Objects You Live Through: Chris Dahl-Berdine, aerial photographer

Photography and words by
Krysta Jabczenski

A day or so of getting to know Chris Dahl-Bredine was a reality check in unexpected ways. Starting by coveting his full-to-the-brim lifestyle and then viscerally appreciating the life I already have. By the time most of us plod out of bed in the morning, Chris is soaring over mountain tops and canyonlands, chasing after that sweet sunrise light in his ultralight plane to get the aerial photo we didn’t know was possible. I strive for that quality of stimulation in my life. I didn't think it was possible to that extent until I met him. So, when Chris invited me to go for a ride in his plane. I said, YES. Immediately followed by feeling mauled by a truck of regret when I envisioned myself in flying in what is basically a motorcycle with wings. Did I just write my deathwish? Should I be updating my will? Do I even have a real will?? Wait. There is no way I can die right now. I love my little life! I’M A MOTHER! My own parents' simple text, “please don’t” rang in my head the entire night before the flight. But, when I awoke that morning my panic was defeated by curiosity. The call to that above-it-all perspective was too sweet to pass by. On a crisp summer Taos morning, we ascended into the air. I was strapped into that Superman mobile he calls a Trike or an Ultralight, by little more than a waist safety belt. At least I had a helmet on? As the space between our feet and the earth grew larger he said, “just don’t look down, focus on the horizon.” In about 10 minutes, we were soaring over the Rio Grande Gorge hundreds of feet in the air and totally exposed to the elements. Despite his advice, I looked down.

Rio Grande Gorge - Taos, NM

Chris exudes a calm assurance underscored by caution. From what I can tell, his cool confidence in extreme situations stems from an acute sense of awareness—you know, like a spidey sense. He’s precisely in-tune with weather patterns and air density. He’s been trained to repair the ultralight himself and in his 16 years of flying, he’s considered every precaution imaginable. Including voluntarily turning his engine off mid-air and learning to glide to the ground—just in case anything were to happen to the engine while flying (which has actually happened). His militant watchfulness spans through everything he does—rafting, skiing, riding a monowheel skateboard and even fathering a 5-year-old little girl with his akin adventurous spirit. Chris isn’t boisterous or reckless. He’s observant. And that allows him to breeze through his intrepid life. It’s made me rethink the phrase into, “Awareness is bliss.”

Chris took both of his hands off the steering bar to take a photo of a big horned mama sheep and its lamb resting on a cliff of the Gorge. At that moment, I allowed each of my muscles let go of the bones they were clung on to so tightly. His ease was now my ease. I took a big breath in and a wide look around. I felt simultaneously relaxed and invigorated as Chris dipped up and down, in and out of the Gorge, next to this family of sheep and around a couple hot air balloons. I Facetimed my little sister in the air to show off my newly fulfilled and actualized life of a badass mom, but she just flipped me off and hung up because it was 6 am.

Chris has built a career as an aerial photographer and videographer as a result of finding himself in unthinkable landscapes with rare vantage points. The mobility of an ultralight plane allows him to land pretty much anywhere with enough clearing. He’s landed on cliffs, water, and even on snowy mountaintops with the help of his home-rigged attachable snowboard wheels. He’s worked for Taos Ski Valley, Western National Parks Association, Chris Burkard, Renen Ozturk and Talweg Creative. This fall, Chris is planning on following the migration of eagles all the way from New Mexico to Alaska.


What is it like to live this life? Fascinated, we asked Chris to share 4 objects that tell his story along with a few more questions:

My Sony a7r3 camera: to me represents the culmination of 16 years of aerial photography… with this baby I can shoot ultra high resolution with speed and accuracy like never before. I know I can probably get the shot I want without any glitches and it can be printed up to billboard size or whatever… in the big sizes the prints really come to life and feel as if you are there in the scene!

Onewheel: this is a toy and a transportation device that keeps me connected to my body and my balance… when I fly places with this in my back seat I have the freedom to silently float anywhere I need or want whether on dirt or street for over 15 miles on electric power… handy for getting gas for the trike as well.

Trike: Since deciding to learn to fly these trikes my world has changed for the better. This trike in my mind is the ultimate freedom tool! I can jump in and fly for thousands of miles with everything I need packed with me. Flying this open cockpit craft has opened my mind to a bigger picture of the world where everything is interconnected… I feel and experience this great web of life below me that sustains us and everything else. It makes me feel alive and part of something incredibly huge and magnificent!

Life and Teachings of the Far East: I began reading this book over 25 years ago and to me it embodies what I hope we and the universe are truly like. It helps me think bigger and not be as bothered by the small stuff…

Describe an experience in nature when you felt small.
I’ve had many of these but one in particular would be surfing in Hawaii on a day that the waves were way too big for me… I paddled out to a spot on Maui before sunrise and when I got out past the break I realized the waves were bigger than I had ever been in… the current was strong and all I could do was paddle way out and pray that there would be a lull so I could safely get back to land. I did make it in safely and dug my feet in the sand feeling so grateful to be on land and still breathing.
What is something you feel is important to practice each day?
I think it is important to practice gratitude every day for being alive here on this crazy planet…our time really is shorter than we think and more precious!! Being thankful for the little things and the big things like the people around us (our family, friends, kids) is something I try to remember and when I do it feels right and I feel calm.
Have there been any pivotal moments in your life that pushed you in a new direction?
One of the pivotal moments in my life was getting caught in a small avalanche at Taos ski valley and being swept off a 40 foot cliff headfirst. I thought that was the end of my life but I came to buried up to my ears in snow and realized I was still alive. I realized life was so short and precious I was so thankful to have another chance! I became more determined to follow my dreams and callings and one of those dreams was learning to fly.
I’d imagine being above it all gives you a different perspective psychologically in addition to visually, has it altered your thinking at all?
I think spending so much time above the earth in the last 16 years has helped me realize how interconnected all of life on earth is...from above there are no borders or divisions in the landscapes. I see giant watersheds and ecosystems that all rely this interconnectedness and on massive global weather patterns to sustain them.

Chris’s Instagram is not to be missed! Follow his adventures @shotsfromabove

Chris is wearing the Men’s Raglan Sweater in Ocean, The Fingerless Gloves in Derby, The Classic Scarf in Derby and the Headlight Hat in Charcoal.

Alaia is wearing the Kiddo Hat in Morning Glory

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