Friday, November 25, 2011

Powder magazine—a Sun Valley original

Snow-lovers’ journal turns 40 this winter

Express Staff Writer

The cover of the first issue of Powder magazine in 1972 featured skiers cutting tracks in space. Courtesy photos

The original idea that became Powder magazine spontaneously entered the mind of a young Sun Valley ski patrolman four towers from the top of Bald Mountain while riding the single-chair Christmas Ridge lift on a stormy day in January 1970. It was a radical idea that would quickly and completely alter the landscape of ski magazine publications, and, according to that patrolman, Jake Moe, it came to him because he wanted to let the world know "about the fantastic people of Sun Valley. These people are too cool and this new ski magazine should be all about the people."

Among those too-cool people were some of the best Sun Valley skiers of the time, including Pat Bauman, Bob Hamilton, Bobbie Burns, Nick Jones, Jim Stelling, Bob Griswold, Pam Street, Ron Funk, Charlie McWilliams, Dick Gadsby and Jim Ruscitto, on any skier's 1970 list of too-cool hot skiers.

But only some of the fantastic people of Sun Valley were high-profile skiers. Moe mentions all of the ski patrol, including Bauman and Jones, but also Gary Stitzinger, Dave Baldridge, John Dondero, Steve Hall, Rich Bingham, Monte Feyen, Bruce Malone, Greg Morrison, the Harriman kids and Scott Miller. Among other Sun Valley locals of the time who inspired and encouraged Moe were Butch Harper, Nigel Jones, Bill Rousey, Bobbie Bennett, Muzzy Braun, Vicki Goldstein, Nancy Bauer, Chris Lewis, Roger Bergdahl, Larry Bauman, Leroy Kingland, Paula Starr, Ed Scott, Fred Sturtevant and Louis Malane.

Moe also gained a lot of insight into cool by practicing flips with Corky Fowler at the top of Baldy, but the most important, too-cool person in Sun Valley was Susan Bills, who worked for Sun Valley and who gave him tickets after he left the patrol so he could photograph on Baldy and to whom he has been married for 38 years.

It's a long if incomplete list, but, according to Moe, people are what make Sun Valley what it is.

Moe, who conservatively could be described as "irrepressible," has an oft-quoted motto: "If you're not having fun, you're fired," and in 1970 was having what he calls "a blessed life where everything was magical." He was working as a ski patrolman on Baldy by day and at the Ore House and The Yacht Club at night, living in Ketchum's infamous Tortilla Flats. As part of his patrolman duties he had the privilege of helicopter skiing one day with famed racer Jean-Claude Killy, and he considered The Colonel's Pancake House to be the best place in the world.

Moe had arrived in Sun Valley from Seattle at the age of 20 in 1968 to begin his new life in "paradise" and changed his name to Jake (he won't reveal from what). He describes himself at that time as "small, with a severe case of acne, extremely ADHD, with an overactive mind and mouth and suffering from foot in mouth disease." He settled into the Sun Valley life and within a year the sun and lifestyle had cleared up his acne, and he had fully embraced the ethic that life is an adventure and Sun Valley life was the greatest adventure of them all. Jake Moe was a happy young man.


At the time he passed the fourth tower from the top of the Christmas Ridge lift, Moe had no background in writing or publishing, but did have a spontaneous idea that skiing needed a new publication featuring "emotion versus information" and "photography versus text" as a counterpart to what was to be found in the two primary ski publications of the time, Ski and Skiing. It is worth noting that this idea appeared in the mind of a skier who was a part of the first generation of people to come of age who had grown up with television, and while Moe had an idea that ignited his imagination, he was a long way from being able to turn that idea into the reality of a magazine. He says, "I didn't even know how the words got from a typewriter onto a printed page." He phoned his older brother Dave, a school teacher in Washington and the advisor for the school yearbook, for advice and direction about his new idea.

Dave Moe (aka Captain Powder) knew how to get the words from the typewriter onto a printed page of a magazine and he was so enthused about Jake's idea that he quit his job as a teacher and teamed up with his brother to turn the idea into reality. It took them two years of effort, promotion, solicitation, education and fun, but when Powder to the People Publications issued the first Powder 72/73 featuring sequence black-and-white photos of Pat Bauman in powder on Baldy, the world of ski publication emotion and photography was instantly and greatly expanded.

The first two people who believed in Moe's idea enough to loan him money were Larry Bauman (Pat's brother) and Gary Stitzinger, who put in $1,000 each. Moe sold his Porsche for $1,700 and with a total of $3,700 started what has become one of the most successful ski magazines in history. The first major advertiser from the ski industry was Salomon, and the first major brand name advertiser was Olympia Brewing Co. Olympia not only advertised in the magazine but offered readers of the first issue "a Powder deal" of four different spectacular skiing posters, "Bustin' for an Oly," "Spring for an Oly," "Headin' in for an Oly" and "Powder to the People," all for $2.75.

Two other people, according to Moe, had a major influence on the success of Powder Magazine. The first was the late Jim Tobin, a lifelong excellent skier who worked for Scott USA. Tobin, whose son Michael holds the record for the fastest time up the Baldy Hill Climb, literally gave the Moe brothers a foot in the door of the Ski Industries of America (now called Snowsports Industries of America). Most of the business and networking of American skiing takes place at the annual SIA show, and starting a ski publication without access to SIA members would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Tobin gave a Scott company pass to that year's SIA show to both Jake and Dave Moe, and once they were inside the doors of the show they pasted "Powder to the People" over the Scott logo and went to work selling emotion over information and photography over text.

"We went to every booth in the show," Moe remembers.

The other major influence on Powder's success, according to Moe, was a certain, cigar-smoking executive with Ziff-Davis Publishing, which published among other things Skiing magazine. In 1971, Jake was on tour promoting the idea of Powder and was having dinner at the Ore House in Vail with Tim Kohl and Tommy Leroy. A gentleman from a nearby table, cigar in hand, got up and approached the group and asked, "Are you the guys who are trying to start a new ski magazine?" Moe replied that they were. "Well," the executive said with cigar emphasis, "It will never succeed. You will fail because I publish Skiing and we own the market," and returned to his own table.

"That's the reason Powder succeeded," Jake Moe remembers with an irrepressible and proud smile, "because he said we wouldn't."

Moe enjoys pointing out that 40 years later, Powder is still flourishing, albeit not in Sun Valley.

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