There are a few good reasons why "powder 8s" competitions fell off the skiing radar the last 15 years. As the sport evolved in the late 90s and early 2000s, skiing slowly in perfect unison with a partner became antiquated, some might even say boring. The era of Scot Schmidt and Doug Coombs (real life TJ Burke and Dexter Rutecki) gave way to skiers like Shane McConkey, CR Johnson, and JP Auclair, who modernized skiing with a new kind of self-expression. Skis went from long and skinny to short, fat and rockered, allowing people to slash an entire slope in as few turns as possible. Free from the hindrances of skiing powder on race-stock GS boards, modern powder skiers slarved and surfed their way beyond figure eights.
But as Lynsey Dyer noted on Saturday morning at Jackson Hole's Grand National Powder 8s, held on the historic Powder 8 Face of Cody Peak, "We are so quick to forget our history."
Bringing some of that history back, Jackson Hole held the comp for the first time since 2001 to crown the nation's best powder-skiing tandem. Twenty-two teams gathered from across the Western U.S., including pairs from Aspen, Alta, Big Sky, Crested Butte, Steamboat, Telluride, and Vail, as well as seven local teams that had qualified a couple weeks ago.
In the end, Jim "Schanzy" Schanzenbaker and Thomas Roennau, two ski instructors from Aspen, took the top spot. The "Aspen Extreme" parallels were just too perfect. Schanzy and Roennau are as close as it gets to professional powder 8s skiers. After Jackson Hole stopped hosting the Grand Nationals post 2001, Schanzy picked it up and has been hosting it in Aspen ever since, to little fanfare.
Second place went to Nick Herrin and Troy Nedved, a team from Big Sky, Montana, and Crested Butte, Colorado, respectively. The last spot on the podium went to locals Chris Denny and Halsy Hewson, a team that had won the event twice in the 1990s, including topping the legendary duo of Doug Coombs and Jeff Zell.
Though the event was overwhelmingly positive, it didn't end without controversy. Local favorites Jeff Leger and Tanner Flanagan, skiing in the 13th lane, appeared to be among the top teams after putting down a solid run. But the four judges, who watched the event live and then viewed each run via video replay throughout the day, put them in ninth place. "What can I say," Flanagan said after the results were announced at Nick Wilson's, at the base of the tram. "We had fun."
Which was the point, of course, except that everyone wanted to win the pot of money ponied up by the event's title sponsor, GoPro. The camera company offered a $10,000 purse, with half of it going to the winning team. The remaining was split up by the second and third place teams.
"I had a great partner," summed up Schanzy, who closed what Roennau opened. "It was so easy to go up there and make eights with my partner, Thomas, and we crushed it."
Most teams were happy to simply be representing and taking part in a historic event. The original powder 8s made its debut in Jackson Hole in 1975. For nearly three decades, Jackson and its aesthetic Cody Bowl marked the final stop on the powder 8s circuit. The winning team would receive an all-expenses paid trip to Mike Wiegele's Helicopter Skiing, in British Columbia, to compete against international teams. Jeff Zell credits the competition for opening Coombs' eyes to the possibility of skiing around the world—on someone else’s dime.
Among the different teams competing Saturday, Victor Gerdin, 64, partnered up with his 25-year-old daughter, Theresa. They wore matching blue, yellow, and red Descente one-pieces. Victor had been a regular powder 8s competitor in the 70s and 80s. When he heard it was coming back to Jackson this winter, he wasn't going to miss it. "My strategy is for her to ski as hard and fast as she can and I just try to keep up," he said while standing on a windy Cody Bowl before they dropped in. "If I fall that's just the way it goes."
Crystal Wright, a local skier, wore a silver sequened dress and purple tights, while her partner, Jeff Annetts, donned a tuxedo. She expressed her appreciation for the different generations present, as well as number of influential skiers who have driven the heart of the powder skiing for so many years.
Dyer and her partner, AJ Cargill, had the first lane, decided by a lottery the night before. It was not the best line, as most of the powder had sloughed off from snow-control work that morning. But that didn't dampen their spirits. On the tram ride up, Dyer could hardly contain her excitement—a combination of too much coffee and jitters for going first. She said she hoped the powder 8s would return with some regularity. It's good for the sport, she said, as it brings together so many people from different walks of life for a singular purpose.
"It's so awesome seeing so many different people coming out to compete in low-angle pow," she laughed.
The timing for powder 8s to make a reappearance feels right. Skiing seems to have gotten over itself a little bit in its dogged pursuit of progression. Sometimes, it's good to look back and appreciate where we all came from—and make a perfectly rounded powder turn with your friend.
Jackson Hole Grand National Powder 8s
Cody Peak, Wyoming
1. Jim Schanzenbaker and Thomas Roennau (Aspen) 191
2. Nick Herrin and Troy Nedved (Big Sky and Crested Butte) 189
3. Chris Denny and Halsy Hewson (Jackson Hole) 187
4. Steve Cieciuch and Willi Glanzing (Telluride) 186
5. Bart Flynn and George Flynn (Jackson Hole) 185
6. Travis Crooke and Ryan Watts (Steamboat) 178
7. Brendan Levine and AJ Puccia (Jackson Hole) 173
8. Peter Huber and Tom Truss (Alta) 168
9. Tanner Flanagan and Jeff Leger (Jackson Hole) 167
10. Jon Hunt and Rick Hunt (Jackson Hole) 167
11. Sam Sehnert and Ethan Valenstein (Jackson Hole) 164
12. Josh Lautenberg and Frederick Rumford (Vail) 158
13. Drew Kneeland and Kyle MacDowell (Jackson Hole Ski Patrol) 155
14. Mike Janssen and Kris Lunde (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) 154
15. Bart Conrad and Scott McGee (Snow King Mountain) 152
16. Josh Fogg and Kevin Jordan (Aspen) 148
17. Sarah Felton and Brigid Horrigan (Jackson Hole) 140
18. Pat Campbell and Jamie Macintosh (Jackson Hole) 135
19. AJ Cargill and Lynsey Dyer (GoPro-Jackson Hole) 132
20. Crystal Wright and Jeff Annetts (Jackson Hole Mountain Resort) 127
21. John Beattie and Dave "The Wave" Muccino (Jackson Hole) 120
22. Theresa Gerdin and Victor Gerdin (Aspen) 114