I knew it would be a fantastic day as I turned onto Freeland Road in Canaan Valley last week for a day of skiing. Snow covered roads slicing through six foot drifts led me to my destination at White Grass Ski Center. A unique cross-country and backcountry ski lodge in Tucker County where the laid-back atmosphere welcomes skiers to over 40 trails totaling over 30 miles.
Completely dependant on natural snow, White Grass has received over 220 inches of snow this year (so far) and boasts over 75 skiable days this year with all the trails open (and many more with the recent snowfall), one of the best seasons in the 30-year history of White Grass.
Although the parking lot was full, the trails seemed deserted with all the trails open you can really spread out and explore in solitude even when the place is packed, I only encountered six other skiers on the trails that day. White Grass uses a snowcat and snowmobiles to groom and set track on over 20 miles of trails leading through hardwood forests, spruce thickets, open sods and scenic overlooks that provide a stunning winter backdrop as you ski along the trails.
I began by taking a series of groomed trails that led to a place called Roundtop near the border with the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge where there is one of several shelters scattered along the trails, some even have stoves for warming up on cold days. From Roundtop I left the groomed trails and took a series of trails to reach Bald Knob, normally a beautiful vista that overlooks the Canaan Valley and a great place to take pictures after the exhilarating climb but clouds shrouded the peak this day. A brisk wind blowing out of the northwest made spending time on the summit a challenge and I turned to ski the face down the power line toward Weiss Knob above the Canaan ski area.
At the bottom of the face of Bald Knob, I left the power line and headed for the open glades along the top of the mountain. I found some tracks of other skiers to follow to the glades and enjoyed skiing through the deep powder between the spruce and hawthorn, which were about the only things not buried, by the snow. The snow was fantastic up there, 4-5 feet of the fluffiest of powders but just too deep to break trail and explore alone so I headed down the mountain.
It may be a long climb all the way to the top of the mountain but once you are on top it is all down hill and with the trails groomed so well it was like skiing on carpet as I descended three-mile trail. Nice and wide with a pleasant corduroy feel to the snow from the groomer, it made turning easy and controlling speed was a dream down the gently sloping trail. I turned onto a trail named Fern Gully, a bit more challenging but it took me down the mountain quicker. I had something else in mind and wanted to get over to Springer Orchard before dark for some skiing in the open meadows. The powder here was not as deep but had the same silky smooth character as the deeper stuff higher on the mountain only about knee deep here it was a dream to ski and making turns was a joy as I made several runs before twilight fell.
Chip Chase and his exceptional staff have been welcoming anyone looking for an alternative to the downhill skiing resorts nearby since 1979. They offer everything the novice or seasoned backcountry skier could ask for. Lessons from PSIA professionals, rentals and demos of all the different skis and snowshoes they stock, sales of skis, snowshoes, and all the other equipment you may need to explore the backcountry are available at the lodge.
White Grass lodge also serves as the gathering place for various winter outings and events planned throughout the winter covering a variety of topics. The lodge is also home to the outstanding White Grass Cafe that serves healthy daily lunches as well as dinner on Thursday, Friday, and, Saturday nights (make reservations days in advance, they fill up fast). White Grass is open 7 days a week from 9 a.m.. until dark.
As I write this the blizzard outside continues to drift over the roads and inundate the mountains with more and more snow making travel difficult, but the only thing I can think about is getting back over to White Grass to ski in some of this sweet, sweet powder that continues to fall throughout the weekend.