With three solid months of winter and sometimes as much as six, one of the top draws in Minnesota has always been the white stuff.
No, not lutefisk. Not rommegrot either. We are talking about something very cold here. We shovel it, spin in it, slip on it, slide in it and shiver in it - among other things.
We are talking S-N-O-W.
For the second year in a row the Nordic Ski Association (NSA) in Fergus Falls has added an option to winter that has people smiling. Cross-country ski trails have been created at two different locations - the Regional Treatment Center and Roosevelt Park.
The NSA has been around for more than 20 years.
“It originally developed with the first ski team, the 7-12 ski program that was a club until the last few years when the school officially took it on,” NSA President Samantha VanWechel-Meyer said.
These groomed trails are hard and fast and they are giving people another way to beat winter and the COVID-19 doldrums.
The discovery of an under-used trail groomer owned by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources prompted VanWechel-Meyer and other NSA members to get serious about bringing Nordic skiing into Fergus Falls. They approached the city of Fergus Falls in 2019 and proposed the RTC course. When the city council gave the volunteer project the green light, NSA member Wynn Roberts, who happened to have a snowmobile, found himself with a new wintertime job - pulling the groomer.
“We have a three-prong approach,” VanWechel-Meyer said. “Our mission is to support youth skiing through the MYLS program, youth skiing through the 7-12 program and community skiing through initiatives like the in-town trails.”
Cross-country (Nordic) skiing is defined as a form where skiers rely on their own locomotion to move across snow-covered terrain. Skiers propel themselves either by striding forward (classic style) or side to side in a skating motion (skate skiing), aided by arms pushing on ski poles against the snow.
“During the summer it is easy for us to get outdoors and enjoy fresh air and this gives us an option for being outdoors and enjoying fresh air in the winter,” VanWechel-Meyer said. “You really don’t get very cold when you’re out skiing because you're moving and active. You can do it in all kinds of weather.”
Spidahl’s Ski Gaard north of Fergus Falls and Glendalough Park by Battle Lake also have groomed trails for skiers but the trail system that is building in Fergus Falls has an appeal of its own. VanWechel-Meyer pointed out that with only a limited amount of time to ski after work on the shorter winter days, it is very handy to have access to groomed trails in town. Another nice perk is that there is no fee for using the local trails. There is some night skiing during the week but VanWechel-Meyer has noted that the trails see their greatest use on the weekends. Skiers of all ages use the city trails.
They may have company soon.
At a Jan. 4 meeting of the Fergus Falls City Council, Councilman Tom Rufer asked Roberts if it would be possible to ride a properly-equipped bike on the groomed trails. Roberts had no objection.
It costs about $30 an hour to groom the trails at this point according to Roberts. In the near future, City Administrator Andrew Bremseth said the city of Fergus Falls will have tracked equipment to take over the grooming chores.
Another partner in the Fergus Falls Ski Trails program in Fergus Falls Public School District 544. Fergus Falls Nordic ski Coach Joshua Scharnberg is one of those people who appreciate the in-town trails. Otter skiers used the RTC last winter.
“Normally, in the past, what we do is we travel out to Spidahl’s; so it’s 20 minutes out and 20 minutes back. It is a great place to ski but it also takes a lot of time so having the RTC was just really nice to be able to have some in-town practices,” Scharnberg said.
This year they have another groomed option right outside their team room - Roosevelt Park.
“It’s awesome to be able to ski close to the school and not have to travel on the buses so much, especially with this COVID,” Scharnberg said.
One of the things Scharnberg has noticed is that a lot of families in Fergus Falls are getting involved. He feels family involvement could easily feed interest in the high school program.
“It’s not just the schools that get to ski on these trails. Skiing is becoming a lot more visible,” Scharnberg said. “I can see where if these families get into it maybe their kids try it and maybe at a young age, get into the MYSL program at Spidahl’s. It’s a little early to say yet but there is definitely going to be some trickle down.”
The NSA would like to expand to other venues around the city in winters to come. DeLagoon Park is one spot, Old Smokey is another and the Riverfront is a third. The association may apply for a Department of Natural Resources grant in the future to purchase more equipment, according to VanWechel-Meyer.