Wednesday, January 30, 2008
So after my ugly experience at the Governers Cup I was lamenting the fact that I have paid for an entry to the Sibley Race in Thunderbay this March. While sitting in Dave Larsons sauna the other day however, I was told that there is actually a wooden ski category at the Sibley! Hey what a great way to make me ski slower, not try and race and still get in a 50km ski. I has just recently come across a pair of Kongesberg Race 200 wooden skis at a thrift store for 10 bucks and was wondering what I would do with them. So my question is this. If you are doing the "wooden ski" class does that mean you need to use oild school boots and bindings too? Does it mean that you need to use bamboo poles as well? In any case check out the wooden skis site it has somce great history.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
It was an interesting and bitter sweet weekend for the Marg and I. We went to the Governers Cup 25 km race held at Camp Ripley, an Army National Guard base in central Minnesota. The reason we went was to see the Biathlon Training Facility that my Grandfather is atributed to creating. In fact he is given credit for establishing the whole recreational and winter training center there and was just recently promoted to the rank of Brevet Brigadier General for that act. A rare thing to do after a person death. (Buck died two years ago). It was an awesome thing to be skiing a course and realizing that the race would not have even taken place had it not been for my grandfather. Indeed it was the only thing that allowed me to finish the course. Within four minutes of skiing my heart went into a pretty heavy bout of A-fib and I had to flounder like a fish out of water for an hour and forty five minutes, literally walking and standing to finish, so needless to say the race was no fun for me but I was happy to be there to experience my grandfathers success.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
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.
It would be hard to find a person happier than Chip Chase. Chip is one of the founders of Whitegrass Touring Center. He and his wonderful wife Laurie are certainly the force and genius behind the success of the most unique ski center in North America.
And how could Chip NOT be happy? He lives on the toe of a ski paradise that includes 50 km of trails -- all ranging from 3200 ft to 4400 ft. He has the Dolly Sods Wilderness area right next to that, and two alpine ski areas next that that! He lives in an area that has defied the housing boom and has dodged the hokey development bullet that has been the death of many other authentic and unique places in our country.
He is surrounded by his wonderful family, his wife Laurie who with her staff produces what could be the best food I have ever eaten, let alone at a ski area. He is also surrounded by his children, all of whom ski better than you do. How proud can a dad be to have a touring center packed to the gills with people, eating talking and relaxing when your sons are hucking backflips on Nordic gear out the front window? The whole place was roaring with every hit.
Chip also has some of the best music in the world coming to his neighborhood. If you don’t believe it check out the “Purple Fiddles” web site http://www.purplefiddle.com some of those bands and musicians play at his café every night. Chip is also happy because after 30 years of doing biz he shows up at work every winter to all of HIS friends. These are people who come every year to see him, to ski to eat and to just enjoy his ski area and his life.
Cool thing is that you too can enjoy a small bit of Chips happiness. A perfect day is a nice ski on the trails, lunch at the center and then a nice hot sauna just before a four star meal at the café while a bluegrass band seals the deal.
Oh yeah and then there is Barry’s world……..
As a skier I have spent a good deal of my life exploring the world looking for truly unique ski experiences. I have skied overhead powder at Alta, Utah. Raced the Birkie in Wisconsin, dodged the old growth Hemlocks in the UP of Michigan, stumbled along the Canadian Ski Marathon (two days 180km) fought pine martins in the Gaspe, Quebec, bombed chutes in LaGrave, France with Doug Coombs and sucked Weiss beer after a huge day of spring touring in the Alberg and lastly skied Norway in all ways Nordic for weeks.
All of these experiences were extremely memorable and all of them truly spoke to the idea that ski experiences, technique and culture are most certainly regional. I say that in the idea of Anthropology. This means gear choices are made on the terrain you ski, this then dictates how you ski, where you ski and when you ski, it may even dictate what you eat and what you drink and who you ski with for that matter!
For most of my ski trips I can honestly say that in that vein there has been a lot of cross over. IE my tele boards were the same on my Alta trip as my Norway trip and the powder, aspects and ski lines close in scope as well, or perhaps my three pin light touring boards used on the Escarpment in the Porcupine Mountains were similar to the light touring set up I used in the Vermont woods. Certainly there are vast differences and each experience was unique but so to were the similarities numerous, after all its all skiing.
So you can imagine my excitement and my surprise and enjoyment when I finally after 10 years of thinking about it, visited Whitegrass Touring Center in the Canaan Valley, West Virginia. This truly is a unique place, not just in where it sits geographically but in how it is skied and in who skis there. I truly felt like I had landed in a new tribe, a place where the old ski axioms went out the window and where interesting and exciting skiing happens everyday, with interesting and exciting people. For me my trip to Whitegrass with my wife Margaret and my friends Mike and Shauna gave me hope, hope in the future of skiing, hope in people and hope in the future or our country.
The next few posts will speak about Whitegrass but if you are not into prose, then just realize this. One three day trip to Whitegrass for me, a lifelong and prolific skier, has changed how I look at many things in my life, so take it from me, change your life and book a ticket to West Virginia
A great trailer for the Winter Wildlands Alliance film fest that will be at the Winter OR show this week. If this doesnt get you fired up, your lost......A couple of Snakes clips in there.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
So Whitegrass http://www.whitegrass.com/report.html had zero snow two days ago but just received a nice deep batch of the goods yesterday and last night. No skiing, to skiing in 24 hours. I was surfing around the web last night and saw a thread on Tele tips about skiing in the DC area. Almost everybody panned it, but there were a few that got it right. Whitegrass kicks ass. It is not about the vert, it is not about the snow depth, it is not about the nubmer of kilometers or the grooming. It is about the spirit and the passion and the people and Whitegrass has more of that than anywhere and it could be due to the feast or famine position it is in in regards to snow. All I know is that on Friday I am boarding a jet plane with Margaret for a party hillbilly style and it is going to be a ski to remember.
I have been meaning to post this for some time now. However the skiing has been just awesome so I have been spending more time doing that than anything!
So I had a bunch of good buddies come out for a sauna building session. We have a ton of shiplap to whack up so I bought a bunch of Fitgers Beer, Thirsty Pagan Beer and made Pheasant Soup and tossed some Elk burgers on the grill. It was a great day and I have to once again thank the guys that made the effort and helped me out. They will be the ones that feel the most satisfaction when we are all stewing inside of it after a huge ride or ski!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
As a young college grad I headed out west like so many of my peers to get a taste of the mountain life. I somehow ended working at Lone Mountain Ranch. At the time perhaps the premier Cross Country Resort in the country. It was at its peak, it was still owned by Bob and Viv Schapp, both extremely passionate nordic skiers, it had none of the developement it has today so it bragged 95 Km of trails and it had a brand new Piston Bully 160 that I was in charge of driving. My life was perhaps defined by that year at Lone Mountain. Well, the new trend in Nordic resorts, places that have lodging, huge amounts of space for trails and an ethic and mantra based around aerobic skiing are quickly dissapearing as owners tire of the lackluster snow years and see a huge profit to be made in selling off the acreage for developement. Here is another resort, Royal Gorge, long called the holy grail of nordic ski resorts is also being sold chunk by chunk http://www.saveroyalgorge.org/
Lastly, I can not say this is the case for Bearskin Lodge, but after having a lengthy conversation with the new owner at his New Years Eve party this year I came away with the IMPRESSION that he was thinking of the exact same thing for his resort on the Gunflint trail. Only time will tell.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
Wow, what a crazy month! We had a film showing at the famous Korkki Nordic thanks to Mick and the Ski Hut. We then went on a huge tour of the state visiting family and spreading holiday cheer and fear. Then on the return to Duluth I pulled out and skied the 90km double Birkie, the length of the race course, then back. From there we then headed up the North Shore to Gunflint trail and the Bearskin lodge for three more days of skiing with a great posse of friends. Needless to say, I am a bit burnt out at this point but so it goes. The snow is good, sounds like there is a warm up coming so we might as well squirrel away some K's!