SPICER - Finding a way to enjoy Minnesota winters when there's little-to-no snow - or what snow does exist is a hard, ice-encrusted slippery mess - can be challenging for people who like to cross-country ski or snowshoe.

And when your mission is to teach people - especially children - about nature and outdoor activities, Minnesota's recent wimpy winters can be frustrating.

The Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, which hosts thousands of school kids and adults for year-round events, is hoping a new investment in Scandinavian-style kicksleds will be the ticket for their winter curriculum.

With a metal frame, flexible runners and wood seat for a passenger, the lightweight kicksled is designed to be used on hard-packed snow and ice.

PWELC recently acquired 22 kicksleds that will be be put to use this winter. They'll get their first public debut during Spicer's Winterfest activities when PWELC staff will have them available from 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 19 on Saulsbury Beach in Spicer.

Dave Pederson, executive director at PWELC, said he thinks the kicksleds will be a great winter activity option for students and the general public at the center.

"The last few winters have just been so poor in terms of snow fall, we haven't had good skiing," he said. "But the kicksled can go on ice and can go on snow, so we're going to be able to get out on the sloughs with our kids and get them some exercise."

Unlike the time-consuming process of getting students fitted with the right-size ski boots, poles and skis, if students are "ready for winter they can just get on the kicksled and go" as soon as they get off the bus, Pederson said.

There's very little training involved with using the kicksled, which includes holding onto the handlebars and standing with one foot on the ski while pushing with the other foot. When going downhill, you can keep both feet on the skis and glide.

In places like Norway, older people use them like walkers and others use them like scooters, Pederson said. "You'll see somebody go by on a kicksled and they might have groceries or a grandchild or their grandma sitting on the kick sled and they're pushing it."

Mari and Kory Klebe, who work at PWELC, use kicksleds with their two young children, ages 6 and 3.

"It's just really nice because we can take two sleds and the kids can push each other," said Mari Klebe.

"My 3-year-old is even able to do it on her own. But when she gets tired we can put her on the seat and we can continue going," she said.

"It doesn't take anything to learn how to do it," Klebe said. "The kids can balance and they have a blast doing it; they feel like they're flying across the water."

Pederson said PWELC purchased one kicksled last year to "give it a test drive."

At about $250 each, Pederson said they wanted to make sure the kicksleds would be a good investment.

"They looked really cool, but you don't want to buy 22 of them if they look really cool but realize, nah, this really doesn't work."

Pederson said the staff quickly discovered "it was just a gas. It was so much fun."

The purchase was made thanks to a grant from the Reynold W. and Eleanor D. Larson Fund and donations from community members.

PWELC will now begin incorporating the kicksleds into their winter student programing and the public can rent them to use at PWELC, which has hard-packed snow trails and sloughs that create the perfect terrain for kicksleds.

The kicksleds will also be featured during PWELC's Winter Fun Day on Feb. 10.