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Glide through winter on cross country skis

Cross country skiing, with proper gear and basic instruction, can open the door to fresh air, exercise and relaxation. In Willmar and surrounding communities, interested parties can contact the Willmar Nordic Ski Club for more information.

Two cross-country skiers ski along a snow-covered trail.
Two skiers enjoy the trail groomed on state land north of Eagle Creek Golf Course in Willmar. The golf course offers about three miles of trails for cross country skiers to use.
Contributed / Forrest Peterson

WILLMAR — If you want to glide through winter, avoid cabin fever and COVID-19 , it's time to get outside on cross country skis or snowshoes. With proper gear and basic instruction, you can open the door to fresh air, exercise and relaxation.

Three area cross country ski trails offer a range of terrain from easy to advanced: Eagle Creek Golf Course in Willmar, Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center in rural Spicer and Sibley State Park in rural New London. Robbins Island Regional Park and Ridgewater College in Willmar also offer potential for trails.

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Eagle Creek Golf Course in Willmar offers about three miles of trail for cross country skiers in the winter. The golf course is a good place for skiers looking for easier trails, with the convenience of being closer to those living in or near Willmar.
Contributed / Forrest Peterson

Sibley State Park offers the most extensive trail system, about eight miles. Prairie Woods offers about six miles, and the golf course about three. A shorter trail could be groomed at Robbins Island, which also has the advantage of lights for night skiing. While walkers are welcome on the trails, they are encouraged to keep to just one to avoid marring the ski track.

With its many hills, Sibley is best suited for intermediate and advanced skiers, although there is a gently rolling loop through the Oak Ridge campground. Prairie Woods offers easy and intermediate trails. The golf course is a good place for skiers looking for easier trails, with the convenience of being closer to those living in or near Willmar.

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Willmar Nordic Ski Club board member Phil Hoffer looks over the desserts at the annual chili supper for the high school team and ski club in November 2021. The club was formed in 2002, and has supported the high school skiing team and also efforts to keep skiing trails in good condition in the years since.
Contributed / Forrest Peterson

Much of the local cross country ski activity has centered around the Willmar High School Nordic Ski Team . It started in the 1998-1999 season, and now numbers more than two dozen junior high and senior high athletes. They practice at both Eagle Creek and Sibley Park, and also on a trail north of the senior high school. On Feb. 1, Willmar will host the Central Lakes Conference meet at Eagle Creek.

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Willmar High School’s first home meet took place in 2001 at Robbins Island. In 2002, a group of area cross country ski enthusiasts organized the Willmar Nordic Ski Club . The club then incorporated to raise funds to purchase a utility snowmobile and several pieces of ski trail grooming implements.

Later, aided by a donation from the club, the high school purchased similar equipment previously owned by the city, which coach Brad Haugen and volunteers use to groom trails at the golf course and the high school.

Donations to the club for trail maintenance and supporting the high school team can be made at Home State Bank.

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Eagle Creek Golf Course in Willmar offers about three miles of trail for cross country skiers in the winter. The golf course is a good place for skiers looking for easier trails, with the convenience of being closer to those living in or near Willmar.
Contributed / Forrest Peterson

Volunteers and businesses have been key to the club’s efforts.

Tom Wodash and Eagle Creek Golf Course have, throughout the years, both allowed skiers to create trails in the rougher areas of the course and also supplied a shed to store skiing gear.

Johnson, Moody, Schmidt, Kleinhuizen & Zumwalt, P.A. (or JMSK&Z) assists with the club’s incorporation, and Fred Hund mows the trail each fall.

Equipment is available at various locations. Prairie Woods rents skis and snowshoes at a reasonable cost. Sibley rents snowshoes, and several Willmar stores sell snowshoes, including Dunham’s and Running’s. St. Cloud or Alexandria are the nearest locations for purchasing cross country ski equipment.

Anyone wishing to learn more about local cross country ski trails or equipment can contact Forrest Peterson, president of the Willmar Nordic Ski Club , at forrestwpeterson@gmail.com .

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Four people snowshoe along a snow-covered trail.
Community members snowshoe along the ski trail at Eagle Creek Golf Course. The trail is available throughout the winter, and provides roughly three miles of terrain for cross country skiers and showshoers.
Contributed / Forrest Peterson

Cross country skiing tips

Clothing: Avoid wearing cotton. Dress in layers using lightweight, synthetic fabrics that retain heat, but “breathe” — allowing moisture to wick away from the body. A good outer shell blocks wind. Face protection is recommended for wind chill conditions, and sunglasses on sunny days.

Ski equipment: For skis, the most important factor is the camber, or upward bowing or bend, of the ski in relation to body weight. The center portion of the ski base is the “kick zone.” Each stride begins with the weighted ski gripping the snow, while the other ski glides forward as the camber lifts the kick zone off the snow. Standing on a flat surface with equal weight on both skis, you should be able to slide a thin paper or card beneath the kick zone. Poles generally should be about shoulder height, or slightly less for classical or track skiing. Boots must match the type of binding, and fit comfortably according to your size.

With reasonable weather, proper gear, and groomed trails, nothing beats getting outside on skis or snowshoes. One big advantage is that the physical activity helps keep you warm.
Forrest Peterson, president of the Willmar Nordic Ski Club

Common questions

How do skis glide on snow?

While friction can slow things down, when it happens as the ski is pushed across snow, it can melt the surface into a microscopic layer of water, which acts almost like a lubricant. With the right glide wax, snow condition and temperature, skis can glide fast and far.

Too cold, there is less melting and less glide. Too warm, and there’s too much water that acts like a suction holding the glide back. But sometimes a cross country ski track becomes icy, which can be too slick.

What's the difference between classic and skating-freestyle?

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Historically, cross country or Nordic skiing involves kicking and striding in parallel tracks. In the 1980s, some skiers began using a skating or freestyle technique similar to hockey skates. Today both techniques are used in recreation and competition. Beginning skiers typically start with the classic style.

Should I use waxed or waxless skis?

The kick zone of so-called waxless skis has a pattern inscribed in the base that helps grip the snow. This takes the place of a special wax for that purpose, although using a glide wax on the front and back one-third of the ski base helps improve glide. Skis without the kick zone pattern require a special wax to provide grip on the push-off. Wax types vary according to snow conditions and temperature. While skis with waxable kick zones generally are faster, many people prefer waxless skis for convenience.

Where can I find more information?

Although heavy on competitive cross country skiing, skinnyski.com provides extensive and accurate information. It is also updated daily, focusing primarily on Minnesota.

Recreational skiers are abundant and welcome at events such as the City of Lakes Loppet , Feb. 5-6 in Minneapolis, and the Mora Vasaloppet , Feb. 12-13.

Silent Sports ” is a good all-around magazine for fitness sports including cross country skiing in the upper Midwest, and the following publications offer further details on teh sport: “ Cross Country Skier ” magazine, “ Trax ” — North America’s Nordic ski magazine, and “ Master Skier — Cross Country Ski Journal. "

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