Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Powder "Prophet" at Whitegrass
Skiing at Whitegrass is pretty hard to define. When you go to the typical Nordic resort in North America you find a highly groomed, highly processed product. Now, that is not always a bad thing. I mean I would be lying if I said I didn’t smile like a junkie after skating effortlessly on the perfect cord at Bohart Ranch in Montana. You also tend to find fairly flat and gradual skiing at most Nordic resorts. Sure there are the few that have some really big climbs like Lone Mountains “Siberia” or Trapp Families climb up to the “cabin” but none that are set up like Whitegrass. The only place that I know of that is even close to being similar to Whtegrass is a small place in Vermont called Bolton. Only I would say that Whitegrass is like Bolton on crack.
Whitegrass is set up on an old alpine ski hill. The trails are laddered up the slope, you have plenty of steep climbs or flat gradual “cat tracks” to wind your way up the grade. This is not so different than a lot of Nordic resorts, what makes Whitegrass different is how you come down. Very rarely are you in a downhill situation at the typical Nordic resort where you have extremely challenging pitches, where you might have to toss in a tele turn on your skate skis or rip a parallel turn on your classic skis. Whitegrass grooms the trails so that all types of gear can come down the runs. Some trails are wide and even and are very reminiscent of any ski trail in MN. But off of those wide trails there are a myriad of narrower, steeper rabbit runs that drop straight down fall line. At Bolton these would not be groomed, they would be left fallow, at Whitegrass though they groom them down so that you could hit them either on heavier gear or on race gear. Now keep in mind that peppered throughout this whole enchilada are vast amounts of cut, trimmed and buffed powder stashes. So Whitegrass is by far the only Ski touring center in my mind that TRULY addresses the full NORD. If you are the kind of skier who really appreciates the skate vibe, and who really appreciates the kick and glide and yet who truly enjoys the ability to drop a knee, link some turns and on top of all that do some big tours than get your ass to Whitegrass.
On our big tour of Whitegrass I used some waxable Karhu Quaniks. They must have been about 65 or 70 mm wide, had great glide (sintered base) and awesome kick. We toured all over the place for most of the day, stopping frequently at the warm stoves in the warming shacks. Chip just kept adding people as we went. We started with four of us and ended with ten. I know I am getting wordy here but someplace I need to mention the stoke that we encountered with every person on the trail. Certainly the trails were slightly challenging for a lot of these people, there was plenty of snow but the trails were pretty icy and the base was in repair, indeed 60 hours before that the place was brown. However, to hear the people on the track you would have thought that we were in BC with 20 feet of base and four feet of fresh. If you come from a place with no winter whatsoever and you come to Whitegrass with three inches, it is a powder profit no matter how scratchy it might be. We never once met a person that uttered even a slightly negative word, in fact almost all of them were literally rejoicing.
After a huge day we were back in the lodge and having a beer when Chip walked up to me with a copy of that story I wrote in Telemark Skier and asked me to sign it. I was shocked and maybe a bit embarrassed. I mean here was perhaps one of the best skiers in the country and hands down one of the most important people in our sport asking me to sign an autograph! When I did I thought about the idea of using light gear to scramble quickly up the slope to the highest vertical point, then to launch daintily down the piste to gobble up that reward for climbing, and that is flying downhill. Now that is profit, low overhead for big rewards descending, thus the idea of powder profit, however, I briefly thought that I should have written profit as “Prophet” as in Chip “the Powder Prophet” Chase.