As the snow starts to pile up, Minnesotans have two choices this winter: Hibernate like a bear or get out in that snow and get active. Since no one wants to be confused with a grizzly come springtime – and look like they’ve been sitting around a cave adding on layers – there are plenty of great outdoor activities for those who are prepared to tackle the cold and snow.
Robb Welch, owner of Tyrol Ski and Sports, says more and more, people in Rochester are equipping themselves for cross country skiing, snowshoeing and winter hiking to stay fit in the cold months. “From our experience here at the store, there’s been a steady interest in the sports for years,” he says.
Getting ready for winter means finding the right gear to get out and exercise. That starts, Welch says, with layers of clothes designed to keep the body warm and dry without overheating. “Probably most important is dressing for winter activities,” he says. “It starts with a wicking base layer made of synthetic or wool materials, an insulating middle layer and you top that off with a wind-proof outer layer.”
The level of activity you plan will determine whether you need thin high-tech clothes or something a little more day-to-day. “A highly aerobic person will need thinner layers so they don’t overheat,” Welch says. “But the layers themselves still apply, the thickness is the difference.”
Then, he says, it’s all a matter of finding the right footwear for the type of exercise you plan to participate in. For snowshoeing, that means finding a pair of snowshoes that will support you on your trek, keeping you from falling through the top layer of snow.
For cross country skiers, there are two categories of ski equipment, classic skis and skis designed for the skating technique. “Each of those techniques has its own specialized specific boot, pole and ski,” Welch says. “First, skis are sized by the skier’s weight not the height.” Skis really only notice the weight of the person on them, not caring if you are short or tall.
However, the poles are sized by the skier’s height. And poles for the skating technique are generally more stiff and four inches higher so skiers can use the poles for leverage better.
“The classic boot has a more flexible sole, it’s more supportive,” he says. “The boot for skating has a stiffer sole and plastic cuffs for ankle support. It’s designed for a more powerful push off phase, and the exercise is more aerobic.”
Meanwhile, the skis for cross country also differ depending on the skiing style. Classic cross country skis have a section under the foot where the ski grips the snow either with a pattern on the bottom of the ski or a wax that helps grip.
Skating skis are built more for gliding. “Skating skis are generally shorter and narrower and faster,” he says. They are waxed for glide the entire length. And you’re pushing off on the inside edge of the ski to propel forward.”
Finally, winter hikers would wear the same outerwear. But the boots for hiking would need to be supportive winter boots or waterproof hiking boots. Special snow hiking boots will include a high calf.
“Properly sized equipment is really important,” Welch says. “Hand-me-down skis work more like snowshoes. If they are oversized, it puts undue stress on the skier. Too small, you may not hurt yourself, but it’ll be too much work.”
Hitting the trails
As winter progresses, the snow should begin to pile up. That means better conditions for snowshoeing and cross country skiing. “Cross country skiing is best done on groomed trail systems,” Welch says. “Whereas, snowshoeing is any place you can hike and there’s enough snow on the ground.”
In and around Rochester, that means places such as Quarry Hill Nature Center, Eastwood Golf Course and Essex Park. Quarry Hill even rents cross country skis and snowshoes. And, of course, Welch says, you can rent equipment at Tyrol Ski and Sports. Outside of Rochester, you can rent skis and snowshoes at Oxbow Park.
Both Oxbow and Chester Woods – Olmsted County parks – also come with groomed trails, nearly 8 miles total. Tom Eckdahl, park manager at Chester Woods, says the county parks are looking for volunteers to both clean trails before it snows and help groom trails once the snow hits.
Inside Rochester, you’ll find groomed trails at Quarry Hill, Essex Park and Eastwood Golf Course and when there’s enough snow Chester Woods grooms out there too. The Rochester Active Sports Club sends its volunteers to the Rochester trails.
“We have 15 miles of trails,” Eckdahl says. “There are usually tracks on all those miles of trails. We post trail conditions on our phone message and our Facebook page.”
Brian Todd is a regular Post-Bulletin writer and writes the Greenspace column. He frequently writes for Radish.