Saturday, March 2, 2013

Poaching Powder Week

The last week of February is the best week of the year for a select few ski industry players. February 2012 was my induction into the partying, skiing, networking and general mayhem that is Powder Week. Most popular ski magazines come out with the new season’s buyer’s guide around September to inform their readership about all the new skis and gear for the coming season. 

See my part in Powder's Buyer's Guide 2013 here!

Powder Magazine issues a buyer’s guide, but has decided to do their due diligence in a very unique way. Instead of tasking ski testers with index cards to grade certain features of each ski they’ve tested, churning out skis and accompanying grades like a factory line, each ski tester is paired with one brand for an entire morning, and a different brand for the afternoon. By skiing with one brand for a blocked out session, the skier not only gets to know the skis, they can chose a few different pairs in the line up and get an intimate knowledge of the brand from the rep and their sponsored athletes. Powder has been putting on “Powder Week” for years now, and has honed in on exactly how to organize the week.
First off, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is where Powder Week calls it’s home. Having this unconventional ski test at Jackson is key, in that more often than not, it dumps. The epic conditions and terrain of the mountain does justice to the magazine’s name while creating an ideal environment for trying out the hottest, fattest and radest skis for next year.
Gelande Quaffing World Championships, coincidentally during Powder Week

I was lucky enough to participate in the week as a “Fantasy Drafter.” The magazine invites the “ski testers” aka “Fantasy Drafters” to come in and pair off with selected brands to then write reviews about the skis. The group of “Fantasy Drafters” tries out all the skis throughout the week, then partake in a football-like draft to chose which skis they will write about in the September Buyer’s Guide. Other “ski testers” are involved, known as “Shop Rats.” These skiers are reps from ski shops around the country that are in the market to potentially put in an order with the brands, as well as inform themselves about the skis and gear to take home to their customers.

As we all know, the 2011-12 winter season as well as the current one are definitely not going down in history books for most snowfall around the country. Since the flakes haven’t been flying, so too have consumers not been buying. Ski shops and the ski industry as a whole have seen a decline in dollars spent, period. I believe this also affects the way brands are developing and marketing new skis, and how magazines are going about their buyer’s guides. Essentially, there’s no money, but brands and companies still need to spend money to make money. Spending money on marketing, advertising in magazines, providing enough equipment for the magazine ski tests to look like they’re doing well when really, they might be in the weeds. Given the brutal reality we’re facing with low snow winters, ski industry stakeholders are tightening their wallets just as much as the snow void between the “epic season” of 2010-11 to the current one. Dare I say out loud that this year's Powder Week reflects the decline in dollars since last season by tightening their budgets as well. 

See the Snowsports Industries of America's Industry Trends

All year I looked forward to Powder Week 2013, just as all the magazine people, Fantasy Drafters and Shop Rats were. This special week at Jackson is one of the only weeks in the season I get to ski for me all day every day and let go of the athletes I coach for a little bit. But this year, the magazine had different plans for me. I didn’t fully understand until I got up there this year, but I wasn’t going back as an official Fantasy Drafter this time. Instead, I’ll be reviewing 2014 boots. Still an awesome opportunity, but not nearly as much fun! I already carved it out in my schedule, and by god, I was going no matter what! So off I went, up to Jackson with my roommates who ski for Technica/Blizzard. It was fun to head up without a plan or obligation to do anything, just wing it and have as much fun as possible. Luckily through my experience last year meeting many of the reps and magazine people, I was pretty familiar going into it.

Day 1 I hopped in with the Blizzard crew and their first “Shop Rat” of the week. What’s cool about a lot of the skiers who participate is that they know the mountain extremely well. This shop rat was from Teton Village Sports, so he knew exactly what he was doing when he took us out the gate into the backcountry and up to Four Pines, a fairly short boot pack up a few ridge sections to some awesome terrain and untouched powder that fell days before. This set the week off right, even though I was huffing and puffing getting up there, it was SO worth it.

View atop Four Pines

Post-hike Eiffel Tower 

The major difference this year besides not being a Fantasy Drafter was that it barely snowed a trace. An inch over night here and 2-3 during the day there made for a vastly different experience trying skis as well as getting around the mountain. Last year I went out of bounds for a few laps, but was having so much fun and getting so deep in powder in the resort that I didn’t need to go into the backcountry to find the goods. This year, if you wanted soft untracked snow, out the gates is where you needed to go. Much of our skiing the rest of the week was done in bounds on hard pack, groomers and hard bumps with some soft snow here and there. This was still incredibly fun due to the high energy of the group, but was pretty hard on our bodies! (Not to mention the mass amounts of alcohol consumed each night at Spur and the Moose…)

To round out the week with a different take on things, I went out to Snow King to help out the Jackson Hole High School Ski Team. My friend, the Ski Prophet, coaches the team and asked me to come out to finish some video we’re working on while also giving the kids and myself a new opportunity. I volunteered to set a slalom course for them down lane 7 at the King as they prepared for State Championships at the same venue the next day. I didn’t know the hill or the kids, but thought nothing of it to come out, get the chance to ski and set a new hill and finish the project we’re working on. The kids absolutely loved it and were thrilled to get a new coach’s perspective on their home hill. It truly inspired me to see how excited the kids were with the course set that was nothing for me to do but meant everything to them. The energy and joy these local kids displayed reminded me of when I raced in high school and how much fun we had. The high school ski racing circuit has lower stakes than USSA racing and brings in kids that might never have an opportunity to try the sport otherwise. This sense of newness, no ego, no attitude after years of racing refreshed my view and sent me home smiling, ready to get back to my own athletes and get them pumped for their last qualifying race before U16 Junior Championships.

Powder Week 2013 was a whole new experience for me even though I’d participated the year before. Without a set guideline to follow this time around, I was able to explore the mountain, the skis and the community in a different way. Powder Week represents what skiing is all about for me and for everyone who experiences it. It’s about having fun with amazing people, skiing hard all day every day at the sickest mountain there is. Its truly an honor to participate and it holds a special place in my heart. I feel like once a Powder Week’er, always a Powder Week’er, and I hope to experience it for years to come in every way that I can. From being a Fantasy Drafter to an on-looker skiing the mountain alongside them, I hope I never stop skiing Jackson the way I was introduced to it, in deep powder.