British Columbia

Powder ski competition reborn in tribute to Canadian ski legend

Part sport, part art and part celebration of the great outdoors, the Powder 8 World Championships are returning to Blue River, B.C., home of ski pioneer Mike Wiegele.

Skiing pioneer Mike Wiegele launched the Powder 8 World Championships in Blue River, B.C. in 1980

The Powder 8 World Championships is returning to Blue River, B.C., in 2020, 40 years after ski pioneer Mike Wiegele first launched the event. (Mike Wiegele Media)

After a long hiatus, the revitalized Powder 8 Skiing World Championships is set to return to the snow-covered peaks around Blue River, B.C. next year.

What is powder 8 skiing you might ask?

Think two skiers with perfect synchronization and stylish turns, carving harmonic vibrations down a slope of knee-deep powder. 

Part sport, part art and part celebration of the great outdoors, powder 8 competitions reached their heyday 30 years ago as the popularity of free skiing was booming.

Mike Wiegele in an undated photo. (Mike Wiegele media)

And it all started in B.C. in 1980 with Canadian ski legend Mike Wiegele, who had the idea to stage the first ever Powder 8 World Championships as a way of promoting powder skiing and showcasing his helicopter ski business in Blue River, located about halfway between Kamloops and Jasper National Park.

Former powder 8 Canadian champion and 34-year Wiegele ski guide Bob Sayer was one of the early competitors.

"You're judged on your synchronization, on the shape of your eights, on the dynamic-ness of your skiing and your ability to stay nice and straight as you come down the fall line with one person directly behind the other." said Sayer. 

"It takes a lot of skiing together to get that rhythm and routine down just right."

Powder 8 competitions caught fire in the 1980s and gained an even bigger audience after getting picked up by ABC's and CTV's Wide World of Sports. 

But slowly, momentum was lost to the new kids on the block: snowboarding and the X Games. The final nail in the powder 8 coffin was the loss of sponsors in the global economic downturn of the 2000s.

The Powder 8 World Championships are returning to Blue River, B.C., in 2020 to honour of the events founder, Canadian ski legend Mike Wiegele. (Mike Wiegele media)

Sayer won't be chasing past glory at the 2020 Powder 8 World Championships because as Wiegele's senior operations manager, he's now in charge of organizing the event.

He says the motivation in relaunching the event is born mostly of a desire to recognize its founder Mike Wiegele, who turned 81 earlier this year and whose business is about to turn 50. 

"We wanted to do something to help honour that and we thought bringing back the powder 8s would be a great way to do it," said Sayer, who is acting as head organizer.

On Monday, Wiegele's contributions to Canadian skiing will hit the big screen at the Whistler International Film Fest with the documentary premiere of Call Me Crazy: The Legend of Mike Wiegele. 

The film chronicles his life as a powder hound, his move from Austria to Canada, time spent coaching in Lake Louise and Banff where he guided the early careers of Crazy Canucks Ken Read and Cary Mullen, and his evolution into heli-ski pioneer.

CBC requested an interview with Wiegele but he was travelling to Whistler and unavailable.

In a press release Wiegele said, "When I landed in the mountains of Canada in 1959, I had no idea the impact we would have on the sport of skiing. I was just in search of the world's best powder." 

The 2020 Powder 8 World Championships go March 31 to April 3 in Blue River. Sayer says 16 teams from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the U.S. and Canada will be competing.

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