A few years ago, my boyfriend gave me a pair of cross-country skis for my December birthday. As a youth, I had done a lot of skiing with my family on the many trails near our home in Roseville, MN. There was a trail into the park that backed up to our cul-de-sac, but our favorite place to go was the Como Park golf course, where my brothers and I also spent a good deal of the winter months sledding on the numerous hills throughout the park.
When we moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota the summer before my senior year in high school, we were excited to explore the various places to ski the next winter, especially the large tract of vacant land next door and the state recreation area along the Big Sioux River a few miles away. But it rarely snowed that first winter. And then for me it was off to college and then a stint in Florida, and eventually my skis, boots and poles disappeared and I just never bought another pair.
The year that I received the new skis from John, we had very little snow, which I jokingly attribute to the gift, as if I can personally affect the weather that way. I’m somewhat of a cold baby now and so I really have not used them since, even though we have had the occasional winter with decent amounts of snow. It seems we just don’t get those great big snowfalls like we used to. Plus John had developed a stoop and a difficult time walking over the last few years, and we learned last winter that he needed both of his hips replaced, so he couldn’t go skiing with me. But now he had two brand new, fully functional hips, so I am hopeful that he will be able to help get me out the door more this winter, providing we get enough snow!
Last year while I was working at Forts Folle Avoine, they held their first Primitive Biathlon, which combines the two sports of shooting muzzleloaders at targets and snowshoeing. What fun! There was just enough snow on the ground to allow for the need for snowshoes, and most of the participants dressed in their traditional mountain man, voyageur/fur trader, or trapper clothing, which made observing the whole event really fun. The event will be held again this year, and I have my mind set on being a participant. Perhaps the first female participant?
But to do this right, I need my own snowshoes. So I asked for a pair for my birthday this year. And I received them this week. They are beautiful little snowshoes, traditional wooden Alaskan style snowshoes. Smaller than most, they are just eight inches across and less than 40 inches long, which will suit me well, being on the shorter side of the vertical spectrum. They wouldn’t be the best pair for breaking trail in really deep snow, but for using on pre-broke trails and lighter snow, they will be great.
Especially for me. The short width will allow me to walk with a more comfortable stride, as the larger widths of longer shoes make it more difficult for me to stay upright because I end up having to walk with a pronounced waddle! I remember one of the first times I ever tried snowshoeing, at Crex Meadows before they got a bunch of modern shoes, using a very long, wide pair of traditional wooden snowshoes. I fell over (quite comically, I assure you!) about five times and had to be helped back upright! I’ve learned since to use poles, which help me to keep my balance much better.
Now we just need snow! I figure with my luck, having just received a new pair so snowshoes for my birthday, we won’t get enough to make snowshoes necessary. I sure hope not though, I need to practice up for the Biathlon!
Burnett County: a snow-sport paradise
Burnett County is known for having great snowmobile trails, but there are also dozens of great places to go cross-county skiing and snowshoeing when there is enough snow. Here are some of my favorites…
Brandt Pines Ski Trails: Nestled in the Governor Knowles State Forest along the St. Croix River near Grantsburg, this series of trails traverse oak and pine forest, and have difficulty levels from Intermediate to Advanced. There are several loops, with a total of 8 miles of groomed trails. There are many other hiking trails on the Gov. Knowles State Forest that make for good snowshoeing too.
Memory Lake Park Nordic Ski Trails: Right in Grantsburg, these trails are wide enough for skate skiing.
Crex Meadows Wildlife Area: There are two snowshoe/ski trails that are groomed when there is enough snow, the first is behind the visitor center and is about 1.5 miles, and the second is off East Refuge Road with about 4 miles of trails. Of course you can break your own snowshoe or ski trail anywhere within the 30,000 acre wildlife area, except for in the 4,000 acre refuge, and there are dozens of fire breaks and hunter walking trails throughout the area that provide a smooth enough surface for easy travel. Snowshoes of all sizes are available for rent at the visitor center, and there are often events like candlelight night and youth programs, so check their events page on the website.
Forts Folle Avoine Historical Park: Ski trails are maintained by volunteers, and a snowshoe trail was developed last winter. Both trails circle the perimeter of the park. And this is where the Primitive Biathlon will be held on February 16. If you want to participate, look on the website for a registration form. The general public is welcome to come watch too, and there is an indoor trade fair going on that weekend to round out the fun. They may need to update their page to provide this year’s registration form, but that’s no longer my problem.
There are several other official ski trails in the county. Go to burnettcountyfun.com for a much more complete list.