A week ago it was -29°. Yup, twenty-nine degrees BELOW zero. And it stayed that way for well over a week. I think all Minnesotans have developed coping strategies for this intense winter weather. Days like today are my remedy: 30° with snow gently falling. Just to watch it out the window is soothing. But the greatest medicine for my soul is to be out in the woods cross country skiing. So this afternoon, I’ll finally be able to layer up, pack the skis in the car and head out to St. John’s Arboretum. I’m like a kid counting down the hours.
I started cross country skiing as a teenager when my parents bought the whole family skiing gear for Christmas. After a snowfall, we’d head to the golf course up the hill for some “forced family fun” on the freshly-groomed trails. Oddly enough, we actually had fun. While I took a little hiatus through college, I got back into skiing ten years ago when my daughter was six (finally, I had a ski buddy again).
Having a pair of skis at the ready has shifted how I look at winter. When it snows, the efforts of shoveling and getting out the snowblower are overshadowed by the excitement that I get to head out onto the trails. It’s the most serene sport I participate in. There’s something so calming and grounding about being in the woods after a sudden snowfall… often it’s completely silent – everything muffled by the snow. Gilding through it becomes a moving meditation. The rhythm of your breath and the skis brings an amazing sense of tranquility.
Now, night skiing is next-level peaceful. Quarry Park Reserve, just outside of St. Cloud has my favorite lighted trails. They meander through woods, prairies and past the granite quarries. Usually any wind has gone down at night, there are fewer people on the trails (often I’ll not encounter even one other skier) and the lack of light enhances all of the other senses. It may sound scary, but it’s simply magical.
Starting a new sport can seem a bit overwhelming. But cross country skiing is a pretty easy activity to start – the movement is simple and intuitive, limited equipment is needed (and it lasts a long time – my current skis are over 10 years old) and there are vast trail systems, many with low daily and seasonal rates.
Hit me up if you need more convincing. In the meantime, I’m off to get a little dose of trail therapy.
My tips for getting started:
Rent skis from a local shop to try it out. // We always get our skis from the crew at Fitzharris in St Cloud. They’ll ensure you get the right gear and the right fit.
Ask your local shop experts for some good starter trails nearby. // Minnesota has loads of great state, regional and city parks that have groomed trails. Start with smaller loops to get the feel of it, check your gear and ensure you’re dressed properly for the temperature.
Layers. And zippers. // Cross-country skiing is an amazing workout and you’ll heat up fast – but if you’re underdressed you’ll be miserable. Make sure you’re using wicking base layers and that all your gear allows for a wide range of movement. Zippers on mid and outer layers help when you start heating up. I always leave bundled up, and then remove buffs, scarves and zip open outer layers as needed. But the minute you slow down, put them back on so you don’t “catch a chill.”
Other favorite spots:
- Quarry Park, Waite Park // Great shorter loops and longer extensions. Relatively flat and great for beginners. Bonus, lighted night skiing!! Day passes are only $5 and season passes for $20.
- St John’s Abbey Arboretum Trails, Collegeville // The trails, and the landscape, are amazing. I personally love the yellow loop.
- Pincushion Mountain Trails, Grand Marais // Amazing views and a great assortment of trails. Plus hills! Fair warning, watch the trail signs carefully. My daughter and I once went for a 2-mile ski that ended up being 11 miles because I missed a trail sign while gawking at the scenery (and because there was no cell phone coverage). Daily passes for $10 and $25 for a year through Great Minnesota Ski Pass.
- Gunflint Lodge Trails, Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais // If you’re really ready to get out there – like way out there – this is the place. Beautifully groomed trails and an abundance of annual snow (plus a great lodge for food and drinks afterward). $15 a day for adults, $8 for kids.
- Bearskin Lodge Trails, Gunflint Trail, Grand Marais // Voted #3 Cross-Country Ski Resort in the United States in 2019 by USA Today. I’ve never stayed on property, but have skied here. And it’s amazing. They also have cross-country ski rentals for $25 a day for skis, boots and poles. Trail passes are $18 a day for adults, $8 for kids.
Contributed by Gina Nacey // President & Executive Creative Director