UPDATE: This story has been updated with a change to the meeting location.
Without a cross-country ski club in the Detroit Lakes area, finding consistently good public trails has been difficult for ski enthusiasts.
Lin Peterson of Detroit Lakes wants to do something about it.
Peterson was a cross-country ski racer in high school in Bloomington, “and I’ve been skiing ever since,” he said.
His family has a lake cabin on Tulaby Lake, and he skis there often, “but around here the trails are in terrible shape,” he said. “Shame on us for not forming a ski club.”
A ski club kick-off meeting is 2 p.m. Nov. 23 at the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Main Lodge, Snowsports Room. Everyone is invited.
Peterson points to the Northern Lights Nordic Ski Club in Grand Rapids as an example of how it could be in Becker County. He said that club has 250 members, holds races, provides skis to kids, and has a junior development camp.
“Park Rapids, Bemidji, Grand Forks, all have ski clubs,” he said. “Detroit Lakes doesn’t have anything.”
It’s not for lack of cross-country ski trails: The county-owned Dunton Locks park has 5 kilometers; the state DNR-owned Pickerel Lake ski trails cover 10 kilometers; the Pine Lake Loop in the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge extends for 9.6 kilometers, and the Tamarack Lake Loop in the refuge stretches for 3.5 kilometers.
The county Mountain View Recreation Area has 10 kilometers of trails, as does the city-owned Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, which handles its own grooming and hosts the Detroit Lakes high school team.
Then there are the privately owned trails at Maplelag Resort, Rainbow Resort and the Ike Fischer Farm in Frazee.
The purpose of the ski club for 2019-20 is to groom at least some of those trails, Peterson said. Ski trails will be open Dec. 15 through March 15, and after that the Tamarac Refuge trails will all be open, just not groomed.
Of the public trails, some are well-maintained, others are hit or miss, and some “just haven’t been getting done,” Peterson said.
He is one of about a dozen people -- including county, DNR and other local officials -- who are fired up about starting a ski club. The ski trails are operated by a mishmash of agencies, and the new club will work with them all: the federal wildlife refuge, the state DNR, the county, the city and perhaps some private owners and operators.
Peterson said that after he raised the issue at a recent county Recreational Advisory Committee meeting, officials started getting excited about the idea, offering the use of several existing groomers and storage facilities.
Peterson said he is one of eight locals who regularly compete in the annual American Birkebeiner in Wisconsin, which bills itself as “North America’s largest (50-55 kilometer) cross-country ski race, and a homecoming for cross-country ski racers from around the globe.”
Even so, he doesn’t know how many skiers to expect for the Nov. 23 organizational meeting of the new ski club.
“Right now, I’m kind of a one-man band,” he said. “I don’t know if five people will show up or 50.”
Charlie Ramstad, for one, said he will be there. “I’m on board, I plan on going to the meeting,” he said. The Detroit Lakes resident said he is an avid skier and has been for years. “Nordic skiing in my life has been a real plus, and it’s been good for my family,” he said.
“Lin has done a really good job spearheading it,” Ramstad said. “He’s motivated, and you need that.” Not all trails have to be perfect, he added. Some variation in grooming levels is nice.
“A little grooming goes along ways,” he said. “Not everything will be immaculate double-track trails. A lot of people like to do some backwoods bushwhacking, too, just not necessarily through three feet of fresh snow.”
In order to take some of the trails under wing, the club will need structure, Peterson said: A board of directors, a website with updated trail conditions, and a point person for each trail, to rally volunteer cleanup help after a windstorm or other problem.
Routine trail maintenance is usually done in the autumn after the leaves are down, and the summer storm season is over, he said.
To qualify for grants, the new club will need a 501(c)(3) nonprofit designation from the state, and the Friends of Tamarac group has already agreed to serve as an umbrella organization for that purpose, Peterson said.
“In exchange for that, they want Tamarac trails groomed,” he said. So top priority trails for grooming, at least in the beginning, will be at Tamarac and Mountain View Recreation Area.
Peterson estimates it will cost about $6,000 a year to groom cross-country ski trails in the area. Becker County is considering allocating that money from unused funds at Mountain View Recreation Area.
“They (agencies in charge of trails) all want the same thing, they just don’t have the funding,” Peterson said.
While snowmobile trails across Minnesota are groomed with the help of grant-in-aid funding from the state, there are no grant-in-aid cross-country ski trails in Becker County, and the state “is not putting any new ones out,” Peterson said. “We do need a club of some sort to get this going.”
Ski trail groomers are available, he said. “The DNR has a groomer, the county has a groomer and Detroit Mountain has a groomer,” he said. The new ski club will orchestrate trail grooming, with Becker County potentially reimbursing the costs, at least at first. Long-term, Peterson wants to develop a funding stream for the trail system via fund-raisers, sponsors or grants. The lack of a steady funding stream is part of what helped sink the original club about 30 years ago, Ramstad said.
Cross-country ski trail groomers are large flat sleds or rollers used to pack down the snow. Then a “setter” is run through to set the parallel ski tracks. A setter is often a weighted sled with 2-by-4 boards spaced to create ski tracks, he said.
In addition to grooming, Peterson would like the club to help provide things like maps and signage at the trails, so skiers don’t get lost. And it would be nice to have cross-country ski rentals available somewhere locally, and to provide skis and lessons to young people, he said.
He’d like to have a website for public information on trail conditions, communications and upcoming events; club-owned groomer equipment; and expanded areas of ski trails into other areas, such as the Frazee trails, and the newly-acquired DNR Shell Lake Trail.
In the future, he said he’d like to see a lighted night ski trail; junior skier development; and ski club-sponsored training clinics, demonstrations, and other cross-country ski events.
"I think he's got a really good idea," Ramstad said of Peterson. "It's a good idea to advocate for that ... grooming would be a real benefit for those of us who ski, and it would be a really nice way to get people out of doors to maybe try a new sport."
Ski club meeting
A ski club kick-off meeting is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, Main Lodge, Snowsports Room. Everyone is invited.