The morning sky was royal blue. The Wyoming snowpack deep. The competitors poised on the summit. Everything at the Jackson Hole Powder 8's competition last January pointed to another epic contest¿except for the matter of no powder.
For the first time in the annual event's 24-year history, contestants in the powder-skiing contest had to do the unthinkable: compete on a groomed run. Why? The day before the event, ski patrollers, eyeing an unstable snowpack, blasted Cody Bowl, the venue. The explosion loosed a rumbling avalanche that scraped the bowl clean and piled rocks, snow and debris where the judges usually stand.
Unfortunately, a sun crust and local skiers left little untracked powder in the resort's remaining 4,000 acres, so organizers chose the groomed Slalom Face as Cody's less-than-desirable understudy. The irony escaped no one. "You pay 60 bucks to enter and you want to at least get first tracks," lamented competitor Kris Lunde.
Nonetheless the show went on: Judges evaluated teams more on the subtleties of technique than the symmetry of tracks. Some competitors warmed to the change more than others. "In powder, maybe you can make a mistake with your hand, but nobody can see it because of the snow. Everything's open on corduroy," says Sue Mason, race organizer. Few of the competitors could complain of the scrutiny: Seven of the nine two-person teams, including victors Chris Leveroni and Franz Kessler, were ski instructors.
The event is a qualifier for the U.S. National Powder 8's (also held in Jackson), which in turn sends the winning team to represent the U.S. in the World Powder 8's in Canada. Locals Lunde and John Lohn placed fourth on the groomed and qualified for a berth in the national championships, where they captured second place in a more inviting¿and powder-filled¿Cody Bowl. (For the first time ever, a female team, from Beaver Creek, Colo., won the Nationals.) Early in the event's history, contestants often entered on a whim to showboat before the home crowd. Now, "the competition is serious and tough," Lunde says. He hesitates to pick favorites in the Jan. 29 competition. "That's the thing about Jackson. There are so many great skiers that anybody could step up."
No matter who competes, everyone will be praying that history doesn't repeat itself. "The Corduroy 8's doesn't sound so good," Mason admits.