Photo: Photo by Rick Lohre

The story behind the Xfinity Birds of Prey awards

Lisa Issenberg and Rob Westrich continue creating custom medals, bird prints for Xfinity Birds of Prey winners

By Cheryl Lindstrom

As a design student, Lisa Issenberg developed a close friendship with a Finnish woman who introduced her to Scandinavian design concepts — being in touch with nature, having a sense of minimalism and producing less waste. Working with metals to produce objects large and small, Issenberg kept her focus on melding nature into her welded designs, and never straying from the fundamentals she learned through her friend. “It’s an essence — less is more,” said Issenberg.

She named her custom awards company Kiitella — a Finnish word that means “to thank, applaud or praise” — because it accurately describes her work. Based in Ridgway, Colorado, Issenberg produces the medals awarded to the World Cup ski racers each year who reach the podium at the Birds of Prey events. Sleek, elegant and made of materials primarily recycled and sourced in Colorado, the medals are a celebration of the design concepts Issenberg embraces.

“The awards were the most satisfying,” she said of her work producing medals for athletic events, film and arts festivals, or other recognitions, all part of a larger portfolio that includes bear-proof trash containers for Telluride. “It’s fulfilling a need — creating a piece that both recognizes someone for their great accomplishments and creatively reflects the client’s branding.”

Issenberg is unveiling a new design for the 2021 Xfinity Birds of Prey medals.

“It keeps what I do interesting and fun,” she said. It also seemed like the perfect time to make a shift, given the pandemic-forced two-year break between events. “It makes sense to go fresh. The Birds of Prey logo is so cool.”

That it is, as is the work of Kiitella.

Birds of Prey portraits
Rob Westrich captures stunning photographs of birds of prey in a controlled environment, which are awarded to the podium finishers at the Xfinity Birds of Prey in Beaver Creek each year.

As the name suggests, Birds of Prey is all about the raptors that prowl the Colorado skyscape, as well as the names of the runs that comprise the racecourse and adjacent trails on Beaver Creek Mountain. But it was a bird sanctuary in the St. Louis, Missouri, area that inspired the stunning photographs awarded to the winners of the World Cup events each year at Birds of Prey.

After visiting the sanctuary with his son’s Cub Scout troop about 12 years ago, photographer Rob Westrich decided to pursue the idea of taking portraits of the birds. He produced a book, which made its way to the Vail Valley Foundation through friends who are homeowners in Beaver Creek, and soon his black and white portraits became an integral part of the Birds of Prey event.

“I’ve always been a fan of ski racing,” says Westrich, who lives in St. Louis. “I remember watching events on TV in the ’60s and ’70s.”

His portraits are taken in a controlled environment, where he can monitor the lighting and other aspects critical to his images.

“I can bring in the real detail as opposed to what you get in nature, where there are so many variables. I’ve developed a way to pose (the birds),” he says, adding that he photographs from a 6-foot distance, sometimes closer.

The birds in his series “are permanently going to be in captivity for one reason or another,” he said. “Either because of injury, or they were brought in from another country on the black market,” these are birds that cannot be released into the wild.

Their beauty, nonetheless, shines through.

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