In October 2020, Powder Magazine announced it was shuttering. The publication served as the indelible voice of skiing for 49 years, and its absence leaves an enormous void in ski culture. For people like me who grew up outside the influential sphere of a ski town, Powder was authoritative and essential, yet irreverent and authentic. It blended aspirational stories of far-flung trips to mountain ranges around the globe with tales of working-class heroes scratching out an existence devoted solely to skiing. Powder astutely billed itself “The Skier’s Magazine,” and the story of the sport and its culture can’t be understood without it.
Powder spoke to the core culture of skiing because it was born from the cauldron of odd jobs and steely determination in the service of skiing deep snow. Jake Moe lived the template for what’s become the paint by numbers story of a ski bum. He quit his studies at the University of Washington in 1968, drove the husk of a 1955 VW Bug to Sun Valley, Idaho and found employment as everything from a dishwasher to a ski patroller to a roof shoveler so he could ski as much as possible. It wasn’t long before he’d enlisted his brother Dave, who quit his job as a teacher, to help him produce a different type of ski magazine—one that spoke to the people who lived the culture every day.
The Moes aimed to tell authentic stories of the obsessive and detail the emotion that drives some to pursue powder at the expense of nearly everything else. Powder wasn’t going to be about selling ad space and marketing. It was going to tell tales of the ski bum because at the bottom of a powder turn, that’s what every skier feels like. In 1972, the first issue of Powder hit newsstands, and ski media was forever changed. Over the next decade, Powder barnstormed ski shops all over the country getting in front of as many real skiers as possible, succeeding with an irreverent style that challenged skiing’s establishment before being purchased by Surfer publications in 1981.
Even through subsequent ownership changes, Powder never faltered in its mission as the voice of ski culture. It’s inspired countless skiers through the generations, including those from here in Utah. “Powder was the very first thing that spoke to me on a personal level as a young skier. It didn’t have a hidden agenda. It was about skiing,” says Matt Hansen, a former editor with Powder. “It defined what it meant to be a powder skier. And being from Utah, I’ve been a powder skier my whole life.”
“I never felt like Utah got enough credit for the quality of skiing it has. I grew up in Cottonwood Heights, and didn’t know how it could get any better,” Hansen explains. “I remember getting the 2002 on-location Utah issue the year of the Olympics. The cover said, ‘Holy Land,’ and it talked about how great Utah was. I was really proud to see that, to see the recognition I felt had been lacking from national media and magazines.”
Hansen looked at the Utah issue reflecting on the pages what he was already experiencing, and it inspired him to tell those stories. It was “absolutely a total dream job” he never took for granted. Countless others read those stories, saw the pictures of endless powder turns and flocked to Utah from all corners of the globe. To some outsiders, Utah’s eccentricities are a peculiarity leading them to pronounce the state’s name with a furrowed brow and the intonation of a question. The rest of us read pieces like the one where Abbie Barronian embedded as a dishwasher at the Goldminer’s Daughter or the one where Julie Brown profiled Lee Cohen, one of the most prolific powder skiing photographers of all time who naturally lives in Utah, and innately understood this is indeed the place.
Powder didn’t just inundate readers with deep snow propaganda from Utah, it laid bare the issues challenging skiers who make their lives in the mountains. Whether that meant confronting the impossibly daunting issue of climate change in towns like Park City or diving headfirst into the fraught waters of avalanche safety with their essential Human Factor series, Powder told the stories skiers needed to hear.
Over the years, Powder expanded beyond the confines of the printed page. There were videos, multimedia projects online and 20 years of the Powder Awards, which I was lucky enough to attend in Salt Lake City on several occasions. But however the media landscape evolved, Powder will always be fondly remembered as the glossy book with the insight into true ski culture. “It’s such a gift to get a magazine in the mail. Every issue was a work of art,” Hansen says. “Powder was curated with a staff who wanted to speak to skiers everywhere about the vibe and culture of skiing. I think if we end up relying on social media for an understanding of what powder skiing is, that’ll be sad. It’s just not honest in the same way.”
No matter how ski culture evolves, the core of powder skiing will remain, pure and unadulterated. Because of that, the stories about it are timeless, and we’ll always be able to return to them for authenticity and inspiration. Flip through the pages of back issues. Scroll through the online archives. Pin up your favorite photos—the October 2011 cover shot from Alta comes to mind—like you’re a kid falling in love with skiing all over again.
Farewell, Powder. We’ll never forget you. We’ll continue to honor your legacy the best way Utahn’s know how... by getting out there and shredding deep powder ourselves.
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