Chuck White found his fountain of youth in the mountains.
Ask Crystal Mountain’s technical director for freeride events how old he is, he’ll say 48. But he’s actually much younger.
“To anybody who gets into freeriding, I’d say, you’ll be young for the rest of your life,” he said.
White grew up in Maine and got hooked on freeride skiing when he watched the 1988 movie “The Blizzard of Aahhhs.”
He moved west after visiting the his wife’s hometown, Olympia. Since 1996, White’s been at Crystal Mountain, where he’s been a competitive freeride skier, an instructor, a judge and now a coach.
White’s still one of the best skiers on the mountain and can sometimes be found jumping off cliffs in the backcountry.
Sunday was the finals of Crystal’s final freeride event of the season, a Freeride World Qualifiers event staged on Silver King. White was there, working the microphone. A seemingly perfect role for him and his overflowing energy.
“If they go big, I go big on the mic,” he said.
A few minutes before the competition got underway, White stepped away from the mic long enough to field a few questions.
Q: What’s the difference between freeride and extreme skiing?
A: The difference freeride and extreme skiing, as some of the older people might remember it as, is that extreme skiing now is you go into place where you could fall and die. Where as our sport is more about fun and camaraderie and togetherness and being in the mountain and being part of a rad community of amazing athletes. And skiing lines that are extreme to most people but to these athletes very calculated, very much styly lines with lots of tricks.
Q: Is the freeride program growing?
A: Over the years it’s getting better and better with more momentum. People come and go. Athletes come and go. But our core values of our freeride program have been the same for years.
Over the years, the owner (John Kircher) catches wind of this event on the mountain where these people are competing directly against each other, but when they come through the finish line they are high-fiving each other. “Wow you probably just beat me, but great run.” ... He’s come on board and sits in our meetings. That means a lot. It’s great being a part of something I feel so passionate about. And it’s an honor to have that thing here at Crystal.
Q: What does the program entail? Events, training?
A: It’s a little bit of both. Corey Peterson and I run the event side of the program, about three or four events per year.
My other hat is that I run the freeride program, our education side, with Ingrid Backstrom. And if you just put her name in the paper everybody will know who she is. She is an amazing person. One of the most talented skiers in the world but one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. ... For somebody like me who likes to sit back and watch a ski movie on a stormy night while the mountains load up with snow, she’s there (in the movies). So it’s an honor to work with somebody of that caliber. And for our two energies to meet and to pass that along to the kids is amazing.
Q: How has the team done?
A: We’ve come home with numerous podiums, not only with the experienced competitors, but also with the first-time competitors. ... I think we are attracting the type of kid who is out here not for glory but to explore who they are and how they fit into the mountains and the mountain community and the sport of freeride.
Q: How do you find kids?
A: When kids in the ski school start skiing the terrain that freeride happens in, I’ll go by the classes or Ingrid will go by the classes and introduce ourselves and tell them what freeride is about. Maybe next year you could come join us.
... Our freeride tryouts are like a select soccer team’s tryout. We are turning kids away, not because we don’t want them on the team, it’s because you have to have a certain skill set to do this safely.
Q: So what skills do they need?
A: They need to have the skills in terms of skiing so we don’t have to backtrack. Then we are going to take it to the next level and we’re going to interject avalanche safety, steep mountain protocol and all the other facets that go along with freeride. How do you compete? How do you pick a proper line?
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