Canaan Valley Legend

By Posted on Feb 13 2019 | By

Founder of White Grass Ski Touring Center widely known and beloved

Wild, wonderful West Virginia? True enough. But the state’s slogan might also fittingly apply to Chip Chase. Chase is the whirling dervish owner of White Grass and is everywhere present at one of the most popular cross-country skiing centers in the Nation.

Chip Chase

Almost 25 years ago the Washington Post named it one of the best ten Nordic ski areas in the country. Chase hasn’t taken his foot off his snowy gas pedal since. If you are looking for the perfect definition of authenticity, then a trip to White Grass is de rigueur.

Nestled on the northern slope of Cabin Mountain in Davis, W.Va., the resort is one of the oldest “free-heeling” ski venues in the country opening in 1979. More impressively, its current lodge dates to 1959 when it served as an early downhill ski resort.

The magic starts when you step into the lodge and simultaneously back in time. All in one footfall. Chances are good Chase will be there to greet you. “Hey, good to see you.” Typically followed by a wave, handshake or hug.

His voice is so distinct you can hear it above the raucous din of a packed lodge when you think they can’t possibly get another skier inside the small building. His banter bounces around the room like a laser light show: “You do the same!” “Want a sip of shine?” (seriously) “Go pick out a pair of boots, we’ll make a deal.” “Conditions are ideal. Get out there and ski!” And on and on.

The man was vaccinated with a phonograph needle as evidenced by his nonstop chatter. But what you are really hearing is the sound of love coming from him and ricocheting back from his legion of fans.

“I just love people. People turn me on. They just get me excited. If I see somebody I know, I get a rush in my body. I just want to hug them.

Chip’s mom Janie

“I learned that from my Mom, Janie, who was super friendly. She taught me everything I know about loving people. I just happen to be in the kind of business where that works,” said Chase.

To reinforce his mother’s influence, her photo, taken in 1948 and holding a set of ski poles, is prominently displayed in the lodge. A beautiful woman with Chase’s knowing smile.

In the beginning
So how did a self-described “Air Force brat” grow up to become the owner of a legendary ski resort? First, with Chase “grow up” is loosely defined both emotionally and physically. The “Chipper”, 65, is a slim, athletic man who has never won the tallest man in the room contest.

And secondly, if someone told Chase he had to grow up when he was young, it’s likely he would have suggested where they could stick the idea. Yes, he’s successful. Yes, he’s a savvy businessman. And yes, he’s a loving husband and father of a daughter and three sons.

But he would emphatically refuse to wear a “grown-up” label that might be taken as the aura of conventionality. His badge of honor is childlike exuberance. And it’s contagious.

As a young lad, he traveled the world as the son of an Air Force father who was a downhill skier and sportsman. Chase first learned to ski in Alaska and Colorado while the family lived there but later gave the sport up.

“Then one winter I went up to New England to visit my sister and I got turned on to cross-country skiing. I was 19. My whole family was downhill skiers. There weren’t many cross-country skiers back then,” said Chase. “It was like people felt sorry for you if you cross-country skied.”

Back home in Virginia, he met his second wife. “Laurie and I had three boys together and have been married almost 40 years. I had had a previous marriage and it was awesome and I have a wonderful daughter from that marriage.”

Chase lived in Northern Virginia while his father worked at the Pentagon and Laurie originally hailed from Strasburg. But the young suburban couple loved country living and moved to the Shenandoah Valley, got married and set up a, “sorta homesteading life together.”

“We were into a kind of subsistence living. I was a back-to-the-lander and worked all kinds of jobs; carpentry, apple picking, chimney sweep. I did a little bit of everything to make ends meet.”

From the suburbs to living in the mountains is where the White Grass journey began. Chase’s emerging love of cross-country triggered an idea to start a ski place around Harrisonburg, Virginia. Unfortunately, nature did not cooperate with sufficient natural snow.

Hearing that Canaan Valley W. VA. had reliable snowfalls, he discovered an old downhill ski resort south of Davis that had success written all over its weathered facade. Almost four decades later, the genius of not tearing the original building down but turning it into a homey, retro cross-country venue is evident to thousands of his loyal skiers.

As the ski operation took off, a café was opened to feed the growing kick and glide crowd. Its food reputation is equal to the skiing resulting in popular cookbooks written by his wife Laurie, who heads up the kitchen.

Chase says, “The café is great. We serve international cuisine focused on healthy foods. Its operation is subsidized by ski revenues. “We never tell the kitchen there are too many expensive ingredients. We just tell them one thing. Cook! And to never hurry up.

“The café is a no-brainer. Skiers come in here so hungry after skiing they’re chewing their arm off.”

As White Grass sets its sights on its 50th anniversary Chase says, “I feel pretty healthy. I eat well. I sleep well and I don’t have many physical ailments. The farmer that I rent this land from is 97 years old and going strong; 65 is today’s 45.

“We started with a simple goal and if you take baby steps toward reaching such a goal it makes it even better when you achieve it. It’s so much fun,” said a grinning Chase.

White Grass ski resort is opened whenever the snow flies or lays packed on its trails. If you don’t cross-country ski, consider renting top quality equipment and taking a lesson. Or rent or bring your snowshoes and explore the 18 miles of mountain and pasture trails.

Oh, and bring your appetite.

For the complete White Grass story, including trail conditions and webcam photos drop by https://whitegrass.com/

Published in the February 13, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES