at the Steamboat Ski Area. Hanna, who had worked as a photographer for the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, asked Ron to be the corporate photographer for the ski area. “It was obvious when we hired Ron to be the photographer for the ski area that this was a guy with very unique talent,” Hanna says.
Ron was windsurfing in Hawaii in the mid- ‘80s when a friend introduced him to Sharon. “Next thing I knew, (in 1987) he was packing up his things and moved here,” Sharon says.
Whether on the slopes of Steamboat or the beaches of Hawaii, Ron had the uncanny ability to capture the spirit of a moment in his photography. “Ron had this natural gift of creativity, but he was an emotional person and his emotions came out in a lot of the photos,” Sharon says. “He wanted his sports photography to convey pure adrenaline.”
Hanna, a prolific photographer himself, knows just how much work Ron put into capturing these emotions on camera. “Ansel Adams once said, ‘When you view a photograph of mine, what you see is the equivalent of what I saw and felt.’ Ron’s work was the perfect example of that kind of vision. It’s not just accurately recording the scene; it’s doing it in a way that shows the emotion that’s there,” Hanna says.
Ron was capable of seeing a good photo anywhere he went, not only with sports photography, but with landscape and nature photography as well. “He was, through his whole career, a rare talent in terms of seeing what was important in an image,” Hanna says. “Some of his best photos were intimate landscapes with no sky, zeroing in on more details.”
On a visit to a European cathedral, Sharon recalls, Ron had his camera pointed downward at a large puddle on the ground while everyone around him had their cameras aimed at the ornate ceiling. While others took snapshots of the scene in front of them, Ron captured distinctive images of the cathedral’s reflection.
“Photography was always part of him,” Sharon says. “He thought in pictures and brought his camera everywhere. One of his favorite shots of upcountry Maui was taken on the way to a friend’s house for dinner. We pulled over on the side of the road and Ron jumped out to shoot some images as the sun was setting and its golden rays were bathing the slopes of Haleakala in that beautiful, golden light that he loved so much.”
On the other hand, much of Ron’s work was far from spontaneous. “He knew the right date and time to be somewhere for perfect lighting,” Sharon says. “Sometimes he would have an idea for a photo in his mind and it would actually take years to set it up, but when it was time it would result in really special pictures.”
“He was happiest shooting,” Sharon adds. “If he was ever in a bad mood, I would say, ‘Why don’t you go out and take some pictures?’” Sharon recalls one of her favorite shots of Ron’s was with a snowboarding team in southern Colorado, when a snowboarder in mid-jump created a dazzling light display in the powder plume.
Another stand-out shot of Ron’s was of surfer Garrett McNamara in the barrel of a 50-foot-plus wave in Peahi, Hawaii, coming out through the mist. “It was one of his favorite photos,” Sharon says. “It left the viewer wondering if (McNamara) made it or didn’t make it. I remember he walked into the office afterward and had so much adrenaline going, he had to go right back and shoot some more shots from the cliffs.” Later that same day, he captured another surf shot that won that year’s XXL “Largest Wave Captured” award.
Despite Ron’s photographic success in Hawaii, the couple both had Colorado connections – Sharon having lived in Winter Park – and they would return to Steamboat each winter. His work frequently graced the pages of Steamboat Magazine, up to and even beyond his death. “He loved the people there, loved the beauty. He would travel to lots of different areas but Steamboat was always home to him,” Sharon says. “He always said he loved shooting in Steamboat because of the light. The way the slopes face, he could front-light the skier instead of having them in shadow.”
“Also the powder,” Sharon adds. “He loved skiing the powder.”
Ron and Sharon worked as the left-brain and right-brain of the same photography team, with Sharon working on the business and organizational end and Ron working in the creative realm. “I think that (meeting Sharon) was a major uptick in Ron’s career because she started the organizing and marketing side of it,” Hanna says.
The loss of Ron was a blow to not only the photography world, but the ski community of Steamboat Springs and surfing community of Hawaii. Ron’s memorial attended by family and friends in Hawaii lived up to the amazing life he lived. “We had a family gathering after Ron passed, and we were on a boat and just after we finished singing ‘Aloha ‘Oe’ (‘Farewell to Thee’) a whale breached four times next to our boat,” Sharon recalls. “Ron was so connected with nature and we all felt that the whale breaching was Ron saying goodbye and that he was ok. It really was a spectacular, breathtaking moment that everyone will always remember.”