It’s a clever routine. Alpine ski during the middle of the week when the throngs and masses of people are about their daily routines. Then Nordic ski on the weekends, when the slopes are busy and the backcountry is begging to be explored.
Tom Schaaf played this game of leapfrog throughout his years in Spokane and on the slopes in California. The family physician moved back to Spokane eight years ago and hasn’t jumped much since then. “I think I’ve been downhill skiing three times in the last five years,” Schaaf says. “Mt. Spokane just has phenomenal Nordic skiing and well-groomed tracks. It’s so much easier than slogging through the snow.”
Schaaf says he was introduced to Nordic skiing back when there were wooden skis and cable bindings. He became reacquainted with the sport because of his wife and two sons’ involvement with Nordic Kids through Spokane Nordic. As any parent knows, involvement in an organization leads to volunteer work, commitment and eventually leadership. Within the last year, Schaaf was nudged into the role as president of the Spokane Nordic organization. “It was a short straw election,” he jokes. “I drew the short straw.”
Spokane Nordic Ski Education Foundation works to teach the public how to Nordic ski. The group does volunteer trail work on state and private land in cooperation with Mt. Spokane State Park, Inland Empire Paper and other agencies. The organization also hosts ski competitions, clinics and classes to develop the skills of amateur athletes.
“Our members range from hardcore racers, to people that come out on their 20-year-old equipment,” says Schaaf. “What people fail to realize is the trails system at Mt. Spokane is not just operated by the state parks. We help groom, find grants and maintain the trails.” This even means hauling brush in the summer time, cutting down trees and grading new runs.
Schaaf says the trails and facilities are in great condition but the organization faces big challenges up ahead. The future of the Mt. Spokane Nordic Ski area has room for expansion, additional trails and commercial growth. Until decisions are made, the organization seems happy to preserve and play on the well-groomed facilities.
Here’s the gear you will find Schaaf using while racing, teaching and exploring the slopes of Mt. Spokane. If you’re looking for Nordic skiing gear, Spokane’s local retailers have you covered. Schaff recommends REI for general equipment and rentals, Fitness Fanatics has the best selection for racers and intense skaters, and Mountain Gear will provide you with all your backcountry and classic ski needs.
CLASSIC SKIS: Schaaf has ridden Fischer RCS Classic Cold Skis for about three years.
SKATE SKIS: Atomic RS 11 Skate Skis with Salomon Pilot bindings. “This is my first pair of skate skis and they are still pretty fast,” he says. “I need to upgrade my technique before I upgrade my equipment again.”
BOOTS: When it comes to boots, they either fit or they don’t, Schaaf says. He wears Salomon RC car classics and RS carbon skate boots.
POLES: He uses two different pairs of Swix team composite poles for classic skiing and skating. “These things are unbelievably light,” he says.
PANTS: SportHill XC Pants are a good combination between pants and loose-fitting tights. “It’s a nice stretchy and comfortable polyester blend,” he says.
TOP: “I see people show up in downhill gear all the time,” Schaaf says. “By the time they’re done, their stuff is open, they are beet-red and sweating. You generate enough heat skating that you don’t need to dress really warm.” Schaaf wears a polyester base layer and an REI fleece shell. If he’s teaching or not moving around too much, his Mountain Hardwear down jacket comes out from the closet.
GLOVES: Swix lobster claw gloves.
HAT: SmartWool beanie. It’s really, really comfortable, he boasts.
SOCKS: Generally nothing too fancy, but his most comfortable pair are SmartWool.
LIGHTS: Schaaf’s PetzlLED headlight has a good range and varied settings perfect for night skiing and putting on gear at dusk.
WAX: Schaaf took the arduous tax of waxing his skis and made it a bit more luxurious—he built a complete wax room in his basement. “I used to have little heaters set up in the garage and I would just freeze,” he says. “Now it’s nice. I can do it in my pajamas in the morning.” He uses Swix wax on his skis.