The following article is a paid collaboration with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
Chip Chase is a living proof of the vibrancy that comes from living your dreams.
Talking with Chip is like a breath of fresh air, like having a conversation with an old friend you didn’t know you had. He’s one of the original founders of White Grass Ski Touring Center near Davis, WV, where you can usually find him on the trails.
Evolution and a Little Bit of Luck
The combination of a life built on following your dreams and a lucky ski day is essentially what brought White Grass into being. Chip grew up as a self-described "military kid" who skied a lot with his family as they moved to various places across the globe, including spots like Alaska and Europe. With skiing firmly in his blood, Chip entered what he calls a “back-to-the-land” period in his life.
"I went into the mountains," he said. “I was soul searching, living off the land, learning the skills required to farm, garden, raise bees, keep a greenhouse, you know. I was a chimney sweep and a carpenter for a while to make money, then I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I could have a little cross-country ski place in the winter.’ ”
And that’s really how it started— another idea for making ends meet. And it’s simply taken off from there.
His first spot wasn’t White Grass, it was in the mountains of Virginia. It was at a higher elevation "that worked the first year, but then there wasn’t snow. But I heard that it had snowed in the Canaan Valley and that there was still snow over there."
So Chip took a trip and investigated, an adventure that led him to Bill Moore, who was the director of the Canaan Valley Cross-Country Ski Center at the time. They spent time together, "pushing the limits of cross-country skiing," which, one day, led them over the side of a mountain and into new territory, where they stumbled upon what would eventually become White Grass.
"We skied right into this place and thought, ‘Wow!’ " Chip said. “It was an old downhill ski area— there was a building and tow lines and things like that— and we thought it would make a great little cross-country ski spot.”
It was on private land, so Chip and Bill asked the landowner if they could redevelop the spot. It turned out that the landowner really needed help on his farm, so in exchange for a bit of farming, he let them restore the building. To this day, White Grass is still a functioning farm— in the summer the fields are full of cows and horses, and in the winter, when they’re fenced away, it’s converted into the ski haven that it is today.
More Than Just Cross-Country Skiing
"If anything, we’re famous for undershooting," Chip said. “We don’t exaggerate.” That advertising tactic has left more than a fair share of skiers wowed by the experience they found at White Grass— one that far exceeds their expectations.
While it started out as a vision for cross-country skiing, White Grass has morphed into so much more than that over time.
"People sometimes think that, as cross-country skiers, we just run around in circles and dig on nature, which is fine, but it’s also more than that," Chip said. “We’ve got great terrain, play hip music, and the whole thing is run by these old, back-to-the-land kind of folks and people love it. [Cross-country skiing] is something that catches people for life, not just a year or two, and that makes it special. A lot of our skiers are families with little kids because they want to turn them on to something safe and useful early on. Snowboarding and skiing just become natural extensions.”
Now in its 35th year, White Grass has grown in all directions. The cafe started with just soups and sandwiches, but is now a crowd favorite for their creative vegetarian cuisine. What started as Chip’s then-girlfriend (and now wife) doing the cooking just to keep customers around is now a full-blown cafe and catering service that even gives small culinary scholarships to local talent. They’ve even got several of their own cookbooks.
In addition to the cafe (which also has musical performances at night), you’ll find perfected landscapes that have essentially become the brand of White Grass— a range of challenges that result from snow farming, not snow making. Instead of using machines to make snow, White Grass opts for farming snow, which means they catch it with fences as it blows in the region’s natural windsweeping.
If cross-country skiing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities like snowshoeing and even a few spots for downhill skiing at White Grass, too. Besides eco-farmed snow and a variety of winter activities, there are 2 other things you’re guaranteed to stumble across during your time at White Grass: modesty and Chip himself, still doing a little bit of everything.
"I’m basically the good-vibe tech now," he said. “I’m pretty much a friend to all of my skiers. I roam around and take pictures for people. I still oversee everything a little bit and a teach some still because I really like it… but I try to delegate everything that I can, because then I can be the guy who sits there and helps. I walk people to their cars, put kids in their carseats, things like that. I’m a people guy.”
And that’s what you’ll find at White Grass, in the heart of the Canaan Valley and the center of the cross-country skiing world.
Catch Chip on the trails at White Grass.
Originally written for West Virginia .