Powderhorn Apparel may not be the first company you think about when the idea of skiing outerwear comes to mind. Our guess is that most twenty and thirty something year olds may have never even heard of the brand. But ask anyone who was in the Rocky Mountain region in the 70’s and early 80’s and chances are the Powderhorn name will ring a bell. So what is the story of this lesser known company? Check this out to learn about one of the more interesting companies making a comeback and take a look at their upcoming line.
Jackson, WY has often played catalyst in gear progression and development. From Dr. Bob Smith’s goggles to numerous ski shapes, gear has continually been redesigned, refined and re-imagined in the shadows of the Tetons. Much of the time, pushing the boundaries of product design wasn’t for profitability’s sake but instead to simply make something that could withstand the rigors that skiing in Jackson demanded.
In the early 70’s, before Gore-Tex, rockered skis, heat moldable liners and all the other spoils of modern ski technology, skiing and working around Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was anything but “easy”. One had to be tough and their gear had to be tough too. Problem is, in those days most of the stuff wasn’t up to the task.
John Horn started a company named “Powderhorn Mountaineering” in 1972. The gear was built to withstand the abuse that those who lived in the snow (such as patrollers) were putting on their outerwear. Immediately the product was a hit, especially with the Jackson Hole Ski Patrol. The iconic leather patches over the shoulders (to keep the shoulders from ripping when carrying stuff) was distinguishable, unique and very much Jackson Hole.
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A few old black and white photos from “back in the day”. Style for days….(click on the photo for it to open in lightbox)
As the story goes, John hired a seamstress to work out the A-Frame at the now defunct Jackson Hole drive-in movie theater. (For the Jackson locals, the theater was on the West side of town near the current Movieworks movie theater).
According to those in the business of selling outerwear in the day, even the process of ordering Powderhorn for a retail outlet was unique. With much of the stuff being essentially one-off, a shop did not merely specifically request certain garments but rather specified a color range, number and approximate size. That’s it.
And the stuff sold…in droves. The product looked good, lasted and was very much iconic to “skiing in the West”. Soon, the company had distribution throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Marcia Dyer (yes, that Dyer) said it best. “Anyone who came out West from the East always wanted to bring home two things, Coors beer and a Powderhorn jacket”.
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Pow skiing is pow skiing. No matter what the era or locale.
The company continued to grow with especially strong following in the Jackson area (look at any paper from the 70’s and you are likely to see a jacket) until the early 80’s when the founder, John Horn, was killed in a plane crash in a nearby lake. With it, the brand was also killed off as he left nobody with his vision to run it after his death. The family chose to let the brand die off selling the trademark to a company based in Asia in the mid 80’s.
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Jackson Hole Ski Patrol were some of the first to be outfitted in the product…can anyone name a patroller in these shots?
Fast forward some twenty-plus years and a gentlemen by the name of “Swiss” Chris Bättig, formerly of Spyder Apparel, purchased the brand from said Asian holding company with the objective of returning the company to its aforementioned glory. Having fond memories of the company from when he was stateside during the Powderhorn heyday, he has made it his mission to do as John did: bring functional, iconic outerwear that is unmistakable and high quality to market.
While the leather patches and see-what-happens order fulfillment systems may be gone, the company has found their footing offering top quality product to those looking for something a little off the beaten path. Or perhaps something to those who revel in the Powderhorn name. And with that, lets take a look at their 2013/2014 line…
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If any of our audience has anything to add to the story, please put it in discussions. Details, any inaccuracy in our story or any information on John’s son whom we heard was in the Jackson, WY area a few years back. Be great to catch up with him…