In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Larry Prosor was a fledgling Tahoe photographer when he met a young skier named Scot Schmidt. Prosor shot Schmidt skiing off the Palisades at Squaw Valley (now Palisades Tahoe) over a few winters, drove the photos to Powder Magazine’s office in Southern California, and ended up with a nine-page photo spread and center page poster called Ski to Die, launching both his and Schmidt’s careers. The beginning of extreme skiing was born.
Since that time, Prosor’s name has been closely intertwined not only with Schmidt, but also with freeskiing and Tahoe. He went on to a widely successful photography career that spanned more than four decades and took him all over the world as he continued to shoot skiing but also expanded into the sports of kayaking, whitewater rafting, and mountain biking. He also did commercial photography for some of the biggest brands in outdoor sports including North Face, Rip Curl, and Patagonia. But more than anything, it remains Prosor’s photos of the early days of extreme skiing in Tahoe that helped him make his mark on photography, put Squaw Valley on the map as the birthplace of freesking, and change the future of the sport.
“Before this time most of the ski industry gravitated toward racing or freestyle, anything that was judged or had a very clear result,” said local cinematographer Tom Day, whose work with Prosor in the ’80s helped start his career as a professional freeskier. “That’s where the industry was banking advertisement on. A lot of Larry’s photos in the late ’70s and early ’80s defined more of a freeskiing entity to advertising. Larry was a big factor in that in the U.S.”
Prosor, now 65, grew up in Palos Verdes in Southern California, where he started surfing and soon branched out to skiing. He started taking photos at age 12 after his grandfather gave him his old Minolta 35mm camera with a handheld light meter. In 1975, while taking racquetball and surfing classes at a junior college, he learned from a friend about a caretaking position for Chico State’s cabin on Tahoe’s West Shore. At only 19, he got the job, bought a season pass at Squaw Valley, and skied 120 days that season even though it was a drought year.
After his lucky break with Powder, Prosor got another opportunity when Warren Miller saw his photos in the magazine and asked him to do still photography alongside cinematographer Gary Nate for the 1983 movie Ski Time. Prosor showed Nate around Squaw Valley and introduced him to local skiers like Schmidt, whose appearance in Ski Time marked the beginning of an almost 20-year relationship with Warren Miller that included 10 movies.
Schmidt’s role in the ski flick helped get the word out about Squaw Valley and its Palisades run, according to Prosor.
“The Palisades was such a big Roman coliseum for watching people pitching,” Prosor said. “Like any amphitheater, it certainly had an audience.”
Before the Warren Miller movie, Prosor said, Schmidt had no sponsors and no exposure other than the Powder Magazine article. Both their careers blossomed in tandem.
“Scott and I basically worked together in a collaborative way to help grow our careers,” said Prosor, who reflected that one of his favorite parts of his photography journey was watching Schmidt evolve into a professional skier. Schmidt would go on to become a North Face athlete and with the company developed his own line of skiwear, Steep Tech. He also skied for K2 and Salomon.
Cinematographer Day watched the skier and photographer climb the ranks together.
“His relationship with Scot Schmidt was very much a two-way street,” Day said. “It certainly helped launch Scot’s career. And it was really Scot who opened the door for so many skiers to follow his path, and Larry was instrumental in that, creating that direction for skiers through Scot.”
One of Prosor’s most iconic photos of Schmidt was taken in 1984 before all of his sponsorships. Prosor dressed Schmidt in a red one-piece with red boots and snapped him coming off rocks and turns on a powder day above Emerald Bay. The photo graced the cover of Ski Magazine the following year.
“That opened my eyes about working with quality lighting — be there at sunrise if you can, get scenic backdrops if you can, and be willing to outwork the other guys,” Prosor said.
He also developed a mission statement for himself: “Be that photo that when people looked at a paper calendar on a wall, they wished they were there.”
Day, who started off as a skier for Warren Miller and since the year 2000 has been the Warren Miller company’s principal cinematographer, attributes Prosor’s success to his skills and use of the mountains.
“Technically, he knew how to take a picture,” Day said. “Creatively, Larry really had a good way to put the human element into a natural scene. He really used Mother Nature to enhance what the experience was all about.”
Prosor said his career really took off after traveling around ski resorts in the West, where he met David Stoecklein, whom he called the “god of sports photography,” in Sun Valley. At the time, Prosor was also shooting photos for the Nevada Department of Tourism and Stoecklein had seen some of his rodeo photos and the spread in Powder. Stoecklein advised him to do what he had been doing — publish his own postcards and calendars. Prosor took his advice and in 1986 launched Fine Line Productions with his business partner David Zischke, printing their own line of Tahoe postcards, calendars, and coffee table books using Prosor’s photos.
Another highlight of Prosor’s career was witnessing the infancy of snowboarding and shooting some of the pioneers in Tahoe’s backcountry: Bonnie and Jim Zellers and Tom Burt. He also photographed a 9-year-old Shaun White — who now holds the world record for the most X Games gold medals and Olympic gold medals by a snowboarder — and his family at Boreal.
After decades of shooting heli-skiing in Alaska and British Colombia and doing commercial photography for K2, Marmot, and North Face, as well as shooting for Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl, in 2004 Prosor was burnt out. He sold his publishing company to his partner and moved to New Zealand with his family. A bit intimidated by the rise of digital photography, Prosor put down his camera for around seven years, until his son Will, who is a cinematographer, encouraged him to pick it back up. They now shoot farms in New Zealand together as part of an ad campaign.
Prosor has also shifted his focus away from skiing and returned to his roots with surfing.
“If I don’t put on another ski boot, that doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “Surfing gives me more satisfaction than skiing. Chasing snow and living in the cold doesn’t appeal to me that much anymore.”
Prosor has also taken up screenwriting. He wrote a novel called Dream Walker that Barrie Osborne, who lives in New Zealand and California and produced The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King with director Peter Jackson (for which they won an Oscar) and The Great Gatsby remake, was interested in. Prosor worked with Osborne to develop a TV series called Ricochet that is currently being shopped to streaming platforms.
“Basically I am a storyteller, visually, at heart,” Prosor said. “I am a creative at heart.”