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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

As Powder Magazine prints its last issue, a skier reflects on the magazine’s impact on his career

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 1, 2020

By Bob Legasa For The Spokesman-Review

Just like Blockbuster Video, Kodak film and the phone booth, the world has lost another icon. What was once the lifeblood for die hard skiers, POWDER magazine folded up shop last week.

After 49 years of bringing the stoke to skiers, POWDER printed its last magazine a short time ago.

POWDER magazine was founded in 1973 in Sun Valley, Idaho, by a couple of “ski bums,” Jake and Dave Moe. They wanted something different from the other ski magazines on the market.

“The magazine immediately became the culture of skiing because it was produced with a totally different vibe than Ski or Skiing,” Jake Moe said.

Back in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s, skiing powder was much more challenging than today since the introduction of fat skis.

“We chose the name POWDER because it wasn’t only an athletic accomplishment but it was an art form,” Jake Moe said. “Not only in the shape of the tracks, but in the places that tracks were created, wilderness with majestic peaks in the back ground.”

POWDER magazine prided itself on stories that were controversial, irreverent and most of all edgy.

Jake Moe mentioned one story in particular: “The advertising director of Head Skis had to go out and purchase all the copies of POWDER magazine in Boulder, Colorado, because he didn’t want the CEO of Head to see the issue that featured Head Ski’s No. 1-sponsored skier. The title was ‘Ruts, Reefers and the Ragged Edge’ about Kenny Corrock’s wild days as a pro skier,” Moe said.

Everything POWDER did in the beginning was cutting edge. Jake Moe credits the magazine’s success because of their core distribution strategy.

“The primary reason it became a huge insider’s publication for real skiers was our distribution strategy,” Moe said. “Instead of being a newsstand publication at every Safeway and 7-11, we concentrated on ski shops to sell POWDER and we listed those ski shops in every issue. At one time we had 2,800 ski shops listed – purchase your quality ski gear from an authorized POWDER dealer.”

In 1981, Jake and Dave sold POWDER magazine to Surfer publications. Over the years it has changed ownership a few times, ultimately purchased by American Media Inc. in February 2019.

For many skiers, POWDER was the pinnacle of skiing magazines, priding itself on cool stories and adventures with jaw-dropping ski imagery.

Director of photography David Reddick has been with POWDER for close to three decades. His perfection and unique eye have been one of the mainstays for POWDER’s longevity. The mixture of stories and imagery could transfer readers from their couch to the mountains just by flipping a page.

As a long-haired kid in high school, I always looked forward to that first issue of POWDER showing up in my mailbox in late August. To me, that was the first sign ski season was close. I look back at the magazine as almost a school book, as for one solid month I would study that magazine cover to cover, dissecting every image, reading all the equipment reviews and memorizing the names of the skiers and their distinct styles. As I flipped the pages, I was always thinking, “One day, I will be in that magazine.” I credit POWDER for lighting a fire inside of me to chase the dream of becoming a professional skier.

POWDER stayed true to its roots over the decades and it certainly lived up to the tag line the “Skiers’ Magazine.” The magazine continued to play a key part in the culture of the sport as it was a magazine written by skiers for skiers. It wasn’t filled with the typical travel editorial of what fancy hotel to stay at or what black diamond run to ski. The stories or adventures that graced the pages came from true ski enthusiasts who loved to ski. Many of them would sleep in their car at the resort parking lot or trailhead or if they were lucky enough to have met a like-minded soul on the skin track or chairlift that day who offered to let them crash on the couch. These were real-life ski adventures captured by photographers and writers who lived this lifestyle.

One of these writers who went on to become the editor of POWDER magazine is Spokane’s John Stifter, who spent 12 years with the magazine – three as editor-in-chief. In his early days with the publication, it was not uncommon to see Stifter driving from mountain town to mountain in his Subaru getting the next story.

“POWDER was everything to me,” Stifter said. “It informed me of this dreamy world beyond my bedroom walls and Schweitzer’s bowls, with communities of skiers embracing fun, weird pursuits that I had only seen in ski movies. When I had the single focus of becoming a POWDER staffer later in life, it still remained my central passion, confirming that the soulful culture not only existed but thrived throughout the world all because people pursued this remarkable release of a feeling of skiing through powder snow.

For Stifter and the other POWDER writers, this is what they lived for – capturing the true essence of skiing. Stifter stepped into the role of editor for POWDER in 2012, taking on the responsibility of continuing the legacy of an iconic magazine. There were many long days and nights putting together issues.

“I cherished those late nights at the office the most,” Stifter said. “Well, that, and dancing shirtless on bars in Canada and Japan and Switzerland and Austria and Romania and Chile and … gosh, we all put so much into it. So grateful.”

Just like thousands of other skiers, POWDER was more than just a ski magazine to me. It was my Bible. In the 1980s, I took the path of trying to make skiing a profession, POWDER shaped my life as it was instrumental to my progression as a skier, helping me become better at my craft.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few images printed in the magazine and I can remember when one of my first images came out in POWDER magazine. Hank DeVre, the photographer, called me up and gave me a heads-up about the photo. I made a trip to the local ski shop. When I pulled the latest edition of POWDER magazine off the rack, it was at that moment I felt I finally made it as a skier.

It’s time to open up the boxes of POWDER magazines I’ve saved over the years, grab a few cold ones and thumb through the pages to pay tribute to a companion who’s inspired generations of skiers.

Thank you, POWDER magazine, for sparking a fire in a kid from Idaho. You set the standard high for ski journalism. As the last of the POWDER staffers clean out their desks and walk the hallway one last time, let’s hope one of them will leave the light on. You will be missed.

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