The Scandinavians began cross-country skiing almost 5,000 years ago as a means of transportation across the snowy, winter landscape. Fast forward five millennia, and the sport has now become a popular recreational endeavor for Twin City locals battling their own brutal winters. (Or battling inactivity during those brutal winters, rather.)
For centuries, the classic technique that required a skier to alternate between gliding and kicking via a diagonal stride prevailed. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that skate skiing emerged as a popular sport. A similar motion to ice-skating or rollerblading, skate skiing is the zippier alternative to the classic technique.
The grace and speed of skate skiing—not to mention, its serious workout aspect—is part of the reason the sport is attracting outdoor enthusiasts to the trails in droves. Indeed, the Twin Cities has some of the most celebrated urban ski trails in the country. That's not to mention that Minneapolis is consistently ranked as one of the most active cities in the country and skate skiing is the ultimate cardiovascular workout. If you’re looking to embrace the subzero temperatures and mounting snow, check out our beginner's guide to skate skiing.
Renting and Buying Equipment
Between the Minneapolis Parks and Three Rivers Park District , there are plenty of options for ski rentals. If you’re truly a beginner, this is a good place to start before buying an equipment package. Six of the Three Rivers Parks offer rentals, including Elm Creek, French, Hyland, Baker, Carver, and Cleary. In Minneapolis, Theodore Wirth Park, Lake Hiawatha Park, and Columbia Golf Course have rentals. A number of state parks also have rental equipment, as well as Como Regional Park in St. Paul.
If you’re looking to purchase equipment, local coaches and instructors have some helpful insight. “Here in the Twin Cities there are a number of places, and we recommend Hoigaard’s and Finn Sisu,” says Jon Miller, a coach for the Loppet Foundation, which offers lessons at Theodore Wirth Park. Midwest Mountaineering, Gear West, and Boulder Nordic Sport are also popular among local Nordic skiers.
In addition to great skate skiing equipment, these stores are staffed by experts who will be able to take into account factors including weight, height, and experience level when helping you select skis, poles, and boots. “These local shops absolutely know their craft well and can fit any skier,” says Ann Schinas, Three Rivers’ Recreational Specialist in charge of cross country ski lessons.
“The most important thing is to make sure that the equipment is matched to your weight and ability—the ski is going to feel your weight,” explains Miller. “So if you want to ski fast, it will be important to match the skis to your weight and if you’re worried about control, then you will want to select a shorter ski, knowing that you are sacrificing some speed.”
The staff at these stores will also be able to help explain waxing techniques, with many offering clinics. If you want to forego that chore altogether, most stores will clean and wax your skis for a nominal fee. (This isn't something you need to worry about with rentals, as the parks take care of the waxing.)
While classic technique is often easier for true beginners, most active individuals will be able to get the hang of skate skiing with a bit of guidance. “Anyone who knows how to rollerblade or ice skate can pick up skate skiing fairly easily,” Miller says. In general, he recommends signing up for at least three lessons to learn the fundamentals. “Skiers of all levels can take lessons through the Loppet Foundation at Theodore Wirth Park, Columbia Park, and Lake Hiawatha Park in Minneapolis.”
Three Rivers Parks also caters to a wide variety of ability and experience levels via group and private lessons at their various parks. “We usually start just working on balance and body position and skiing without poles,” Schinas says. “Getting the hang of the weight transfer and proper technique are the hardest parts.”
Hitting the Trails
While you can blaze your own trail and tour just about anywhere using the classic technique, skate skiing requires groomed trails. Between Three Rivers and Minneapolis Parks, there are a wide variety of terrain options. “The best trails for beginners aren’t completely flat, but rather, have gradual, rolling hills to build confidence on,” says Miller.
Theodore Wirth has everything from a 1.5-kilometer trail up to a 4-kilometer trail fit for beginners that can be mixed and matched. As the City of Lakes Loppet nears, the Chain of Lakes also offers groomed trails where you can ski from Lake Calhoun to Lake of the Isles to Theodore Wirth Park, much of which is flat.
Schinas also says that Three Rivers has plenty of beginner options at every one of their parks. “Hyland is particularly good because we have a 5-kilometer man-made loop for a consistent trail with several shorter loops that allow you to build distance,” she explains.
If you’re in need of a little competition to motivate you to consistently hit the trails and build fitness, there are a number of local events you can register for:
City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival (January 30-February 1): Beginner options include the Comcast Luminary Loppet and Loppet Tour Skate.
Vasaloppet (February 6-8): Beginner races include the Friendship Tour and the 13K race.
American Birkebeiner (February 21): The Prince Haakon 13K is a great beginner option among the Birkebeiner's many events.