Powder 8 Championships: An interview with Team Alps & Meters

Powder 8 Championships: An interview with Team Alps & Meters

If you're anything like the Alps & Meters team, then chances are you've seen Aspen Extreme and the final scene at the annual Power 8's Championships, where teams of two make beautiful synchronized powder turns while being judged on style, more than a few times.  It's a legendary ski movie that immortalizes a legendary competition. 

The Powder 8's contest at Jackson Hole dates back to 1975, where Pepi Steigler and Peter Habeler won the inaugural competition, beating out teams of powder skiers from some of the best resorts in the country. The mystique around the contest had a lot to do with the fact that it was always held out-of-bounds, long before Jackson Hole and other resorts instituted their current liberal backcountry access policies. 

As more and more skiers pushed into the backcountry to experience the thrill of big mountain powder skiing, the Powder 8's suffered from a lack of interest and was discontinued in 2001 until Jackson Hole revived it again last year. 

This year, Alps & Meters stakes its claim to the contest thanks to our own Burke/Rutecki-esque pairing of Alpinist Bobby Thompson and his partner, Max Martin (a former racer whose dad competed in previous versions of the competition). We caught up with Bobby and Max before the event next weekend:

 Bobby Thompson in Jackson Hole. Photo courtesy Ryan Dorgan

Bobby Thompson in Jackson Hole. Photo courtesy Ryan Dorgan

 Max during his racing days

Max during his racing days

ALps & Meters: What is your strategy for the Grand Nationals?

Bobby: Just practice. Max and I had never skied together before the Qualifier and had about 1,000 vertical feet to practice together before we placed 6th out of 16 teams. The event organizers let the top 9 go on to the Grand Nationals.

Max: Judges are looking for how synchronized and dynamic the competitors are. So those are the two things that we should capitalize on. For us, the most important thing is being synchronized so using audible or visual cues to ensure we are turning at the same time is going to be key for us. Of course Bobby and I had never really skied together prior to the qualifiers so we are going to have to do some practicing.

How do you practice and what are the keys to good powder 8's?

 Bobby and Max get started during their qualifying run. Photo courtesy Ryan Dorgan

Bobby and Max get started during their qualifying run. Photo courtesy Ryan Dorgan

Max:  A lot of it is just understanding each other's timing and style of skiing, so the best thing to do is to just ski! We will do some game day simulations on some runs around the resort to see if were doing it right or to see what we need to work on.

Bobby: Yeah, practice will take place this Saturday in a zone called the Headwall at Jackson Hole. We will make sure my pace and timing is correct and that Max is able to mimic my movements.

Keys to good 8's require three criteria to be met: dynamic skiing, round shape, and synchronicity. Dynamic skiing is the blend of turning and moving the body down the fall line with separation of the upper and lower body. A round turn shape is necessary to complete the figure 8. Synchronicity is achieved when a judge standing in the fall line of the competitors lane is barely able to see the partner in the back.

Of all who have skied powder 8's, who did it best?

Max:  No question, the old legends of Jackson. Doug Coombs, Micah Black, etc.

Bobby: I think that the original pioneers of the sport were the best at the Powder 8's, especially if you watch the historical video put out by Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (above) you can see how synchronized the teams were back in the 80s and early 90s. Those skinny skis required a lot of movement coming across the fall line, add in some deep powder and you are looking at quite the accomplishment. We have it easier today with fat powder skis.

Who's going first?

 The team uniform for the Grand Nationals

The team uniform for the Grand Nationals

Bobby: We've decided that I will go first as Max has more time on skis than I do (I began truly skiing when I moved to Jackson at age 23); therefore, that gives Max the advantage to blend his skill set with mine and follow the leader.

Max: I've spent most my life ski racing and have had to adjust my style of skiing to match types of conditions or specific hills. So this can be like another race just have to adjust a bit to match more of Bobby's style.

What's it like skiing cody BOWL?

Bobby: Skiing Cody is a dream! Cody Bowl just off the southern end of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort boundary is a large bowl with varying degrees of pitch and difficulty. Once you ski the bowl the run is not over as you have the opportunity to drop into No Name Canyon off the backside or continue on to Rock Springs Canyon, or if you are very bold you can take a run called Breakneck down into Green River Canyon. Having a partner, a plan, and knowledge of the terrain is especially key in the Jackson backcountry and any backcountry situation for that matter.

Max: I can't even think of a more iconic bowl. When you get off the tram and you see that bowl untouched, you feel like a little kid on Christmas morning.

What is the best thing about the event?

Bobby: I love the tradition, the spectacle of the sport, the silliness, and camaraderie enjoyed with my peers at a great event.

Max: I've always loved a good competition, and powder 8's are actually very challenging to do. You might feel like you're killing it in the moment but, then you look up and your 8's are all skewed. So, I'm excited to be in the moment and look up and see the proof of how well we did.

You've seen asPen extreme, right?

Max: You mean Top Gun on skis?

Bobby: "I don't speak American Express"