Sunday, February 28, 2021

The Puzzler: Skiing all(most)of the White Grass Trails in a day

 I consider skiing all the trails at White Grass in a day a backyard challenge, a choose your own adventure type of activity.  It's advertised that there are 50k of skiing trails at White Grass.  But, if you add up the legend on the map it is over 60k.  Then if you ski every trail known to Chip in the adjacent area ,  it is well over 100k.   If we've learned anything from this last  year, the truth shouldn't be open for interpretation, so let's just say, we spent an incredible  day skiing at WG trying to make a pretty picture with our gps track.

This is the second time, I've done this.  The first time was March of 2018 with my mountain biker friend, Paul Broughton.  We did a different route then and took several hours longer and temps were colder.  Paul isn't a super experienced skier, but he's great company and he's a mountain biker.  Which in my book means you are tough and are used to some slogging.  According to the New York Times writer, Sam Anderson, "Cross country skiing expresses something deep about the human condition: the absolute, non-negotiable necessity of the grind. The purity and sanctity of the goddamn slog."

This time,  me and mountain biker friend and owner of Blackwater Bikes, Rob Stull gave it a go.  On February 24th with 24 inches of snow on the ground, we started at 9 with the temperature 36 degrees.  The high would go on to be 48 that day.  Of course  when we turned our skis downhill for the first time of the day, was on Fern Gully and it was icy and spicy!  Later in the day, the snow was pretty slow!

Our equipment was typical White Grass gear...Heavy and light at the same time!  I choose 170cm Alpina 68T with NNNBC Alaska and Leki poles.  Rob had Rossignol Evos 190cm with 75mm Alaska boots and adjustable poles that he never adjusted probably.  First low point for me was getting a hot spot.  Now, I ski a lot and have worn those boots for longer days many times this year.  But I hadn't done so much flat tracking at that high of temperature, so I was getting a rub.  Later I changed my socks and put a little tape of it.  It never got worse, so I always had a little hot heel.  Next time, if conditions are similar, I'll use my lightweight Alpina Snowfields.  Rob's borrowed skis from Chaga were sticking even with loads of F4.  So he switched back to his own skis...Fischer 88s, a heavier, metal edge ski.

If you look at the WG map, one thing that stands out is there are a lot of options.  I don't know the history of how or when each trail came to be, but I can assume many of old logging roads/skids and many are old farm roads.  I don't think any were "purpose built" in a modern fashion for xc skiing. That makes many of them hard blues on the difficulty scale like Upper Falls, Weiss Ascent, and Sawmill and then legit black diamonds like Cathedral, Plum Orchard and Double Trouble.  And surprisingly the easy trails are scattered all over the mountains, down low like Harr Farm and up high like Shenandoah.

I haven't been to many Nordic Centers, but I believe that there is no place like White Grass.  The trail system is interesting, gorgeous, harsh, difficult and rewarding. The trails are fun, and skiing them with friends is especially fun.  I might consider doing this challenge again, but more of a race pace with a few more mtb buddies.  Another next challenge for me is to ski all the glades that are marked with blue ribbons and try to get over 20k in vertical feet.  Because White Grass is almost more of a backcountry park than a normal trail system.  It's way too fun to only ski on skiiny skis and stick to the groomers, but without that great grooming, it would be more of a slog.

We didn't need to carry much water because there are many springs on the mountain that sustained us.  My favorite snacks were pringles and beef jerky.  Rob's were shepherds pie and snickers.  Once in a while we would kick up the speed, but mostly we just skied at a mellow pace.  Very little telemark turns were made as the snow was a bit slow and grabby in spots.  Of course the Horn and pipeline and Spring Orchard are always great for getting a few in.

A real highlight was making it to the high point via Powderline, Stonecoal Ridge to Sheanandoah, Coal Robbie and the real Bald Knob.  When we got to Shenandoah the trees were snowing sunshine!  That is how magical White Grass skiing can be!  The sun was melting the snow off the trees and creating this kaleidoscope color amongst the Spruce trees.  We were getting snow down our backs and getting soaked but loved the exhilaration of being high on our skis on a gorgeous February day.  Right before all this magic, I totally spaced on going out to Stonecoal Flats and doing the circle.  I realized that after I looked at the gps picture and didn't see that circle.

While that was a mistake, I purposely left out Cabin Mountain and National Nordic.  For sure, they are on the map and might be skied by me on these future epics, but I was sticking to the front country stuff and Cabin Mountain trail definitely isn't a favorite of mine, but Natty Nord is!  We did add the Escalator and Doc's Drift though.  One part of the "slog" was going out and back on trails to complete them.  We did our due diligence that way and made it fun by ringing the bell of hitting our poles on the sign posts.

It was fitting hitting the snow farm to complete the day.  It was a nice way to finish seeing the fruits of  Chips labor and ingenuity skiing on 4 feet of snow out in the middle of a wetlands.  What a winter it has been.  One for the books for sure!

We decided not to share our route because it's not a FKT type of thing. Honestly, the athletics of the day  isn't that hard.  Rob has completed the Great Allegheny Passage in 32 hours and I've done The Ring and several 24 hour solo races.  But the fun and mind twisting part is configuring the route so it's enjoyable and has some flow and mostly is efficient. And then there's always the spontaneity of choosing the day and dealing with conditions.  Carpe Skiem and thanks for reading. Cheers!


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  2. Great write-up, Sue! I skied around Cabin Mtn. on 2/17/21 just for the heck of it, because I knew it was "last call". Clockwise from Blackbirds Wing, FR 80 to Cabin Mtn trail over to Stonecoal flats. Even with the deep snow pack there was plenty of water bars on the back side. Probably had to cross or go around 10-20 times and took my skis off at least twice. Needless to say, 'yah didn't miss much! By the 24th, you would have been walking it in deep water. There are very few regrettable ski routes at WG, but that might be one. Wish I had hit SC ridge instead haha. It was definitely cool to check out the steep North East face of Cabin Mtn. along the way, however. That would be a dream short downhill run.

  3. Great story! Glad I got to witness a little of it. Good seeing you guys out there.....a few times. Haha.