The snow that’s falling is wet and heavy, even by Lake Tahoe standards. I do my best to keep my back to the storm and keep my gloves under my jacket, but with each passing minute the goal of staying dry becomes more and more hopeless. It’s pounding snow, the wind is steady and as I hold my place in line for third chair at KT-22 on a powder day at Squaw Valley, I continue to wonder when the mountain will open.
Nine in the morning comes and goes. At first there was a mechanical problem with the lift. So we continue to wait. Now ski patrol wants to make another bomb run. Then another. Ten in the morning comes and goes. Red Dog opens, and skiers start to bail out of the back of the line. What to do? Cut my losses and go to Red Dog? No. Keep waiting. The clock ticks past 10:30 a.m.
Among the mass of goggles, helmets and jackets, amid the sounds of boot buckles being clamped down and conversations about what lines will be filled in, you invariably wonder: Who are these guys? Some of the best skiers you’ve never heard of.
Now do I bail? No. I’m committed. I don’t care how cold and wet I get. I’m getting my line. Finally at 11 a.m. KT-22 opens. While standing there, I can’t help but smile and think about how many amazing skiers were in line that morning. The guy in the red jacket with the new 4FRNT Renegades – what’s his story? I wonder how good he is. Or that guy on the Armadas, talking and laughing with his friend in the blue jacket on the Salomons. I wonder who he is. A local pro? Maybe. I wonder. Who are those guys? Some of the best skiers you’ve never heard of.
The Lake Tahoe area is legendary when it comes to producing talented skiers. Shane McConkey, Kent Kreitler, the Gaffney brothers, Cody Townsend and a host of other legendary names have come out of Olympic Valley — and for good reason. They spent decades building reputations as some of the most talented and experienced skiers in the western U.S.
But behind them – or beside them in a Fingers Race on a powder day – are plenty of other skiers who have dedicated their lives to the sport in the same way. They spend their summers working their fingers to the bone so that they can spend their winters skiing their home mountain as many days as possible, traveling to other ski destinations, building relationships with photographers, entering competitions and living the life of a sponsored skier. Patrick White, one of the grizzled veteran, sponsored skiers at Squaw Valley, described the mentality of waiting in line at KT-22 on a powder day as: “I don’t care who you are, I’m going to the Fingers, too.”
Epicenters of skiing such as Lake Tahoe are full of skiers like Patrick White. Whitey, as he is affectionately known to his friends, spent his time as a sponsored skier exploring epic lines all over the world from South America to Europe, Canada to Alaska. He went to Chamonix, France, five times with ski mountaineering partner Kip Garre. He did the Spearhead Traverse near Whistler, Canada, with Trevor Petersen. And, he has spent the last 17 years making trips to Alaska, including multiple first descents in the Chugach Mountains and Chilkat Range.
But there are only so many pictures available in ski magazines and only so many segments available in ski movies. So even though most of them never reach the point where the random kid in New Jersey knows their name, they continue to work diligently each year to hone their craft, simply because they love to ski.
Now at age 45 with a wife and two kids, Whitey juggles running his business, introducing his kids to skiing and finding time to charge his favorite lines at Squaw Valley.
“When the heyday is over, it’s still about skiing. It’s still about having fun. You are choosing to make it not stop,” he said.
So if you are at Squaw Valley one day and you see a guy dressed all in black making Nose to Alternates laps like he could do it in his sleep, he may be Whitey. If you happen to sit next to him on your next ride up KT-22, feel free to ask him about some of his first descents in Alaska.
If the skier on the other side of you on the chair has a quick smile and an easy laugh, maybe he’s Kris Thomas. You can ask Kris what life is like on the freeride competition circuit.
The next time you’re in line at KT-22, waiting diligently for ski patrol to open the mountain as the storm clouds and wind continue to pile up snow, take a minute to look around at who else is in line. Among the mass of goggles, helmets and jackets, amid the sounds of boot buckles being clamped down and conversations about what lines will be filled in, you invariably wonder: Who are these guys? Some of the best skiers you’ve never heard of.
By J.B. Green | Photos Courtesy Squaw Valley
J.B. Green is a Littleton, Colo., freelance writer who was inspired to pen this story after a ski trip to Tahoe during the 2015-16 season.