Answer: No, I just made up the name. I did not make up the activity. I am sure people have been getting off the beaten track for as long as there have been skate skis. My kids were into ASS sking within 5 minutes of first putting on skate skis, when they plowed into some nearby bushes instead of staying on the nicely groomed track.
A: Not enough. That's why I am publishing this guide. For over 10 years I liked having it all to myself. Well, not quite all to myself, as some friends and locals were into it. But for a long time I saw a total of 4 other people skiing, or preparing to ski, these trails. And one of those four is one of the guys who run the grooming machines and decided to give it a try after running into me a bunch of times.
Snowmobilers are well-represented when funds for winter recreation are doled out. One of my interests in promoting ASS is to encourage more people to give it a try. If it catches on there may be more support to allocate one of those trails for ASS skiing, at least during a couple days during the season. Then we would not have to abide by ASS Rule #1, at least on those days. Note that we have made some progress, as the Moose Dewlap Citizens Trek – a 41 km Nordic skiing trek – has been held one these trails the past couple years. The Moose Dewlap route combines the Fish Lake Tour (Route 1) with the Meadow Creek Full Tour (Route 11), both of which are described in the Trail Guide.
A: My friend Claude had good reason for not knowing about ASS. He lives in Georgia, after all, where getting some ASS only brings up unfortunate images of Ned Beatty. (Speaking of which: The river scenes from "Deliverance" were filmed in Georgia. I've been on that river, and the specter of country dudes haunts every bend.)
But not many people in the northern part of the country know about ASS either. I don't know why. With people climbing ice that appears only once every few years, or adventure racing, or doing any of a million other crazy specialized sports, you would think that something as aesthetically pleasing as skiing through pretty places in solitude would be better known and appreciated.
A: The Fish Lake Sno-Park − the starting point for the specific routes described in the Trail Guide − is 16 miles northwest of Leavenworth. From Seattle, take Highway 2 over Stevens Pass. Turn north (left) onto Highway 207 north for 4.4 miles. Go right at Chiwawa Loop Road for 1.2 miles to Chiwawa River Road/USFS Road 62. Go left ~1-mile to the Sno-Park.
You also can take the Chumstick Hwy from Leavenworth through Plain to get to Highway 207.
For a rough map of the snowmobile routes available for ASS skiing, visit the Lake Wenatchee Info site (a terrific source of local information).
A: I've been getting as much ASS as anyone, and for a long time. So I guess this makes me the King of ASS.
A: Short of killing yourself by slamming into a tree at 30 mph, encountering a snowmobile is the single worst thing that can happen to you while ASS skiing. The whine of that engine triggers what Cinderella must have felt at midnight. The party is over and you, suddenly, are riding a pumpkin.
Fortunately, not all is lost, at least if you have followed ASS Rule #1. You probably have encountered the occasional early bird snowmobiler (or two, as they sometimes come in pairs) who will pass by and leave you in peace and silence once again. Encountering a snowmobile does change the rest of your trip, however. The bliss of having a perfect trail all to yourself is replaced with the hassle of navigating the (now) uneven trail that (now) has snowmobile tracks. The whole experience degenerates to one that is, well, much closer to skiing at a Nordic Ski Center, where you have to share the space with others.
Here are some tips on how to enjoy the unique challenges that arise from snowmobiles. First, some things NOT to do:
After the snowmobiles pass by:
- DO NOT flip the guy off. Most snowmobilers are meaner and drunker than you. (The Skier's lawyer intersperses: "This is a joke. Really, most snowmobilers are courteous and safe drivers. You'll see them early in the day, so most have not had more than two or three Bloody Marys. They will not be perturbed by your itsy-bitsy presence on what they consider THEIR road. Heck, they probably won't even see you. They probably will not run you over on purpose.")
- DO NOT panic and jump off the trail. Remember, some of those hillsides are steep.
- DO wave, if you feel like it. Most snowmobilers will wave. They also will indicate to you if there is someone behind them. However, DO NOT lose your concentration and ski into a snow bank. I have done this, and it is not a pretty sight.
- DO NOT breathe, at least for 4.2 minutes. That is how long the exhaust from those engines stays in the air. Someone told me that the exhaust gets blown done into the snow, extending the time it takes to dissipate. I don't know about that. I only know that each gulp of air laden with that foul smell shortens your life expectancy by a month, if only because it raises your blood pressure. So asphyxiation by exhaust or lack of oxygen? Life is full of choices.
- DO pay attention to the trail. Snowmobile tracks make it more difficult to skate, but there usually is enough margin on one side or the other to keep skating on corduroy. The problem is when you go down hill. I just cross the snowmobile tracks back and forth as necessary to stay on newly-groomed corduroy, on which it is easier to control the skis.
A: What day wouldn't be good?
If you want a serious answer, it helps to know that the groomers frequently (but not always) follow a weekly pattern. What gets groomed when depends on trail use, snowfall, and the grooming budget. So nothing is certain. Nonetheless, you can count on the Pole Ridge (Route 10) and Valeria Way (Route 6) trails being groomed on weekends. The groomers go all the way up to Trinity (Route 14) about once a week, typically on a weekday. And the Alder Ridge (Route 9), Faultline (Route 12), and Beaver Creek (Route 13) routes get groomed often.
To track the grooming, you can visit the Lake Wenatchee Info site. However, this info is not posted until mid-morning, so if you obey ASS Rule #1 you have to go on spec. That is, you have to show up at the trailhead early in the morning and hope that your trail is groomed. If it isn�t, try skiing a different ASS trip.
A: First, figure out why your karma is so bad and commit right there to start treating others better. It is possible to get a good ASS ski in on beat-up trails. Give it a try for a mile or so and see if you enjoy it. Even if you do, however, it probably is best to avoid one of the more difficult ASS trips (e.g., Routes #10 - #15). These involve screaming downhills that are tough to navigate on icy, beat-up trails.
If you do not want to mess with an ungroomed trail, chalk this one up to bad luck and drive to one of the nearby ski areas for your morning workout. Fortunately, the Nordic ski options in the nearby Plain and Lake Wenatchee areas are also wonderful, including:
• Plain Valley Nordic Ski Trails. Just wonderful terrain and consistent grooming.
• Lake Wenatchee State Park. The State Park maintains several areas for Nordic skiing. The Chiwawa Loop trails offer fun but gentle rolling hills. The North Park trails are terrific for beginners and kids. The South Park trails link up to the trails at Kahler Glen golf course. And the Nason Ridge trail offers a 27 km challenging loop that is similar in distance and elevation gain, and views, to ASS Routes 10-13.
• Stevens Pass Nordic Center. The Stevens Pass Nordic Center offers a variety of moderate to challenging terrain, including some ASS-kicking hill climbs.
A: In the State of Washington, funding for snowmobile trail grooming comes mostly from snowmobile registration fees and an allocation from statewide fuel tax revenues. The fuel tax allocation is based on the number of registered snowmobiles and an estimate of the number of gallons of gas an average snowmobile consumes. The rationale is that snowmobilers pay fuel tax when they fill up their machines, so they should get it back for snowmobile trails.
The program is administrated by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service (it is mostly on USFS land), along with local volunteers. For the trails highlighted here, the volunteers are associated with the Lake Wenatchee Rec Club. These are awesome folks and we skiers should thank them whenever we can.
I have not looked up the budgets lately, but based on previous years’ budgets, I figure the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has budgeted over $3 million to help maintain 3,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in Washington State. The budget includes allocations for such things as administration, Sno-Park enforcement, snow plowing, and sanitation facilities. In comparison, the Commission typically budgets about 25% of that amount to maintain fewer than 200 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding.
A: Like any regular Nordic ski area, the quality of the skiing depends on weather and snow conditions. But the grooming itself is outstanding. Many days – again, remember ASS Rule #1 – the corduroy track sets up in below-32 degree temps with a slight icy crunch, and your skis glide as if they don't want to stop.
Snowmobile trails do have their own flavor, however. Snowmobiles cause some moguling that the groomers do not completely smooth out. So later in the season parts of the trail undulate with gentle snow-waves – an extra, if minor, thrill.
A: That's not a question.
Ok, what's Nirvana?
aving the whole place to yourself. ASS skiing really is a trippy thing.
That's when a lot of noisy beasts (i.e., snowmobiles) show up. Actually, I have met many cool people on snowmobiles, and the snowmobilers' code, which as far as I can tell most people follow, asks each snowmobiler to make room on the trails for skiers and dogsledders. So most snowmobilers are cool with you being there.
A: If you have never seen dogsled teams, that alone is sufficient reason to go ASS skiing. Go on a weekend and your chance of seeing a team is nearly 100%. I come from Alaska, where dogsled racing is a big thing. To have an active dogsled community right here in Washington is beyond cool.
Maybe because they also eschew motorized sleds, I feel a kinship with the dog mushers. The care and patience that goes into their teams is beyond me. I can only watch in awe. It's ok to see them as they are getting ready to go, but to see a team on the trail is incredible: panting dogs, padding feet, and the slip of the sled on the snow evoke images of Roald Amundsen racing to the South Pole. Sometimes the stillness is broken by the musher's commands, never shouted, always firm. Even when I otherwise might be pushing hard, I stop and watch if I am lucky enough to have a dog team go by. The problem is that, if you are obeying ASS Rule #1, you probably will see the dog teams only when you get back to the Sno-Park and they are still getting ready to head out.