One day this will grow up into a big sport, they say, with international stars like Franz Klammer rolling recklessly down green slopes in their shorts. But for the 65 hardy pioneers who assembled at La Marquise Hill in Quebec last weekend, this was the first-ever North American Grass Ski Championships. You've got to start somewhere.
Grass skis are fiendish contraptions, sort of like Lilliputian tanks with giants standing on top of them. What makes them go—the world grass-ski speed record is said to be 50 mph—is a continuous nylon belt with plastic rollers slotted into a metal track, and with a footplate featuring bindings that clamp onto ski boots. The sound of grass skis in full cry is an unnerving clack, clack, clack that, if nothing else, lets everybody know there is a racer on the course.
Despite the kidney-rattling crashes that enlivened the meet, competitor Horst Locher insisted that this was the best possible training for snow skiing. "You use all the same muscles," he said. "But here you need more of them." Locher ought to know: almost half the field represented Bryce Resort at Basye, Va., where Locher is ski-school director in winter and resident grass-ski whiz in summer. The next meet will be at Locher's place and, considering the embryonic state of the sport, could well be called the All-World Championships.
But organized slalom competitions (grass skiers pretty much agree they're not ready for downhill racing yet) are only one phase of the game. Already grass skiers are loose across the land, and the adventurous have discovered the joys of freewheeling through slopes of tall grass, which they claim is better than winter's deep powder. Well, except for that awful clack, clack, clack.