Community December 21, 2020

Sun Valley’s “Irrepressible” Jake Moe

The founder of Powder Magazine reflects on media, magic, and adventure

In 1968, Jake Moe quit his studies at the University of Washington in rainy, overcast Seattle and, with $95 and a beat up 1955 VW Bug, drove to Sun Valley to become a ski bum. He was 20 years old and self-described as “…”small, with a severe case of acne, extreme ADHD, and with an overactive mind and mouth, suffering from foot-in-mouth disease.”

He worked on Baldy as a ski patrolman and as a dishwasher, waiter, roof shoveler, cook, cannery worker, painter, and whatever else it took to pursue a ‘magical’ life in the mountains. A significant element of that magic was “…the fantastic people of Sun Valley,” said Moe. “These people are too cool.”

By then he had adopted the motto, “If you’re not having fun, you’re fired.” Today he claims that he has fired himself from any project that didn’t meet that standard and that “Sun Valley isn’t Heaven, but you can see it from here.”

By 1970 the ski bum lifestyle and the sun of Sun Valley had cleared up his acne and expanded the potential of his overactive mind. According to Moe, four towers from the top of Baldy, while riding the single-chair Christmas lift on a stormy January 1970 day, a radical idea spontaneously entered his mind: American skiing needed a new publication that emphasized emotion instead of information and photography rather than text. His vision was to use this format to counter-balance the staid format of the primary ski publications of the time, Ski and Skiing magazines. It needs mentioning that Moe’s overactive mind was part of the first generation to come of age that had grown up with television; thus, his imaginative idea and his knowledge of how to turn it into reality were a long way apart.

“I didn’t even know how the words got from a typewriter onto a printed page,” he said. Moe phoned his older brother Dave, a Washington school teacher and advisor for the school’s yearbook, for advice and direction. Dave (aka Captain Powder) liked the idea enough to quit his job as a teacher and team up with Jake so they could turn it into reality. After two years of work, promotion, solicitation, a steep learning curve, and lots of fun, Powder to the People Publications issued the first issue of Powder in 1972/1973 featuring one of those cool people, Pat Bauman, skiing powder on Baldy, and a cover showing skiers making tracks in space.

Over the years Powder featured some of Sun Valley’s too-cool people and their activities and attitudes, among them Pat Bauman, Bobbie Burns, Jim Stelling, Pam Street, Ron Funk, Charlie McWilliams, Richie Bingham, Butch Harper, Ed Scott and Leroy Kingland. There are too many more to mention here. The coolest of them all was (and still is) Susan Bills, who worked for Sun Valley and gave Jake free ski lift tickets after he quit the ski patrol so he could continue to take photographs (and ski) on Baldy. Susan and Jake have been married for 51 years and have two children and two grandchildren.

The first two people to believe in Moe’s idea enough to loan him $1,000 each to get started were Larry Bauman (Pat’s brother) and Gary Stitzinger. Jake sold his 1962 Porsche for $1,700 (a Porche was more fun than a VW bug), which means that Powder Magazine was started with $3,700 and a huge amount of Moe brother’s energy. The first major ski industry advertiser was Salomon, and the first major brand advertiser was Olympia Brewing Co.

Two other people had a huge influence on Powder’s success. The first was Jim Tobin, a superb skier who worked for Scott USA and gave Jake and Dave each a Scott company pass to the Ski Industries of America show (now called the Snowsport Industries of America), which is where most business and networking of American skiing took place, and still does. Once inside, Jake and Dave pasted “Powder to the People” over the Scott logo and visited every booth at the show, selling emotion over information and photography over text. The other major influence on Powder’s success was a cigar-smoking executive with Ziff-Davis Publishing, which published Skiing Magazine. Jake was having dinner in the Ore House in Vail, Colo., with some friends in 1971, when a cigar-smoking gentleman from a nearby table approached and asked, “Are you the guys who are trying to start a new ski magazine?” Moe replied in the affirmative. “Well, the man said with cigar emphasis, “It will never succeed. You will fail because I publish Skiing and we own the market,” and returned to his table.

“That’s the reason Powder succeeded,” Jake says with an irrepressible smile, “because he said we wouldn’t.”

While he is well known as the founder of Powder, which he sold in 1981, Moe is also a serial entrepreneur and likely the longest standing tennis instructor in Sun Valley, having given lessons to friends in the restaurant industry in the late 1960s. Some of his other businesses include starting Sports Northwest Magazine, The City League Ski Racing Series, Ski Northwest TV Show, The Zip Line at Seahawks Stadium, Magazine, The Seafair Triathlon, and, with his partners, the Tennis Center Sand Point. In addition, Jake consulted with dozens of businesses in the ‘art’ of marketing, promotion and advertising at no charge. This October American Media, which owned Powder, declared bankruptcy and shut the magazine down. David Pecker, American Media’s CEO, and friend, ally and fixer for Donald Trumps’ affairs with Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, is the target of some of Jake’s current ideas about why shutting down Powder was not economically necessary or ethical, but those ideas are for another story.

Jake credits the love of his life, Susan, with putting up with his endless jokes, far flung adventures, multiple disappointments, and unbearably cheerful attitude.

This article appears in the Winter 2020 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.