Pow! And pouf it is gone. Yes, gone. Powder magazine, a one-time iconic publication for skiing powder in-bounds, in side-country or back-country, for afficionados of the steep-and-deep, is ceasing to publish either in print or on-line after 48 years. The British-based Bike magazine and Surfer are going to but, as we are coming up to ski season, let’s not confuse ourselves.
Yes. It’s sad, particularly because its staff are being laid off, but it’s also a sign of the times and not just the times of the coronavirus. The saddest part is the layoffs. It is becoming ever more difficult for journalists of any type to find work that pays. For a specialty mag like Powder you might not think that’s important but it is. The fewer reporters and writers that are to keep an eye on the industry that fuels the pastime you love, the bigger the chance that the industry will cut corners and not have your interests at heart. The press is there to keep operators and equipment makers honest. In specialty publications, there can be a closer relationship between suppliers and writers and their publications than there might be in daily or weekly newspapers and general interest magazines, but the instinct for truth and honesty and the preservation of a watchdog role still remains.
Powder was owned by American Media, sometime publisher of the National Enquirer and run by entrepreneur and Trump supporter David Pecker. American Media was no stranger to controversy. Pecker has a celebrated row with Jeff Bezos, head of Amazon while American Media still owned the National Enquirer and American Media featured in Ronan Farrow’s investigative book Catch and Kill which alleges payments to hush allegations about President Trump’s affairs. Pecker resigned as CEO earlier this year when it was merged with assets controlled by the new Jersey-based hedge fund Chatham Asset Management which bought the stories McClatchy group of American regional newspapers owners of The Sacramento Bee and The Miami Herald Hedge-funds have been buying newspapers across North America and making profits through cost cutting. Chatham merged American Media with another of its companies to form A360 Media and clearly sees no prospect of profitability any more on a niche magazine about skiing powder. But I digress.
Covid-19 has been the final straw for magazine and newspapers already suffering from declining advertising and subscription revenue that was never sufficient to cover costs. The writing on the wall has been there for a long time. Advertising has shifted to the internet and writing about everything has migrated to blogs, online sites and remarkably well made, but relatively cheaply made videos. Skiers, bikers and surfers load up photos of themselves on to Instagram, complete with equipment they are using and shots of the places they visit. With uploads of equipment shown for free, who needs to advertise?
Well, equipment makers and resorts still do but not as expensively as they once did in glossy publications and the likes of Google and Facebook enable them to target exactly those mostly likely to buy.
So, the traditional media that followed and helped the trend to backcountry, that encouraged and showed us how to ski powder have been passed by as the information they once monopolized has found a myriad of new outlets. Still, the danger is that a professionalism of presentation, analysis and technical know-how is being lost in the name of corporate profits and internet giants who don’t always have the public’s best interest at heart.
I saw the trend more than a decade ago and instead of looking for another job in journalism when I ceased to be a newspaper editor-in-chief, I switched to the TV and Film business which turned out to be a jump from a failing industry to one of fast growth. That, though, is not the point of this piece.
For every failure, there is an opportunity. This online publication is the opportunity. Without the costs of printing, Ski and Bike Mag can bring you the widest range of coverage of all aspects of skiing, boarding and biking. The special nature of online publications is that, at their best, they create a club around them of people passionate about the sport they love. Writers want to share their passion with you whether you are a beginning, an intermediate or jump from cornices into deep snow bowl. There may not be any money in it but there’s the satisfaction of passing on your passion, for feeling part of a culture that you want to spread. Unlike a print publication, an online site has no limit to the number or length of what it covers and has fewer problems in asserting an independence.
We don’t intend to replace Powder but we do intend to write about the joys of booting it or ski-touring outside of boundaries with avalanche, probe, transponder and air bag to charge into bowls and through trees making new tracks and we hope that you will see us if not as friends then as fellow travelers in a sport that needs is can be difficult to perfect (perfection is possible?) and supplies a rush that few others provide.
Think of Ski and Bike Mag as your online club. Write to us. Offer us pieces of what you love and where you go. This coming season is going to be strange. Many of you will ski closer to home and maybe get to know your local slopes better than you ever have. Maybe you will venture out for the first time feeling safe with social distancing outdoors. Tell us.
The tradition that glossy magazines upheld is carried on here but in a more interactive and friendly way. Powder has failed but those great powder mountains are still there and we are here to help you with resorts, equipment and when it’s safe, apres-ski too. If we have conflicts with suppliers or resorts, we will let you know what they are. If an advertiser pays for an article, we will differentiate it from other pieces. We want this to be a magazine for an about skiers.