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Despite Challenges, ‘Minnesota Nordic Ski Opener’ Debuts Dec. 9

Blowing snow at the Elm Creek Park Reserve in Maple Grove, Minnesota, in advance of the first annual Minnesota Nordic Ski Opener on Saturday, Dec. 9.

By Andrea Potyondy-Smith

Mother Nature has not been kind to cross country skiers of the Midwest so far this year. ABR (Active Backwoods Retreat) in Ironwood, Michigan, looked to be off to a good start, but rain over the Thanksgiving weekend shut down operations indefinitely. There has been no measurable snow that’s lasted anywhere near the American Birkebeiner trail, much less the Minneapolis metro area. Yet despite the snow drought, Three Rivers Park District of Minneapolis will be forging on with its first-ever Minnesota Nordic Ski Opener.

This event was the brainchild of Paul Erikson, who works for the district as development manager, and Karl Huemiller, the district’s volunteer and donor relations supervisor. The idea was to bring to nordic skiing something activities like hunting and fishing currently have: an “official” opener. Three Rivers already offers Rennet Activities at Hyland Park in Bloomington, Minnesota, in January, so the idea was, according to Bruce Bolduan, park operations supervisor, to “have an event prior in the season to kind of bring people out and explore the sport of cross-country skiing … both to celebrate the sport and introduce it to people.”

Though there will be snowboard and downhill lessons in progress during the Opener, the event is truly focused on nordic skiing, with free rentals and passes to participants. Activities will be held solely at Elm Creek Park. Though Hyland Park also has a snow-making loop for cross-country, Bolduan feels Elm Creek’s building and facilities offer benefits Hyland does not.

The park started snowmaking earlier this year, only to have a two-week stretch of warm weather in late November shut it down with a scant 1.2-kilometer loop for skiers to use. With rain pattering outside the building’s window and 50+ degree temps on Dec. 4, Bolduan spoke about holding the event on Dec. 9.

“We chose … a day where we felt fairly confident we would have the ski trails open by, and luckily, we have some cold temps coming this week so we can work on the trails,” he said. “[The weather] shouldn’t be an issue. I have 100 percent confidence we’re going to have ski trails open this weekend. I just don’t know what distance.”

Currently, the plan is to shut down the short loop that’s open to make snow essentially around the clock until the opener.

About 35 vendors and ski organizations will be at the opener, with seminars on the hour, every hour—from waxing and fitting skis, to what goes into the process of snowmaking. Major local shops like Pioneer Midwest, Finn Sisu and Gear West will be on hand, sharing their expertise and helping to promote enthusiasm for the sport.

The dearth of snow this season has made a lot of Minnesota’s skiers a little cranky; it is hard to get excited about the sport when one looks out the window only to see brown grass and rain-soaked asphalt. But, though the weather has not been very cooperative for the Midwest’s cross-country ski population over the past few years, it is clear that devotees are determined to keep its spirit alive by the creation of an official opener — weather be darned — and a lot of help from Three Rivers Park District.

More information: https://www.threeriversparks.org/page/minnesota-nordic-ski-opener

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