The trouble with powder-snow enthusiasts is that they can't keep a good thing quiet. As much as they'd like other people to stay off the cottony snow, powder people insist on telling anyone who will listen what it's like—although they often have trouble finding the right words. Fantastic, out of this world, eerie ecstasy, floating on clouds—those are some of the tries. For our current issue we decided photographs plus words might do the job.
Alta, Utah, a mere 45 minutes' driving time from Salt Lake City, is the most talked-about powder-ski resort in the U.S. So it was to Alta that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED sent Photographer John G. Zimmerman and Reporter Paul Stewart last winter. Their mission was to provide for our readers the look and feel of powder snow as well as instructional guidance for conquering the stuff. (One challenge is orientation: Since you can't see your skis in powder, how are you supposed to know which way your toes are pointing?)
When Zimmerman and Stewart were about to depart for Alta they were assured by phone that "the prospects for fresh powder look pretty good." Even allowing for all the chamber of commerce powder puffery heard around Alta, the case sometimes is understated, and this was one of those times. It snowed like something out of the Old Testament: for nine days and nine nights, or until 10 feet of new snow had settled upon the seven feet already there.
After such a fall of powder, avalanches poise in the Wasatch Range like polar bears in ambush, and Zimmerman and Stewart (along with a couple of hundred other skiers at Alta) were kept virtually under house arrest at their lodge. Zimmerman was really miffed. Like all gifted photographers, Zimmerman is frustrated when he's not aiming his camera at something. He eventually was reduced to taking snaps of blue jays hopping on the snowbank outside his windowsill. Zimmerman's room was on the third floor.
November 15, 1965
Paul Stewart, unconcerned with blue jays, interviewed Ted and Wilma Johnson and Eddie Morris, the people he had come to see. The Johnsons, though often obscured by goggles and flying fluff, are the more or less discernible objects in Zimmerman's picture essay beginning on page 52. Ted Johnson, a powder pioneer, came to Alta 11 years ago from the more conventional slopes of Sun Valley. He was both amused and challenged to see everybody careering around Alta with the single-dipsy technique—a method which has everything except brakes. There must be a better way, thought Ted. The same idea hit Eddie Morris, who had just arrived at Alta from Minnesota. In skiing, Ted and Eddie are as American as blue jeans (none of that phony recorded yodeling racket at Alta), and it wasn't long before they had devised a homemade technique ideal for deep-powder conditions, which Morris demonstrates on pages 61 through 65.
How does it work? Well, the stylish Mrs. Johnson was just one of those knock-kneed snowplow skiers when she caught Ted Johnson's eye a few years back. Wilma was enrolled immediately in Ted's class and thoroughly indoctrinated with the Johnson-Morris method. Take a look at page 60 to see Wilma now. She can make those high-speed chandelles all day long and not bury her pretty head in the snow once. Well, not twice, anyway.