We’re right smack in the middle of a Midwestern winter and in case you haven’t noticed, days tend to get dark early.
On average, there are only nine hours of daylight. The sun sets a few minutes before 5 p.m. and there are those who leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark.
So if you’re an outdoors enthusiast with daytime obligations, it doesn’t leave much time to enjoy winter activities.
Case in point is cross country skiing. This is an activity geared for daylight hours and becomes problematic when the sun goes down.
As they say, though, if there is a will there is a way, and one of the ways is to do your skiing under the lights.
Sounds good, but there are only two lighted courses within easy driving distance of Rochester.
One is at Eastwood Golf Course. The lit portion of the trail is some 8,140 feet, or 1.54 miles. That layout, now operated by the Rochester Park and Recreation Department, was established in 2002, thanks to the persistence of the Rochester Active Sports Club (RASC).
According to Park and Forestry Division Head Mike Nigbur, 97 portable lights dot the course. The lights cost $80,000, which were paid by federal, state and city grants.
“It’s hard to get an accurate figure of skiers using the lights on the trail, but at times we know it is very popular,” Nigbur said.
The lights sit atop 4-foot poles and are installed and removed each year by RASC. Eastwood was one of first parks routinely groomed for nordic skiing in the area.
According to the website skinnyski.com, running 3 to 4 kilometers of lights at a cross country ski area typically costs about as much as it does to run an average three-bedroom Midwestern home, about $100 to $150 per month.
A portion of trail at St. Mary’s College in Winona is also under the lights.
There are several local ski trails with no lights, and for the adventurous, that’s no problem.
“There’s quite a number who ski at night (on unlit courses),” said Henry Walker of RASC, who is an avid skier. “You will see headlights bopping about early a.m. or in the p.m.
“In fact, these are my favorite times to ski because you feel very intimate with your immediate space. Your world exists in a space between the outside edges of your head lamp and the rest is left to your imagination.”
Nighttime skiers should wear a headlamp and Walker said familiarity with the unlit course is vital. Even then, he stresses, be careful. Mobile devices can help only so much if you’re stuck or if you find yourself in trouble.
“Even if you called for help,” Walker said, “you know there exists no address for where you lay on the trail.
“This (night skiing) is not for everyone, but it draws the adventurous.”
Day or night, there are several good ski trail options in southeastern Minnesota, from the various golf courses to county parks like Chester Woods and Oxbow Park to state parks like Whitewater or Forestville.
Enjoy it while you can.
Paul Christian is retired Post-Bulletin sports writer and now a freelance writer.
More wax for skiing:
Good, let’s go.
There are some interesting events coming up, first along the Harmony-Preston Valley Trail and then also at Quarry Hill Nature Center for both the experienced and non-experienced skier.
The Harmony-Preston Valley Trail will host its annual candlelight event from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Saturday along the lighted half-mile out-and-back course, which will be lit by a number of votive candles and campfires.
DNR day ski passes are needed and available at the Trailhead Inn Office in Preston for $6. Cross country skis are also available for rent at the Cedar Valley Resort in Whalen.
Candlelight walkers are also welcome. Skiers and walkers can come and go at anytime during the two-hour time frame.
Skiing is only part of it. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., a chili cook-off contest will be held at the Trailhead Inn office. Contestants should be at the Trailhead Inn by 4:30 in order to set up.
A pair of February candlelight skiing events are being hosted at Quarry Hill Nature Center.
Ski by Candlelight is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m Feb. 5. All ages are welcome. Cost is $10 per person, which includes equipment rental.
Valentine’s Candlelight Ski and Snowshoe will be held from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Feb. 12.
Champagne and dessert will be served afterwards. Cost is $20 per person, $15 for Quarry Hill members. Equipment is included. Registration is required (call 328-3950). Alternate activities will be provided in case of poor snow/trail conditions.
Skis are also available to rents at Quarry Hill. For adults, it’s $7.50 for four hours, $15 for a full day and $25 for a weekend. Under 18, it is $5 for four hours, $10 for a full day and $20 for the weekend.
Cross country ski trails in the Rochester area:
City Park and Golf Courses
— Quarry Hill (groomed)
— Eastwood (groomed)
— Essex Park (groomed)
— Soldiers Field
— Northern Hills
— Chester Woods (groomed)
— Oxbow Park (Byron) (groomed)
— Whitewater State Park (Altura)
— Carley State Park (Plainview)
— Frontenac State Park (Lake City)
— Great River Bluffs State Park (20 miles south of Winona)
— Nerstrand Big Woods State Park (Nerstrand)
— Forestville State Park (Preston)
— Root River Trail System (Preston, Lanesboro, Fountain)
— Douglas Trail (Rochester, Pine Island)
— St.Mary’s College (Winona)
—–Courtesy of Tyrol Ski & Sports