First Tracks at White Grass – Earliest Skiing in the East

– words and photos by Andrey Revyakin

[From the editor:  The world is truly upside down when a hurricane brings early season snow to the mountains of West Virginia, while NJ and New York City get pummeled by 90 mile per hour winds.  Prospect Mountain and Lapland Lake, which often have the earliest cross-country skiing in the northeast, are bare.  But in Canaan Valley, WV, White Grass reported 36 inches of snow from Hurricane Sandy.

I first met Andrey skiing at High Point; he’d come to the U.S. from Russia to attend graduate school at Rutgers.  Among his many accomplishments, Andrey earned a start in the elite wave of the American Birkebeiner, arguably the biggest citizens race in the U.S.  He’s got a nose for adventure and a fine touch with a camera.  I hope he’ll make additional contributions to OXF.  Herewith, his report on skiing White Grass this past weekend.]

 

I normally don’t take pictures [on a ski trip], but this time there was a clear demand for pictures.  Plus, one normally doesn’t get to skate on Nov 4th using racing boards. The earliest I skated when I lived in California was November 7. The earliest skiable snowfall in Russia I remember was October 22.

I would call the conditions I saw at Whitegrass as good as it gets.  They could not groom a lot, because they just got their power back 2 days ago, and had a lot of fallen trees.  So they had groomed an approximately three km loop around the lodge which was still reasonably hilly, similar to the biathlon side of Mount van Hoevenberg.

I skated it probably six or seven times, sharing the trail with many others.  Although I was on “good rock” skis, I could have gotten away with racing boards just fine.  At 3000 feet, there were no bare spots anywhere.  I put racing skis on for one loop just for fun. Realized that they need stonegrinding.

If I was myself circa 10 years ago, I would continue the same skating routine for the whole day.  But now I am an old seasoned dude who has a sensitive side, i.e. enjoys backcountry skiing!  So I changed into BC clothing (jeans and a fleece jacket), put my fishscale skis on, grabbed a pair of 25- year old Swix poles I got in Belleview, WA for $5, and climbed the switchbacks through the woods to “Bald Knob,” about 1,000 above the lodge. As you will see from the picture, it looked like Adirondack High Peaks up there. I think I enjoy BC skiing now even more than skating… well, if the skating is done on a three km (although perfectly groomed) loop.

I also took a hacksaw from Chipper [White Grass proprietor]  in the lodge in a hope to help them with fallen tree damage.  I later realized that I could not do much with that hacksaw anyway.  I still cleared may be a dozen thin trees I could handle.

Halfway up to the top, it was winter wonderland up there. Pretty cold, too, in jeans anyway, all sweaty after cutting trees.  I had no idea how to get all the way to the top, but luckily I met two volunteers on telemark skis.  They had a chainsaw with them, and said that the chainsaw could not handle the fat fallen trees, either. They did not look too upset about it.

It was getting close to sunset, so the dudes got excited about seeing it from Bald Knob, too. So we skied together through some windy trails which I never knew existed. One of the dudes, Cory, had the chainsaw in his backpack all the way. Prior to today, I’ve never skied at White Grass on backcountry skis. That is why I could not get to that part of the trail system: double-poling up 10% hills on skating skis never sounded attractive. Let alone skiing down in powder.

Anyway, as we watched the sunset at Bold Knob, it was getting seriously cold.  Then I followed them down.  I kept up, but not very gracefully: I have no clue how to telemark.  Will take lessons next time and maybe will buy dedicated Telemark gear from them.  I felt much happier after BC skiing than after 7 loops of skating.

Chipper was dancing polka in the lodge with his wife when I was leaving. They just had moonshine, and did not have to drive.

Spoke to the owner of a local store while buying coffee on my way back. He had a generator, and was open throughout the storm, which he was very proud of (and I agree).

Mailing my racing skis to Zach for grinding.